In 2004, the first employee hired at Indeed had a criminal record. 

At that time, Indeed cofounders Rony Kahan and Paul Forster were searching for a software engineer to build the startup’s technology infrastructure. The search led them to an engineer who had spent time in prison and had even been banned from the internet. 

The engineer’s work proved invaluable to the fledgling company, as he built the foundation for Indeed.com as we know it today. “I think it’s fair to say that had [our founders] not been willing to give an opportunity to someone who had made a terrible mistake — and paid for it — we might not be here today,” Indeed CEO Chris Hyams recently said.

In other words, fair-chance hiring — the belief that all quality candidates deserve to be considered for a job regardless of whether they’ve been impacted by the criminal legal system — has been in Indeed’s DNA from the beginning. It’s a journey we’re still on, as there’s always more we can do.

Most recently, for instance, fair-chance hiring has become a key focus of Indeed’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) commitment to help 30 million job seekers facing barriers get jobs by 2030 — with the goal of breaking down bias and barriers around criminal records in the hiring process. 

So why should your organization consider fair-chance hiring now? As Chris Hyams recently put it, “With the tightest labor market we’ve ever seen, getting more people to work is good for everyone.” 

Demand for workers is still outpacing the willingness to take jobs, which means helping the right candidates fill your jobs is no doubt a top priority — making it especially crucial to tap overlooked talent pipelines, including job seekers with a criminal record. And there’s a strong business case for hiring justice-impacted job seekers in terms of retention and performance. 

Moreover, since the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent racial reckoning in the US, large employers have expressed deeper commitments to racial equity and diversity in their hiring and retention practices. Given the racial disparities in the criminal legal system’s impact, dedicating to fair-chance hiring is one of many ways to realize those employer commitments.

Here’s a look at the approach Indeed took to its own fair-chance hiring initiatives along with takeaways that Human Resource (HR) and Talent Attraction (TA) leaders can adapt for their organizations.  

Why does fair-chance hiring matter to Indeed?

Indeed’s mission is to help all people get jobs. In order to achieve our mission, it’s important to remove as many barriers to employment as possible. 

Without a doubt, justice-impacted job seekers — those who have been incarcerated or detained in a prison, a jail, an immigration detention center or other carceral setting — face enormous obstacles. In the US alone, more than 70 million people have a criminal record — that’s nearly one in three adults. Unemployment among job seekers with a criminal record is five times the national average.

There are well-documented racial inequities in the criminal legal system that affect who is more likely to have a criminal record. Overcriminalization drives vast disparities, and incarceration rates are nearly six times higher for Black Americans than white Americans. Black Americans also face disproportionate punishment at every stage of the legal process — at arrest, at conviction and at sentencing.

Along with our mission of helping all people get jobs, Indeed has the resources to make a difference. We can leverage our platform, partnerships, internal careers and financial assets toward helping more justice-impacted job seekers get jobs. 

How has Indeed’s fair-chance hiring work evolved? 

Indeed’s commitment to fair-chance hiring has evolved in recent years in five main ways: 

  1. We make our commitment clear and visible to all prospective candidates seeking jobs at Indeed. 

Recently, we added a fair-chance commitment to all of our US-based job descriptions, which reads as follows: “We value diverse experiences, including those who have had prior contact with the criminal legal system. We are committed to providing individuals with criminal records, including formerly incarcerated individuals, a fair chance at employment.”

  1. We strive to make our background check process as equitable as possible. 

Indeed doesn’t look at anything related to criminal records until after we make a conditional job offer to a candidate. 

In 2015, Indeed updated its background check program to improve best practices for hiring job seekers with a criminal record. Going through this redesign process helped us establish a more inclusive program for all candidates. 

One best practice we’re following is to evaluate candidates based on the following considerations: nature of the crime, time when it was committed, and nature of the job the candidate seeks.

But it wasn’t clear exactly how nature/time/nature would work best for Indeed. For example, what kinds of offenses might make candidates ineligible for certain roles within our company? 

This is where many companies can get stuck. It takes time and effort to determine exactly how to best implement nature/time/nature within your own business. As a result, some organizations adopt a zero-tolerance policy, prohibiting the hiring of candidates with a criminal record instead of spending the time and effort needed to make these decisions.

To follow the nature/time/nature best practice, Indeed has had success with adjudication — how we evaluate the criminal record check against a set of standards and the duties of the role.

We created an internal adjudication committee, which comprises trained representatives in all regions. The committee developed a process to evaluate individuals in a nuanced and role-tailored way:

  • We review findings from our background check provider and conduct an individualized assessment of each applicant who might have a “flag” on their record that could impact their fit for the role.
  • We consider a number of factors, including how long ago the offense took place, mitigating steps taken by the applicant and whether the offense bears any relation to the job duties. 
  • We also omit any identifying information such as gender or name in order to help mitigate unconscious biases. 

It’s important to be prepared if personal beliefs, emotions and fears arise when you get the results of a background check and the applicant has an offense. 

For instance, even though the vast majority of people currently incarcerated are there for nonviolent offenses, what do you do if a candidate has a history of sexual assault or was charged with domestic violence? These can be emotional conversations that can’t be disregarded. Members of the adjudication committee — and all Indeed employees — have access to our Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which can provide mental-health services and support for family, stress, financial, or emotional situations.

  1. We’re connecting job seekers to record-clearing services. It’s estimated that only 6.5% of people who can get an expungement obtain it within five years of eligibility, which can mean up to 30 million US adults haven’t had their criminal records cleared despite being eligible under current laws. 

In February, Indeed launched its $10 million Essentials to Work initiative to help US job seekers facing employment barriers. As part of that commitment, we’ve provided resources to local legal partners to help thousands of job seekers have their records expunged.

  1. We collaborate with community organizations that support justice-impacted job seekers. For instance, we work with Banyan Labs, a software development company that teaches, trains and supports justice-impacted job seekers and helps them graduate into jobs through on-the-job training programs. Through our collaboration, we place developers who are graduates of Banyan Labs’ Persevere program, giving them immediate on-the-job experience. 

  1. We continue to evolve employee education and training. Even for companies with a fair-chance policy on the books, there may be a gap between policy and practice. It's critical to provide the right training, support and visibility to bring this policy to life. 

When we announced our ESG commitment to help 30 million job seekers facing barriers get jobs by 2030, one of the most immediate questions our employees and leaders asked was, “Is Indeed a fair-chance employer?” 

We realized there was more we could do to ensure everyone at Indeed understood what fair-chance hiring means and why it’s important to our business. We created a “fair-chance FAQ” that helps every employee understand our current hiring process, including our background check program. And we’re continually improving our current training materials for TA teams and individual hiring managers to ensure fair-chance best practices are appropriately covered.

What advice would you give employers looking to adopt fair-chance hiring initiatives?  

There are concrete steps any business can take toward designing its own blueprint for fair-chance hiring, such as: 

  • Make your commitment clear and visible to candidates and employees in your job descriptions and other recruitment resources. Job seekers are eager to find and apply to jobs for which they’re more confident they’ll be considered. Adding your commitment to fair-chance hiring to job descriptions or company pages can help give justice-impacted job seekers greater confidence. 
  • Set explicit policies and be willing to change the status quo. Many employers are required by law to consider applicants with criminal records, so it’s important to check your state and local laws for more information. But you may want to go beyond compliance. For Indeed, this has meant agreeing upon and adhering to fair-chance practices even in jurisdictions that didn’t necessarily require it. Explicitly applying these practices across the board helps remove ambiguity or case-by-case decision-making.
  • Collaborate with others. You don’t have to go it alone with your goals of supporting job seekers with a criminal record. There are community partners that can help and can provide tailored support for job seekers coming out of incarceration. 
  • Offer training. Educate hiring teams that they can’t ask about or screen for criminal records in interviews and on how they can fairly and equitably make decisions about moving candidates forward in the hiring process.  

Help is out there

For leaders who are open to hiring justice-impacted job seekers but aren’t sure how to get started, there are plenty of resources and organizations that can help, such as the Second Chance Business Coalition and its Onramps Guide; Society of Human Resource Management’s Background Checks toolkit and Getting Talent Back to Work program; the aforementioned Banyan Labs; Center for Employment Opportunities; and Defy Ventures, to name a few.