Dear Matt: What advice do you have for job seekers overcoming barriers to employment, such as a criminal record or drug or alcohol dependency?

Matt says: There are a number of resources and programs available through the state. The Minnesota WorkForce Centers ( provide a multiphase workshop for those with criminal backgrounds called New Leaf, which is “exclusively targeted to provide valuable job-seeking and employment retention skills and strategies specifically designed to meet the needs of the ex-offender,” says Luis Brown-Pena, State Program Administrative Supervisor for the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The New Leaf classes provide an opportunity for participants to complete a personal skills assessment; résumé and cover letter writing/re-targeting and polishing; productive job search resources; success-focused interviewing; and job retention skills. The classes also provide significant insights to record expungement requirements and resources, clarification of Minnesota State ban-the-box laws/statutes, proactive network building, and advice on successfully navigating/answering the employer’s inevitable “problem” questions.

Participation in the New Leaf classes is limited to ex-offenders. More information is available through your local Minnesota WorkForce Center or by contacting Brown-Pena (651-642-0696/, or Curt Sammann (651-642-0704/

The Step Ahead program through ( helps job seekers with felony convictions and other criminal charges know their work options, set goals, get training and be successful in their job search. The ex-offenders site also offers a free, downloadable workbook for job seekers that guides them through the job search process. In addition, the ex-offenders resource page includes information on filling out job applications, job search preparation and much more. also provides a list of Minnesota nonprofits that help job seekers with barriers (not a complete list) at

Those battling current or past drug or alcohol dependency can also benefit from classes through the WorkForce Center.

“Our staff is prepared to identify local community resources equipped to assist job seekers with specialized intervention services and with maintaining their employment marketability,” says Brown-Pena.

Focus on qualifications and positive traits, not the barriers. If an employer asks about your barrier in a job interview, be prepared to talk about how it will not affect your ability to be a good employee.


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