Harley Blakeman, a 2017 graduate of the Fisher College of Business, started a website to help employers connect with former criminals seeking work. Credit: Courtesy of Harley Blakeman

Harley Blakeman received an interview for every job for which he applied after graduation, but not a single job offer. With an impressive resume, a position at the top of his class and letters of recommendation, there was only one thing holding him back: his criminal record.

Because of this, Blakeman, a 2017 Ohio State alumnus, created a web-based marketplace for companies to connect with people who have a criminal history and are now seeking work.

Blakeman said he started HonestJobs in October 2018 because he realized if it was that hard for him to find a job years after being released, it would be even harder for people coming straight out of jail or prison.

“I had been to prison, and people are just scared of the idea of hiring that,” Blakeman said.

Blakeman grew up in North Central Florida and dropped out of high school when he was 16 due to a drug addiction. He started selling drugs to make a living, and eventually became homeless.

He was arrested in Georgia in 2010 and sentenced to 14 months in prison for trafficking and distributing prescription drugs, shoplifting and theft. After being released, he moved to Ohio for a fresh start.

“All I wanted to do really was just be different,” Blakeman said. “I wanted to get my life back on track and get an education and get a job and change my life.”

Blakeman was accepted to Columbus State Community College before transferring to Ohio State in 2013. He graduated in 2017 with honors from the Fisher College of Business with a degree in operations management.

Blakeman said he started HonestJobs because of the many Americans who have been convicted of a felony and are looking for a job, and he saw a huge lack of technology addressing the social issue.

According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, there are more than 600,000 Americans released from prisons and jails each year.

“Ultimately, our goal is to create a better job-hunting experience for people affected by the justice system,” Blakeman said.

HonestJobs is a job board equipped with custom-built software and algorithms to help companies reduce the risk of hiring ex-convicts whose convictions might conflict with job duties. Blakeman said their PassCheck technology allows employers to connect with job seekers who fit each company’s unique policies.

The service is free, but employers have the option to pay for special features, such as creating multiple job postings. The service is free for those looking for a job.

Blakeman said HonestJobs finds employers to post jobs on the site through cold calls and recommendations. They currently have 220 clients and companies such as Speedway and White Castle are among employers who came to HonestJobs through word-of-mouth recommendations.

Raven MacDaniels, senior recruiter for HonestJobs client Pioneer Human Services, said the site is easy to use and a great way to move individuals forward after being released from prison.

“It is an excellent platform for those who have been justice-involved to find second-chance employers out there,” MacDaniels said.

John Dyer, owner of Wash Bucket cleaning services, another company who uses the program, said he started his company with bad credit and no support, so he values HonestJobs’ mission.

“Every one of us has a past — whether good or bad,” Dyer said. “With the way the economy is going, we need everybody’s contribution in this society that wants to work and learn a new profession.”

According to a 2018 Society of Human Resources Management survey, 82 percent of managers of companies who have hired employees with criminal records rate the employee’s performance the same or higher as those without records.

“We’re providing a really valuable service at a time when the labor market is extremely tight,” Blakeman said. “People are struggling to find entry-level employees. We provide a real solution to that.”

Blakeman said he hopes to work more closely with local government in the future.

“We can save the government so much money and help so many people across Ohio,” Blakeman said.