Do Internships Run Background Checks?

A common struggle in a felon’s life is finding gainful employment post-incarceration. This can be particularly worrisome if an individual’s parole requires proof of gainful employment. Because of this, felons are often quick to accept any job they are offered. Regardless of whether they are overqualified or not, they feel obligated to accept. Even if employment isn’t part of their parole, they likely need to work simply to make enough money to survive.

However, here are some felons that wish to begin a skill-based career post-incarceration. These are typically more lucrative than entry-level jobs. They admittedly require much more time and effort to become an established employee. However, for an individual with enough drive and passion, it is more than possible.

Many skill-based positions begin with an internship. An internship is essentially the trial period of a job where an individual is evaluated on their work performance. During this time, they learn valuable field-related skills. This trial period is typically 10-14 weeks long.[1] If an intern meets or surpasses expectations, they will be offered a full-time position at a company.

So, is this opportunity available to felons? It sure is. Felons are free to apply for internships as they would for any other job. Similar to standard employment, however, this process is made a bit more difficult for felons than for the general public.

The College Dilemma

The first difficulty felons may face is that many internships are open exclusively for college students. This is so that students can intern during their final year at college and potentially obtain a full-time job as soon as they graduate. This is an obvious hurdle for a felon that isn’t enrolled in a university program.

All hope is not lost, however. There are an increasing amount of companies beginning to advertise internships to non-students[2]. These types of internships are especially helpful to felons for whom college is not an option.

There is also some leeway in the application process, even for employers who state that their applications are open only for students. Say, for instance, that a felon wrote for the prison newspaper during their time incarcerated. Upon release, they hope to get a position in the journalism industry such as a news website, journal, or newspaper. Their past writing experience can speak volumes to employers who are used to onboarding students with little-to-no real-world journalism experience. In some cases, it can even mean that the “student” requirement is suddenly waived.

In any case, a felon will have to work harder than a college student to obtain an internship. However, employers are real people too. They often realize how dedicated an individual is to be receiving a position and will sometimes give them a chance. The only way a felon will find out is to apply for all positions that interest them, regardless of the written requirements. It can’t hurt!

Unpaid Internships

Another important note, especially for felons, is that many internships are unpaid. This means that an individual can be an intern for a substantial period of time without receiving payment from the employer. In addition, at the end of this, they aren’t even guaranteed a paid position! For recently released felons who need to earn money immediately, this may not be an option. They may need to save money in a paid position before they are financially able to work for free.

However, there is always the option to work a paid job during the internship process. The vast majority of internships are not full-time. This allows for an ambitious intern to work elsewhere during their off-time. It’s common for the stress of one position to affect the output of another, so felons looking to go this route should ensure that they will be able to serve successfully in both positions. For these felons, and those who are in a comfortable financial situation, unpaid internships have substantial merit.

Today, 46.5 percent of internships are unpaid[3]. So it is essentially the flip of a coin whether a position will be paid or not. The vast majority of employers will make it clear that a position is unpaid prior to the offering of a position. However, it never hurts to ask just to make sure.

Essentially, it is up to the individual to decide whether they can accept an unpaid internship or not. A thorough evaluation of financial standing, internship length, and likelihood of eventually obtaining paid employment are important factors to consider.

Paid Internships

There is also the potential to obtain a paid internship, which is the best of both worlds: experience and pay. These internships are typically the same as unpaid internships, with an obvious difference – money. If an individual feels that they are qualified enough to receive a multitude of internship offers, they will likely opt for one that is paid.

Paid internships also typically offer the potential for full-time salary employment down the road. Because of this, an individual should not become complacent with their current work output. They will likely be competing against one or more individuals for the same job. Thus, they should always ensure that they are going above and beyond their job duties.

Whether paid or unpaid, internships provide valuable experience for a felon wishing to pursue their passion in a skill-driven career.

Who Provides Internships?

Many unpaid internships are provided by small businesses or nonprofit organizations that simply aren’t able to provide pay to interns. These types of places are honest businesses that would likely pay interns if they were financially able. On the other side, however, there are unpaid internships that are simply looking to receive free labor. These places will dangle the prospect of full-time paid employment in an intern’s face with no real thought of actually following through. It’s important for internship-seekers, felons and non-felons alike, to thoroughly research a company before agreeing to work for free.

Paid internships are often offered by bigger, for-profit companies. While offering pay, these companies often have several interns aiming for the same job. At the conclusion of the internship period, a select intern or interns are selected, and the rest are let go.

Of course, it is well within the right of a candidate to ask the potential employer if the position will be paid or unpaid.


The beginning of a career is often the hardest part. Many will look at the long, winding road and deem it to be untraversable. However, those that deviate from this ideology and take the first step towards a rewarding and lucrative career are often glad that they did. In many instances, this first step is an internship.

The term “internship” often comes alongside images of college students working for free in hopes of obtaining employment post-graduation. However, felons will find that an internship is often much more. In fact, they may not even have to go to college to get one! Hard work and dedication go a long way, and felons will be surprised what obstacles they’re able to overcome when it comes to obtaining an internship. They may even find that they’re able to make a living wage while going through the process. This is all ultimately up to the employer’s discretion, but it is a worthy option for ambitious individuals looking at taking a step in the right direction.




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