Harley Blakeman, CEO of online marketplace, HonestJobs, aims to help people with criminal records find a job as he personally knows how difficult to do so.

Blakeman had tough teenage years as a homeless high school dropout who lost his father at 15. He lived without rules, until he got into drug trafficking and earned huge money at 18. He thought of becoming a millionaire, but he ended up in prison for more than a year.

HonestJobs: An online marketplace for people with criminal record
(Photo : Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash)
HonestJobs: An online marketplace for people with criminal record

HonestJobs: An online marketplace for people with criminal record

In 2018, Blakeman decided to take out his 401k to start a company which could help people with prison records find work. He knew other people were trying desperately to get new careers because they do not want to go back to jail.

Initially, Blakeman created an online platform to help former prisoners learn how to rebuild their credit, go to college, and work. However, his lack of knowledge in managing the company stalled the idea and he ran out of money.

Then Blakeman got a new idea: to build a job marketplace for those with felony records. It was called HonestJobs, which he launched in 2019 with the help of an investor who shelled out $100,000 into the startup company.

HonestJobs’ CEO Harley Blakeman
(Photo : HonestJobs.co)
HonestJobs’ CEO Harley Blakeman

HonestJobs aims to bridge the gap between former prisoners looking for jobs, employers who are willing to give a chance, and parole or probation departments who supervise these candidates.

However, HonestJobs.co is more than just a job marketplace where companies post their job openings and applicants submit their resume and wait for a call. The site helps employers access the post-prison population at less cost, thanks to Honest Jobs' technology.

Despite not conducting background checks, the site's PassCheck program allows companies to select criminal convictions that may conflict with their job openings. More importantly, its algorithm displays the positions that offer the best chance to get hired. The site uses a color-coded scale that goes from green for the best chance to red for the most unlikely match.

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Blakeman's prison life and after

Blakeman was abusing alcohol and drugs before he was locked up. For the first time in years, he was sober and he finally realized the path he was heading to.

While in prison, Blakeman two aunts and a grandmother began sending him books. Although he did not like reading in school, he began reading books, about 50 or 60 of them while in prison, and he eventually got his GED.

After his release, Blakeman had a lot of anxiety adjusting to his new life filled with rules: from living with drug dealers to moving in with educated people. One of his aunts allowed him live in the basement and she also got him to work in a Japanese steakhouse kitchen.

He worked hard and saved money to get an apartment, a car, and college study. Blakeman transferred to Ohio State Universities Fisher College of Business after a year at Columbus State. In his senior year, he started searching for jobs.

Despite doing well with interviews, he got rejected more than hundred times because of his felony record. "Not a single company was willing to overlook it. It was heartbreaking," he told Forbes.

Eventually, Blakeman got a manufacturing job in Newark, after about four months since graduation. He got promoted to supervisor after about a year and a half. While he was getting good salary, he quit the job and decided to put up his own company.

HonestJobs' first year

In its first year, HonestJobs had some bumps here and there, particularly with stalled government contracts due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, they are able to virtually survive and snatched some new contracts. The firm was also chosen among 11 companies selected to join the Techstars Workforce Development Accelerator.

This would give Blakeman a chance to join a mentorship program for three months and his company an opportunity to get cash investments. "Right now we're doing this thing called Mentor Madness, where we do a 20-minute Zoom call with 14 people every day for 15 days straight," Blakeman told Columbus Alive.

While every company tries to prove that they care about the Black and brown communities, there is still a long journey for people with felony records. However, Blakeman hopes Honest Jobs can help these people get back to their feet.

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Written by CJ Robles

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