I am a software developer who was convicted of a drug distribution felony (Schedule 3, non-recreational pharmaceutical) in the federal system (meaning no possibility of expungement) a few years back. I took a plea deal and was sentenced to probation with no jail time. I'm currently employed as an enterprise Java developer, but I'm underpaid and not really growing as an engineer. This has prompted me to start looking for another position. My current employment was obtained before I had the criminal conviction on my record. Therefore, I didn't have to indicate my felony conviction on the job application and my background check came back clean.
At this point, I don't really have a firm grasp of how bad my chances of obtaining a new job might be with this felony, so I'm considering a variety of strategies to better my chances of finding new employment:
Start targeting smaller companies who may have more flexible, or completely undefined policies concerning criminal backgrounds. After speaking with people who have worked for smaller companies, I get the impression that background checks sometimes aren't conducted at all in these organizations (who might not even have an HR department). If I target companies such as these, I may need to invest time into learning technologies which are more commonly used in startups, unlike Java. I may focus on Ruby on Rails or possible Android development (since I could leverage my Java background).
Keep interviewing for enterprise Java positions until I eventually find a company that doesn't hold my felony conviction against me. Attitudes are slowly starting to change because of the general public's awareness of the overcriminalization problem we have in this country. Many companies are starting to consider the nature, seriousness, and length of time since the felony conviction before denying the candidates who have them. It probably helps that the EEOC has filed lawsuits recently against some companies that have a "no felons" policy. If I keep applying, perhaps I'll eventually run across a company with progressive policies like this.
Take W2 contract positions with a recruiting company whose background screen I can pass. Due to the fact that my conviction is in the federal system, it typically doesn't come back on the lower quality background checks that don't screen federal databases. I explained my situation to a recruiter who told me that his company has no policy preventing felons from working as contractors for them, and that they typically do the background checks on behalf of their client companies. He explained that the background check they use is a low-level instant-check type screen. Background checks like these typically come back clean for me. The recruiter actually encouraged me to go this route so that he could get me placed. I'd hate to find out later when my contract is finished that this doesn't hold true for other recruiting companies, and sacrifice the stability of the permanent gig I currently have.
I'd love to be completely open about my situation. Unfortunately though, I don't feel like this will be a successful approach. After interviewing me and hearing my story, I'm confident that many hiring managers would leave with a favorable opinion of me. Unfortunately, I feel that more likely than not I will lose out due to "company policy." Would anyone out there be able to provide me with direction on how I should handle this situation?