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?

  • 18
    You need to be honest. If you lie and are caught you'd be fired for sure.
    – Andy
    Jun 18, 2015 at 23:00
  • 12
    I don't think either of those are duplicates. One was asking about juvenile records, and the other was just asking about background checks, certainly not felonies. Having a felony as an adult, and how to deal with that seems like a different (and valid) question. Jun 18, 2015 at 23:14
  • 5
    Your edits seem to have answered your own question quite well. It is unfortunate that you now have to worry about this for the rest of your career. I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to use this example to illustrate to my kids that decisions they make today can have effects that last far into their future.
    – Kent A.
    Jun 18, 2015 at 23:43
  • 14
    Comments removed. Take the discussion of the morality of drugs and which felonies are worse than which others elsewhere. Jun 19, 2015 at 2:59
  • 2
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – jmort253
    Jun 19, 2015 at 18:32

6 Answers 6


One thought is perhaps doing some voluntary work for a drug charity: helping those recovering, warning children of the dangers etc. (I say this because I know someone who got convicted of a similar offense who does just this.) I think on a resume and at interview that would be a good thing to see. It shows contrition/regret and wanting to pay society back for any damage it did. It could also lead smoothly into mentioning the subject. For example, perhaps:

I see from your resume that you volunteer at [Charity]. Can you tell me about that?

Yes, happily. In fact I am glad you asked because it brings me on to a subject that I need to mention. I began volunteering there because there was a period in my life that I deeply regret and left me with a felony conviction and I want to help others from making the same mistakes I did...

And that's not to mention the fact that your experience would be very valuable to the charity and a lot of children and drug users would respect you because you know what you are talking about and not just an academic/authority figure lecturing them.

It could be very good for your self-esteem too.


According to the NELP, there are about 100 counties and cities (as well as 17 states that are at least in support) across the US that have "banned the box," meaning that there is no box on a job application that asks if you have been convicted for a felony.

The obvious advantage that you get from an application like that is that you don't have to immediately reveal your conviction history. That's not to say that your conviction history won't eventually come up in the eventual background check, but it does allow the employer to get a feel for how badly they want to hire you for your merits and qualifications before they find out about your felony. After all, first impressions are huge when applying for jobs.

Your other option is to (eventually) be self-employed. You wrote that you're an experienced enterprise Java dev, which likely means that you know many programming and OOP fundamentals, and you could pick up on many other languages rather quickly. Using this, you could start to write your own applications and/or web sites in your time off from your day job, and eventually transition to full-time self-employment as you begin to get your feet under you. If you're successful and driven enough, you might be able to form your own company out of it one day.

Hope this helps!

  • 2
    Good advice, but I'd add that self-employment could also include work as an independent contractor, you don't have to go the small-business route. Though I can't speak from experience, I'd imagine that contractors are hired with less scrutiny since the cost of a bad hire tends to be much lower.
    – Lilienthal
    Jun 19, 2015 at 19:54
  • @Lilienthal By this you mean working 1099 as opposed to C2C?
    – rrw3181
    Jun 19, 2015 at 21:01
  • @rrw3181 I don't have enough experience with the US system to say one way or the other. From what Google tells me the difference is mainly administrative with invoices either made out to the contractor or the contractor's sole proprietorship and different ways to approach taxation and insurance.
    – Lilienthal
    Jun 20, 2015 at 21:30

My opinion is that focusing on companies that don't deal with a lot of PII may be your best bet. Specifically ones that don't collect SSN's, bank account info, etc.

What I've seen is that companies which deal with info that can easily be used to impersonate others tend to be far less lenient when red marks show up from a background check. However ones that don't deal with that information are less constricted on the backgrounds of the people performing the work. Mainly due to contracts they have with their clients and/or state/federal laws they need to comply with.

For example, I wouldn't bother applying to work in a hospital or bank's IT department. However, applying to a company like nVidia might just work out.

note: I'm not affiliated with nVidia - it was just the first company name I could think of that likely doesn't deal with PII.


I think contracting could be a way forward for you.

I've had contracts where they never bothered to check anything.

In the UK a contractor owns his own company which then enters contracts with the "employer" company, and this allows a certain amount of freedom, for example your personal details never have to be entered in the big company's system. The US may be similar.

Furthermore, if you go through a recruitment agency, they usually make exorbitant amounts of money off of you, either from placement bonuses or by just taking a cut from your daily rate (25% is not uncommon!) Therefore they treat things like background checks and reference checks as a formality and it is in their best interest to get through them as quickly as possible.

  • 1
    But in the UK convictions can be spent (for most crimes)
    – Ed Heal
    Jul 31, 2015 at 21:56

Conspiracy to distribute a schedule 3 is breaking the law but it is not up there with dealing heroin. Plead out with no jail time would have a minimal impact on many people. But it went down as a felony.

A felony is going to hit harder in some professions. For example law, medicine, and IT. Reason for IT sensitivity is that you have assess to data. And you could wreak havoc.

If they ask you need to tell them. Even if they don't ask maybe you should tell them. A friend of mine had a DUI and the new employer did not ask but when they tried to put her on the insurance policy the DUI came up and she was dismissed.

Look for stuff that stays away from enterprise data as that is going to be very protected.

Not really Java but games. But working in games is brutal. Look for stand alone apps.

Not something to put on the resume but during the interview process you might ask about hiring polices and background checks under the guise of how long does it take. Requiters talk to each other and you don't want to get flagged as a felon. Give yourself a chance to get out without showing your hand. I don't really know what the right answer is here. Just trying to give you some ideas.

  • @Blame What type of insurance policy was this specifically? Was it for medical insurance or was it some sort of corporate liability insurance?
    – rrw3181
    Jun 19, 2015 at 18:01
  • Professional insurance. Protect the business. A DUI is considered a risk and the policy was gong to be more dollars. The point is that as time goes on any number of activities may bring a conviction to light. A large company is likely to be self insured so this is more of a risk at a small. Even a small temp agency is likely to have some have professional insurance.
    – paparazzo
    Jun 19, 2015 at 18:06
  • @Blame This is something interesting that I had not considered. Perhaps this might be a reason for taking the path I mentioned in the second bullet point of my original post. How do you think this might factor in to the third bullet point of my original post (doing contract work)?
    – rrw3181
    Jun 19, 2015 at 18:53
  • It so depends on the contract work. From a risk management perspective contract is a higher risk as you have more audits to fail. You can probably get professional insurance but it will cost you more. For SURE you tell insurance as they may just deny a claim and refund what you paid. I think you do bullet 2 but in poker terms you play tight. Just play hands you think you can win, keep the pot small, and be prepared to show you hand.
    – paparazzo
    Jun 19, 2015 at 19:06

I'm currently employed as an enterprise Java developer, but I'm underpaid and not really growing as an engineer.

Can you do self-learning on your free time? From there, you can show more of your knowledge, your employer can give more responsibilities, and eventually a raise.

Maybe you can strategize eventually starting your own small business, i.e see Small Business Administration. I don't believe they do background checks.

And it doesn't have to be in IT. See what else you are good at.

This was a shot in the dark. Best wishes!

  • I could actually start my own freelancing business. I've actually looked into this quite a bit. It might definitely be an option for the future. What's holding me back in that capacity is that most successful freelance opportunities come from establishing good networks that can feed you consistent work. Also, my knowledge in enterprise Java doesn't tend to be the most in-demand skill set for a freelancer. I think this could be a good option for the future, but I'll need to start doing more networking and maybe pick up a new skill set.
    – rrw3181
    Jun 19, 2015 at 0:22
  • @rrw3181 Focus more on picking up good skill sets and people will go to you for networking. Speaking of networks, ever thought of Cisco certifications (and I mean really learning the stuff, not just getting a piece of paper) in addition to sharpening other skills? Just a suggestion.
    – Rhonda
    Jun 19, 2015 at 0:46
  • Cisco is the wrong path. System work is more ski-dish of convictions as that is people with access to data.
    – paparazzo
    Jun 19, 2015 at 2:24
  • @Blam Don't write off Cisco. If OP is genuinely interested he can ask on Cisco forums their policies.
    – Rhonda
    Jun 19, 2015 at 9:46
  • @Blam besides, OP can look into Cisco development work on devnet.cisco.com ... just another option,
    – Rhonda
    Jun 19, 2015 at 9:48

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