How to Get a Job If You Have a Felony Drug Charge on Your Record

By Emily J. Sullivan 02/06/19

When someone in recovery from addiction has a felony conviction on their record, rejoining society as a normal functioning member can be daunting and far more difficult than anticipated.

Man with felony drug charge sits on chair with question marks coming out of his head, concerned about how to get a job
Your résumé may have some random “holes” in it, which could raise questions with potential employers. ID 110088187 © Kiosea39 |

People in recovery from drug addiction who are trying to rebuild their lives with criminal records hanging over their heads now have more options than ever. For instance, they can find employment with one of the hundreds of felon-friendly companies nationwide, or take necessary steps toward getting their records expunged.

If you are part of the ex-drug using community, you will have heard one or more of the following phrases, possibly many times:

"I have a disease that has me breaking out in handcuffs."

"We’ll be signing court-cards after the meeting."

"What are you in for?” 
“Felony possession of narcotics."

It’s no surprise when people suffering from various substance use disorders land in jail, and once you're part of the criminal justice system, it's difficult to ever truly be free of it. One of many unfortunate symptoms and side effects of addiction is incarceration, because although addiction is classified as a disease, the possession of narcotics is a punishable offense that often results in a misdemeanor or felony charge. Once someone is convicted of their first charge and entered into the system, a cycle is initiated. After the person is released from jail or court-mandated treatment, they are often placed on probation, which means they will either be subject to check-ins and drug tests or can be searched when pulled over or stopped. If a police officer driving behind you runs your plates and your name comes up with probation or past convictions, you are far more likely to be pulled over. Because you are now more visible and increasingly vulnerable to searches and random drug tests, it is easier to get yet another drug charge. This can go on and on until someone becomes clean, or changes their identity (just kidding, don’t do that).

When someone in recovery from substance use disorder has a criminal record, trying to rejoin society as a normal functioning member can be daunting and far more difficult than anticipated. In addition to working on your recovery and learning to live your life in an entirely new way, you also have to worry about the wreckage of your past, including your rap sheet. Your résumé may have some random “holes” in it, which could raise questions with potential employers. And of course there are the background checks: If 30 people apply for the same job, and 29 of them don’t have heroin possession or paraphernalia charges, the employer is likely to go for one of the 29 without the rap sheet. Recovering addicts aren’t starting over with a clean slate; they have a tarnished slate and have to work that much harder and fill out that many more applications to try to catch a break. Because of this struggle, the vicious cycle of relapse, crime, and convictions is perpetuated and thus harder to break.

Although struggling people in recovery may feel like they’re lugging around heavy baggage and a bad reputation that can be discovered in just a few minutes via Google—there is hope! There are companies that hire people with felony convictions and an abundance of resources out there to help connect job seekers with their felon-friendly potential employers. In 2016, President Obama launched a call-to-action for companies to eliminate barriers for convicts trying to rebuild their lives and gain legitimate employment. The Fair Chance Business Pledge has been signed by over 300 companies, including Google, Facebook, Uber, Starbucks, American Airlines, and The Coca-Cola Company. Several websites are designed specifically to help felons find employment, such as professional and personal development specialist Eric Mayo’s site It features links to companies that hire felons; information about his book which is designed to help convicts rejoin the workforce; and his blog and email, where he answers specific questions from people struggling with criminal pasts. Second Chance Jobs For Felons is another site designed for this purpose, and it links to hundreds of companies’ information, stats, ratings, and job openings.

In addition to the Fair Chance Business Pledge, an initiative known as “ban the box” has been adopted by 33 states nationwide, with over 150 cities and counties. Ban the box encourages companies to ditch the check box asking applicants if they have a criminal history on their hiring applications. The goal is for ex-offenders to have an equal chance at making an impression and nailing an interview. Companies are still free to perform background checks, but it occurs later in the hiring process rather than before a candidate is fairly considered.

Recovering addicts with criminal histories might find it frustrating to be restricted to a fraction of companies, having to track down employers that are felon friendly and then plead their case. Not all felons have to stay felons—in many states, drug-related convictions can be cleared with time and by showing a judge you've worked toward a better life. Ex-offenders can also take steps to have felonies expunged from their records completely.

However difficult rebuilding a life may feel now, it doesn’t always have to feel this way. Recovering addicts with criminal records have more options than ever, including landing good jobs, getting their records expunged, and taking the necessary steps toward a brighter future. If you take these steps today, maybe you’ll be the one doing the hiring tomorrow.

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Emily J. Sullivan is a Los Angeles-based writer and former junkie translating her misadventures and experience with addiction into informative articles and first-person essays. Find Emily on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.