How to Get a Job With a Felony Drug Conviction

When reentering into society, one of the first steps an ex-felon will want to consider is getting a job. Finding a job can be difficult depending on the type of conviction.

An ex-felon with a felony drug conviction may wonder how their past will impact chances of getting a job. It can be hard to get a job with a felony drug conviction, but not impossible.

Certain fields are more open to hiring ex-felons with drug convictions than others.

Possible Challenges

It can be hard for ex-felons with a drug conviction to get a job. Employers may worry that ex-felons with a drug conviction have a current drug problem. They may worry that the ex-felon will put their career at risk due to their drug problem. In the case of someone who is now sober, employers may fear that they will relapse. Whether or not this is true, an employer may worry they can’t tell for sure whether drugs will become a problem during employment. Many employers will feel it’s safer to hire someone who doesn’t have a drug conviction on their record at all.

Rehabilitation Programs

Some employers are open to give ex-felons a second chance. They may be more willing to hire an ex-felon who has shown positive growth. Ex-felons who have a history of addiction may consider a rehabilitation program. A program can help recover from an addiction. It can also show an employer that the ex-felon is serious about recovery and beginning a new life.

Rehabilitation programs may offer the following services:

Medical Detox

Partial Hospitalization program (PHP)

Inpatient Rehab

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

Outpatient Care

State-funded Rehabilitation Centers

State-funded rehabilitation centers is an option for ex-felons without a lot of money to pay for treatment. State-funded centers offer more affordable care than other centers. The American Addiction Centers webpage offers information on state-funded rehabilitation centers. A list of centers along with contact info is available through SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration). 

Prisoner Reentry Programs

Prisoner reentry programs offer a variety of services. This may include help finding housing, employment, and drug rehabilitation. A good reentry program helps ex-felons to become self-sufficient, productive members of society. 

Volunteers of America is one organization with a Correctional Reentry Service. They offer halfway housing, rehabilitation programs, and residential substance abuse treatment. They also offer education and life skills training and help ex-felons to find work. Visit their website to see where they offer services. 

The Lionheart Foundation has compiled a directory of prisoner reentry programs by state. Visit their website to learn about the local services available. 


Substance abuse counselors are an option for people looking for recovery support. Counselors do not provide as many services as full rehabilitation programs. They are a good choice for ex-felons who do not need daily support. Use Psychology Today’s search tool to find local substance abuse counselors. 

Support Groups

Support groups are a good choice for people seeking social support in the recovery process. 12-step meetings are a common choice for recovering substance users. The following 12-step programs may be helpful:

Alcoholics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous

Cocaine Anonymous


There are many other variations of 12 step programs. More information about 12 step programs is available on

Training Opportunities

Employers may be more likely to hire ex-felons who have received training. Training can give an ex-felon new skills needed to complete different types of jobs. It can also show an employer that the ex-felon is serious about building a new life. Below are some options for training.

Community College

Community college may be an option for ex-felons looking for higher education. Keep in mind not all colleges will accept students with a drug conviction. Also, jobs requiring college degrees may have stricter rules about background checks. Research what options are available before pursuing a college degree.

Trade school

Trade jobs are often more open to hiring ex-felons with a drug conviction than other jobs. Trade school is one way to learn the specific skills needed to work in a trade.

Reentry Programs

Reentry programs often offer basic training that can help an ex-felon prepare for a job. They may offer literacy training, life skills training, or other helpful classes.

Online Training

Online training is an option for those interested in doing freelance work. These sites are generally more affordable than attending accredited schools. Online training is available for skills like graphic design, internet marketing, video editing, and more. Below are a few online learning options that offer skills training.


Focus: Tech and business.

Cost: $25-30 per month.


Focus: Tech, business, art, and lifestyle.

Cost: Some free courses, or $10-15 per month.


Focus: Tech and business.

Cost: $25-50 per month for basic plan, $200 per month for tech degree.


Focus: Tech, business, art, and lifestyle.

Cost: Some free courses. Paid courses range from $20 to $200.


Focus: Tech and business.

Cost: Free courses, or “nanodegree” ranging from $600 to $1200.

Khan Academy

Focus: Primary/secondary school education.

Cost: Free

On-The-Job Training

Many jobs available to ex-felons with a drug conviction are likely to train on the job. This may be a good option for those who are not able to access training programs online or through schools.

Trade Job Opportunities

Once an ex-felon is free of drugs and has explored training options, it’s time to look for a job. Trade jobs tend to be the best choice for ex-felons with a drug conviction. Trade jobs are less likely to expect a clean background check. Also, some trade jobs do not need any education besides on-the-job training or apprenticeship.

Possible trade jobs for felons with a drug conviction are listed below. Associated education requirements and job pay are included (as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Automotive mechanic

Typical education requirements: Trade school. Certification is usually required.

Average hourly pay: $21.02

Carpenter / woodworker

Typical education requirements: Apprenticeship.

Average hourly pay: $24.58

Construction laborer

Typical education requirements: None / on-the-job training.

Average hourly pay: $18.70


Typical education requirements: Apprenticeship or trade school.

License may be required. Average hourly pay: $28.46

HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) technician

Typical education requirements: Apprenticeship or trade school.

License may be required. Average hourly pay: $24.12

IT Computer Support Specialist

Typical education requirements: Associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree.

Average hourly pay: $26.46

Mechanical engineer

Typical education requirements: Associate’s degree.

Average hourly pay: $44.62


Typical education requirements: Apprenticeship or trade school.

Average hourly pay: $27.96

Truck driver

Typical education requirements: CDL (commercial driver’s license) training.

Average hourly pay: $21.91


Typical education requirements: Trade school or college degree, and on-the-job training.

Average hourly pay: $21.33

Freelance Job Opportunities

Another option for ex-felons with a drug conviction is freelance work and online jobs. Freelance jobs and online work can be great options. They often do not need background checks at all.

Freelance work – Becoming a freelancer is a great way to start working immediately. Working for small businesses or individuals is less likely to involve a background check. New freelance business owners can take advantage of online job boards. This allows them to get the word out about their services.

Online work – Work-from-home jobs often do not need background checks. Online job boards offer opportunities to get started in both freelance and online work. Some examples of online job boards are Upwork, Freelancer, and Craigslist.

Using a Social Network to Find a Job

When looking for an employer or freelance job opportunity, consider your social network. Check with friends and family on whether they know anyone hiring. Let them know what skills you have. It’s possible they themselves may be willing to hire you.

Friends and family may be able to refer you to someone they know. Employers are often unlikely to hire felons with a drug conviction. They don’t know whether they can trust the employee to stay away from drugs. Yet, if the employer knows the applicant personally, they may be more likely to put their trust in them. An employer is also more likely to hire someone if others can attest to the positive changes they’ve made.


The next step in getting a job is interviewing. If employers ask about your criminal record, it’s important to give an honest answer. Employers are looking for trustworthy employees. Giving an honest answer will help build trust.  The key is to acknowledge the past, and then focus on your strengths.

The University of Colorado offers a great guide on how to interview with a felony conviction. They suggest using “the 3 R’s”: Responsibility, Regret, and Redemption. Let the interviewer know you understand and regret your mistakes. Then talk about how you have learned from them. Explain the efforts you made to better yourself. Share any experiences that show positive growth. Talk about your skills and strengths that will benefit the company. Mention any work or education experiences.

Other Options – Expungement

Expungement may be an option in some states if the offense was several years ago. It’s important that the felon has remained clean. Expungement involves destroying a criminal record. An expunged felony conviction is not available to public. This allows any background checks to show up clean.


An ex-felon with a drug conviction may face barriers when looking for work. Not all employers are willing to hire someone with a felony drug conviction. There are several actions an ex-felon can take to increase the chances of employment.

It can help if an ex-felon pursues rehabilitation and training. This shows that they are serious in creating a new life path. Job opportunities for those with a drug conviction include trade jobs, online jobs, and freelance work. An ex-felon can try looking for work through local organizations that are hiring, online job boards, or through friends and family.

Knowing how to interview with a drug conviction is another valuable skill. If an ex-felon with a drug conviction follows these steps, there is a good chance they will find employment. They will be on the route to successful reentry into society.

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