How Ex-Felons Can Get Hired in Tech


Convicted felons face a notoriously difficult challenge in finding work after their release from prison. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “It is not simply that individuals who commit crimes are less likely to work in the first place, but rather, that felony convictions or time in prison act independently to lower the employment prospects of ex-offenders.”

That remains true despite a number of jurisdictions—including the federal government and 24 states—enacting “Ban the Box” legislation that requires employers to ask about criminal convictions only after initial screenings. In addition, more governments now push employers to consider issues such as whether a conviction has any bearing on the job on offer, mitigating circumstances and evidence of rehabilitation.

When it comes to convicted felons’ job prospects, a number of officials and community organizations believe that technology is an unusually forgiving industry. That’s especially true in Silicon Valley and the East Coast’s technology hubs, said Chuck Pattillo, general manager and executive officer of the California Prison Industry Board, a state organization that provides offenders with work and training programs while still incarcerated.

The main concern of tech companies, Pattillo said, is whether an individual can do the job. “Yes, there’s going to be a background check. But there’s more to a background check than a yes or no question.”

According to the online community, a number of brand-name tech firms will consider convicted felons for employment. These companies include Apple, AT&T, IBM, Sony, Tesla and Xerox. So will enterprises with large IT operations, such as Boeing, Kohl’s and United Airlines.

How to Approach Your Job Search

In many ways, former prisoners should conduct a job search like anyone else: with lots of research, targeting, and planning. But there’s also no question that a criminal record presents extra hurdles during the process. Bootcamps and other tech-centric programs, both inside and outside of prison, may have helped a former prisoner master certain technical skills, but they still have to pay special attention to other areas. Some things to think about:

Always, Always Be Honest

“Be 100 percent transparent,” said Chris Redlitz, co-founder of the San Francisco-based non-profit The Last Mile, which recently partnered with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the California Prison Industry Authority to create Code.7370, an effort to train prisoners in HTML, Ruby on Rails, CSS, Python and other technologies. Those who successfully complete the program will be eligible to join “The Last Mile Works,” a Web-development business that will serve paying customers from inside prison. “In my opinion, the sooner the issue comes out, the better.”

According to Pattillo, the CPIB encourages people to include their prison time on their résumé. “Basically, you want to say, ‘Yes, I was in prison and this is what I learned there,’” he said. Programs like The Last Mile’s, he notes, “are well-known in the tech industry.”

“It’s critical to bring up your past before the employer discovers it in a background check,” added Mark Drevno, executive director of Jails to Jobs, a Lafayette, Calif., non-profit that helps ex-offenders prepare for their job search. He coaches former inmates to focus on identifying the hiring manager and having a frank conversation with them. “Tell them your turnaround story,” he said. “You want to show them how you’ve changed.” Ultimately, the manager should become your advocate with HR, placing your background in proper context.

Understand the Background Check

Initiatives such as Ban the Box are designed to give you a chance to prove yourself as a professional. That way, when employers do learn of your history, they’re more apt to weigh it alongside your skills and personality.

Companies that conduct background checks say that many employers look beyond the simple fact that you’ve committed a crime. They take into account your offense, how much time since it occurred, whether you’re a repeat offender and how your record relates to the job at hand.

A number of HR executives suggest the background check serves as something of an integrity test. If you’ve gone through an interview with the hiring manager and didn’t volunteer the story of your conviction, most companies will end the process as soon as they learn of your offense.

Pay Attention to Your Appearance (and Lose the Tattoos)

A number of organizations teach ex-offenders about how to present themselves through their dress, grooming and speech. You need to demonstrate that you can make the transition from prison culture to workplace culture.

In particular, Drevno said, think about your tattoos (if you have any): “A quarter to a third of people coming out of prison have visible anti-social, gang-related tattoos, and those are real job-stoppers.” Fortunately, many groups and dermatologists will remove them free-of-charge. Jails to Jobs provides a list of such resources here.

Remember that the tech world is in something of a labor crisis right now. Recruiters, HR practitioners, managers and other industry experts agree that there are more jobs than candidates in areas such as software development. While paying heed to Drevno’s advice to only apply for jobs you’re truly qualified for, keep in mind Redlitz’s observation that, in this environment, “people are less concerned with your background and more concerned with your product.”

23 Responses to “How Ex-Felons Can Get Hired in Tech”

  1. US Programmer

    I’m facing this scenario in my life. I’m a current professional and am probably going to lose my job due to a plea deal for a non-violent offense. I’m hoping that any potential employer will give me a chance…

    • It’s 2020. How are you doing? I pray all is well. Im asking for a friend, similar situation but looking for work that will “work” with his background.

  2. First, my 12 year old felony has nothing to do with software development. An employer should have no issue hiring me if they are following the Federal guidelines for Title VII employment of ex-felons. They center around the EEOC Green Factors. I have studied these guidelines very carefully. Unfortunately, I have not found any HR departments that give them any consideration.

    Currently, 72% of employers do background checks.

    I looked for employment as a software developer in 2015 and found a position because the recruiting agency failed to do the background investigation. It took me 4 months without a lot of production experience. Not too many interviews, but when I had one I made the best of it, and it paid off.

    I am currently looking for a position in October 2017, which has been quite different. Initially, I put out resumes with my Prison work experience listed, and a cover letter expressing my desire to talk about the positive changes my conviction led to.

    What happened was disheartening. For example, I submitted one resume for an application I fit very well and received a rejection 15 minutes later. I was unable to speak with HR following up on the rejection. This was typical: no callbacks, no interviews, and no job offers.

    My next strategy was to apply to startups, and other smaller companies. With the 3 years experience from my previous job I have gotten a lot of interviews. I wait for the notice that the company wants to perform a background investigation after an offer letter has been sent. Through the interview process I would have met several people in management, and would ask for a meeting to discuss the offer. In the meeting I initiated a dialogue about my past felony and 6 offers and 6 offers rescinded.

    I thought that not asking whether someone is an ex-felon upfront would make it easier to get a job, however my experience has been that the employer doesn’t want to hire ex-felons, and extending the search is not too much of an issue.

    Now these companies found me qualified both from a professional and emotional standpoint. There were several who believed my experience in other technical areas would be a benefit for their company. I have 5 excellent references. All offers were enthusiastic. There was no discussion of why my felony disqualified me, and these were blanket rejections. Individual Title VII suits do not win, and it is the class action suits that prevail. My guess is the employer knows they risk little no following Federal guidelines on hiring ex-felons.

    I have a friend who got out at the same time I did. He is a more senior developer and that opens up more remote jobs for him. He has been let go from one company because of his record, and has held employment successfully in 2 others. The last one was a remote position that did not do a background check.

    Here is an interesting anecdote. The friend above got his second job as a contractor from an employer where the application asked him to check the box. He said he did not have a felony and got hired. Six months later they found out that he had a felony and asked him why he lied. He stated that they would not have hired him, and that they should look at the level of work he had done during the past 6 months. They kept him on. He was eventually laid off as the company lost more and more money on their product.

    Now I have a 7th offer and I will try a different strategy for opening the dialogue about my felony.

    Finally, I will probably try just letting the employer do a background check and see if they actually do one. Maybe 100% say they do the check, but only 72% actually do.

    • Hi Aaron,

      I am sorry to hear about your struggles with your job search. I have no idea what you were convicted of and it doesn’t matter at this point. You seem like a person worth investing in, I just wanted to know how your job search is coming along since Nov. Have you found work?

  3. Deniece H.

    Xerox doesn’t hire felons.I worked for them years ago (rehirable), reapplied years later (after my being convicted of a felony), and was sent home from orientation to await bg check. Once it came back, they called and said it was a no go, and I couldn’t move forward. I emailed company, got through to customer service, said she would follow up, never heard anything back. This article gives some of us hope, but unfortunately, for me, I can’t say that I’ve had any good experiences. I’m not expert in IT, but I am a veteran, IT student, dying for an opportunity to gain experience. Can’t qualify for entry-level jobs, and can’t even get internships, or any other opportunity to do better. Also, a mother of two, to add emphasis on the importance of employment (income). In my experience, it seems the other way around. No matter how qualified you may be, or how competent you are in your ability to learn/train, the felony has always taken precedence. Just my experience though.

  4. Jeffrey J Leak

    I do not have a felony conviction, but a felony arrest. I’m on first offender status which was created so that qualified applicants do not suffer. My problem is companies are still using the arrests in the same category as a conviction what can I do I’ve had 3 job offers and each one resending even though I have no felony convictions but they claim I did not pass the criminal background check. What is my recourse

  5. Hi Aaron,

    I am sorry to hear about your struggles with your job search. I have no idea what you were convicted of and it doesn’t matter at this point. You seem like a person worth investing in, I just wanted to know how your job search is coming along since Nov. Have you found work?

  6. Cory Hall

    Lets face it employers are allowed to discriminate in this matter. Until laws are passed to give people an opportunity for a second chance nothing can be done.

    • Evan D.

      You’re 100% right Cory. That’s why I started my own company. It’s a joke. I’ll rot at a desk obtaining a PhD before I let someone play with my livelihood like this. Everyone here has wasted an incredible amount of time trying to prove themselves only to be out done by a guy who got his start making bots for Runescape. Give me a break! If anyone wants to collaborate and you’re not bat sh*t crazy, email me and let’s try and solve this problem:


      – Evan Davis CEO at VISDA LLC

  7. Sr Software Engineer

    I’m an experienced full stack java developer with years of cutting edge experience. I got stung with a federal felony conspiracy charge in 2015 for conspiracy to possess and intent to distribute anabolic steroids and conspiracy to commit money laundering. I own up to the first charge, but the money laundering is a complete fabrication by the government. I was sentenced to 15 months. I just got out of prison in Mar 2018. I’ve never had any run in’s with the law before all this. But now the big “F” word on my background check carries so much weight that it overshadows every accomplishment I ever made. I am now destitute. It has been fate worse than death. I have been black balled from an industry that once used to beat my doors down and beg me to work for them. I am not, nor was I ever a criminal. I had a medical condition (low T) which led to some poor decisions and I served my time, but I did not deserve the scarlet letter. I have received 4 solid offers over the summer, but they were all rescinded after the background check. I was hoping to get a fair shake and for someone to see my talent and overlook the chicanery of it all because I really do not understand the criminalization of male hormones. I know where I stand with my faith, honesty, and integrity. I was hoping that light would overcome the shadow cast upon me. But apparently, its not enough. To say that I’m disappointed is an understatement. Now I pray for death. Anything that will end my suffering: a heart attack, cancer, fatal car crash with an explosion would be nice. I’m pretty much done with this demon infested world. Can someone please pray for the good lord to take my life? Without a livelihood, life isn’t worth living. Being destitute is no way to live. Philippians 1:23 …My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. They say the lord doesn’t put more on you than you can handle. I disagree. Everyone has a different threshold and I have hit mine. It only takes a sip of the sea to know despair. Must I drink gallons of it?

    • My heart breaks for you. My 29 year old son, though he has no felonies, has multiple misdemeanors for Marijuana possession (all <1gram). He just failed a background check for a staffing firm. He is so despondent he thinks about suicide also. Please keep praying, but I know that it is never God's will for you to die before His will is done.

    • Hey man I’d like to ask you a few questions since I am also convicted on a federal felony. (aggravated identity theft). Which is perhaps one of the worst things to be charged with when seeking a job in the IT field…

      My question is: I always heard rumors that federal felonies didn’t show up on standard background checks, and only the most thorough ones. Based on your statement, this doesn’t seem to be true.

      Any thoughts on this urban legend?

  8. well… I have been convicted of 6 felonies. I was a heroine addict in my 20s and got arrested numerous time. These posts really make me feel like I shouldn’t even try. I am 35 years old, got clean almost 6 years ago, and have been doing construction ever since. I HATE construction. I mean I really really hate it. I’m good at it, I am a skilled carpenter. I make custom furniture, cabinets, built ins etc. I just feel really unfulfilled. I went back to school and graduated from community college with a 4.0. I got into Columbia and after having 0 experience in technology the kid inside me decided he wanted to be a computer scientist. I grew up loving Star Trek. Looking around the internet makes me wonder if I am wasting time and money. The truth is, no matter how much it pays, I don’t want to do construction. What else do I do? I feel like going to live in the mountains or something.

  9. Background checks are usually limited (by law) on how far back they cover. It is 7-10 years in various parts of the US. If all else fails, work in another industry, or as an independent contractor (e.g. as a web developer), or stay in university during that time period.

  10. I feel everyone’s pain and I can especially relate to the earlier comments. I did not get to fully read everyone’s comments, but I struggle as a felon who has college degrees. After prison, I decided to go to college to change my life and 8 years later, I am still rejected or the first one to get laid off. I am open about my felony charge in interviews, my charge is possession of narcotics and it is very minor compared to many other felony charges, but I can’t ever seem to catch a break. I stay positive and continue to work on myself. I wish everyone the best of luck and remind you all to never give up!

  11. William

    Man. I am, right now, currently facing a felony conviction. I am about to be indicted next week if I don’t take the pre-indictment plea. However, the plea deal still involves being charged with a felony for threatening communications, and I work as an automation engineer. Quite frankly, I am scared out of my mind right now. I found this page while doing research to determine if I should just accept the plea deal rather than hire a private attorney to try negotiating with the prosecutor, and I don’t know what to do. If I take the plea deal, I get a reduced sentence, but I still have a felony on my record, and that would essentially kill any chance of finding employment in tech ever again. But if I don’t take the plea deal, the private attorney has a chance to continue negotiations with the prosecutor, but there is no guarantee that that still won’t result in a pre-trial diversion, which is, while unlikely, what I am desperately hoping for. I am so scared I don’t know what to do. I am having mild panic attacks and don’t know what to do.

    • Hey i took a plea once. Biggest mistake of my life. If you can afford an attorney get one. If they cut a deal so quickly with you its probably bc the case itself is weak. Of course i dont know your situation but my grandfather was a judge so i do know a little about the behind the scenes. A public pretender wont be any help. Hire an attorney.

      Also for you and anyone reading this california backgrand checks go back seven years only. -except livescan and anything needing a security clearance- so if youve lost hope, perhaps a move will help you.
      I served time and got hit with a bunch of fraud charges. Even identity theft for driving someone through a bank line while they cashed a stolen check when i was 19 and now that im in california my background check runs clean.
      I got 8 felonies and spent half a year in prison thanks to a plea deal bc i was stupid and wouldnt tell my family i was in trouble. Dont take the deal unless you know theres no way out and you should still get an attorney to get you a better deal.

  12. Few months ago, I had a dvro granted against me? It is bsed on verbal threat, and currently I am employed and hired before it is granted. I was wondering if this is goign to be a problem during my employment and/or I apply for another position. I see some companies specifically say in their job advert that they consider employee with former arrest record. Mine is not arrest record but not clean either.

  13. Ryan Matthew

    I too, am constantly worried about my professional career. I accepted a plea bargain which convicted me of 1st degree assault, 1st degree robbery, felonious restraint, and forgery. I served a year in jail, close to 2 years on house arrest, and 5 years on probation (S.E.S. with a 10 year prison term backup at 85% time-served before a possibility of seeing a parole board). I have completely finished my probation finally, I graduated with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Mathematics (I was both a member of an honors society & I graduated Magna Cum Laude), and I am currently finishing up a BS in Electrical Engineering with a minor in Philosophy of Science; the issue I am currently facing is finding somewhere to do some sort of internship or Co-op, in which getting to work just a short little trial run as an engineer, would allow any skeptical employer to see that I am actually a valuable asset to their company/organization. While Studying for my first Bachelor’s degree I even spent a semester working as a Private Tutor for the course “Advanced Engineering Mathematics”, in addition to spending a whole year working as an undergraduate Teaching Assistant for “Introduction to Electrical Networks” (Same as “Electric Circuits 1”); I was head-hunted for both positions due to grades and no mention of background checks were ever made.

    However, I first realized my various obstacles coming my way whilst preparing to take the FE Exam for Mechanical Engineering. I found out that I may never be able to become a licensed Professional Engineer, let alone even a licensed Engineer-in-Training. Next, I found out that my lifelong dream of becoming a Private Pilot w/ Instrument Rating was essentially in the gutter… I am just not sure with where to go from here. I’d like to get a Ph.D someday and maybe even become an adjunct professor but its probably not a realistic goal since graduate programs all do background checks too.

    In a couple of years, I am going to attempt to receive a pardon from the governor of my state, which will pretty much be my last fighting chance at a normal life it feels like. Do you guys think this could open up more doorways for me, and maybe even allow me to become a private pilot as well, just like I have always dreamed of doing?

    Just as a side note, the reality of these felonies has weighed on my psyche so much more than I may be making it sound…. I cannot count the number of times that I have pondered suicide as a legitimate solution to every problem in my life because of these 4 labels that are written on me in bold letters which read, “EVIL VIOLENT PSYCHOPATH, DO NOT EMPLOY” *Nihilistic Sarcasm*. And yet I am one of the most calm, level-headed people that you’ll ever meet, and somehow life has still reduced me to nothing but a worthless villain… so anyone with advice, support, and/or similar circumstances please speak up, because I’ve never felt so alone in this world!

    • As someone who did 3 years fed time for, let’s just say undesirable, computer crimes I feel your pain. I held a Top Secret clearance and was briefed on several special access programs. All of that went “poof” and disappeared because of my own stupidity. I pled out because it was either plea for 37-46 months or go to trial and risk 20 years. That was over 10 years ago. I had a wife, house, 30.00 an hour job with nothing but the sky as my ceiling.
      Fast-forward to today. I make 11.50 an hour working at a dog boarding/ training facility. The owners didn’t even bat an eye when I told them about my felony. They told me the way I interact with the dogs was what made them want to hire me.
      I am wrapping up my bachelor’s degree in IT in a couple days. I’m guessing I will hear “No.” From just about everyone I apply to. That’s fine. I heard that well over 100 times for a year and a half right after I was released from prison. All it takes is one “Yes.” There are folks willing to hire felons. It might not be your dream job, but it may turn out to be something you really enjoy while you prepare yourself for the job you really want.

      It’s hard. I’m not going to sugar coat it. It’s hard and it sucks, but I refuse to give up and neither should anyone that’s facing the stigma attached to a felony conviction. I look at it like this. If I give up, the justice system wins. I refuse to give them the satisfaction of seeing me fail.

      Do not lose hope. I refuse to let my felony define me. Sure, I get frustrated about it. I allow myself about 10 minutes a day to feel sorry for myself then I go about my day.