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What Does a Background Check Consist Of?

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What Can I Expect From an Employee Background Check?

Many businesses and organizations require all their job applicants to undergo a background check. This step is for the protection of the employer, as well as for its current employees and clientele. If you’re looking for a job, be prepared to consent to a background check, and if necessary, be ready to offer an explanation for any negative information that may show up. Doing so can help increase the chance that you will be hired and have the ability to support your family.

What Will Show Up on a Background Check?

What’s revealed on a background check depends on the employer, the type of job you are applying for and the laws in your state. Some companies do their own background checks, but many outsource this task to third-party services that have access to credit, employment and criminal record databases.

Information that may show up on a background check include:

  • Criminal background: Many employers check to see if you have any criminal convictions. 
  • Driving history: Your driving history, including tickets, may show up in a background check report. This could be important if you are applying for a job that requires you to drive a company vehicle or spend a significant amount of time on the road. 
  • Credential verification: A background check may include a verification of your educational degrees, professional certifications and professional licensure.
  • Employment verification: Employers will often verify your employment at any companies you list on your application or in your resume.
  • Credit history: Some states limit the ability of an employer to run a credit check on employees and job applicants. However, most states allow employers to check your credit. 
  • Personal references: If you apply for a position that requires a security clearance, an employer may conduct an in-depth investigation of your personality and character by interviewing interviews with neighbors, coworkers and other associates. 


It’s against the law for an employer to run a background check without your permission. If you learn that an employer did so, you can report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission and possibly take legal action against the company. Because employers are required to get your permission, it’s a good idea to carefully review the release before you sign it. Don’t be shy about asking which kinds of background checks will be employed.

How Do Employers Check Your Work History?

In some cases, an employer will check your work history by calling or emailing the employers listed on your resume or job application. If the employer runs a credit check, he or she may also be able to compare the list of employers on your resume with those listed on your credit reports. Third-party background check companies can do the same thing by assigning one of their investigators to verify your employment dates with each company that you’ve worked for.

Preparing for Explanations

If you already know that some things in your background could affect your chances of getting hired, it’s a good idea to be proactive about background checks. Knowing what is likely to show up on a report allows you to better manage the background check process.

  • Check your credit reports: Erroneous information often appears in credit reports. Removing this information before an interview can help you avoid awkward questions. You are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus. If you are unemployed, you are also entitled to request an additional free credit report from each bureau if you are searching for a job.
  • Review your criminal records: Just as credit reports can contain erroneous information, so can criminal records. Check yours to make sure that it’s all accurate. In addition, it may be a good idea to review the charges against you, as well as what you were convicted of so that you can accurately describe the circumstances to an interviewer.

Bring It Up Yourself

Being proactive is usually the best approach. Many employers only do background checks on individuals whom they either plan to hire or who they are very interested in hiring. If you are far enough along in the interview process that running a background check comes up, it’s time to be straightforward with your hiring manager and bring the topic up yourself. Here’s why:

  • Preventing shock and suspicion: If a hiring manager is enthusiastic about bringing you on board, he or she may experience an unpleasant shock upon finding negative information in your application. She might also wonder why you didn’t bring up these issues when you knew that a background check would take place. This could cause her to question your character or common sense.
  • Presenting yourself positively: When you bring up negative information that may be on your background check, you can control the narrative. You can explain what happened, why it happened and the steps you have taken to improve. 
  • Protecting your time: Some employers have policies that bar any applicant from employment due to a negative credit or criminal history. It doesn’t matter how qualified you are or how much the hiring manager likes you, the company simply isn’t going to make you an offer. Being proactive can terminate the interview process so that you can move on and pursue another job. 

Presenting the Information

When presenting information about a negative credit history, criminal background or a spotty employment record, be straightforward. Don’t make excuses, become emotional or bring up a lot of extraneous information.

For example, if you have a low credit score, you can explain to the hiring manager that you’ve had some financial struggles, and your credit will reflect it. If there were temporary circumstances that caused the problems, such as divorce or illness, explain this as well. You can then go on to say that you have taken steps to manage your finances appropriately.


A bad credit history may not be as damaging to your job search as you might think. Many hiring managers are fully aware that good people experience financial problems from time to time. While some employers may use your credit history to make judgments about your character or work ethic, others may not pay much attention unless you will be handling large amounts of money or would be privy to very sensitive information.

Criminal records can be more challenging to address, though many former offenders are able to find work. Emphasize what you have accomplished since the incident, and be willing to provide references who can speak to your character and work ethic.

Social Media Cleanup

Many HR departments and hiring managers search Google and social media to see your presence online. While this can give a hiring manager a better idea of who you are as a person, there may be some content that you would rather an employer not see. Review all of your social media accounts, as well as webpages and blogs, and remove photos, videos and tags on comments and posts that don’t portray you in the best light.


Lainie Petersen writes about business, real estate and personal finance, drawing on 25 years experience in publishing and education. Petersen's work appears in Money Crashers, Selling to the Masses, and in Walmart News Now, a blog for Walmart suppliers. She holds a master's degree in library science from Dominican University.

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