What Shows Up On A Background Check? | Complete Details


An employer at his computer submitting a background check for a prospective employee.

Background checks may be needed for a variety of reasons. Employers often run a background check on new employees, and there are other instances when an organization might need to run a criminal background check on you. If you apply for car insurance, the insurance company might need to run a background check to obtain a copy of your driving record.

With so many different types of background checks out there, have you ever wondered what shows up on a background check? The answer depends on what kind of background check is being run. Some provide much more detailed information than others. Keep reading as we tell you what shows up on different types of background checks as well as give you information on what you can do if you fail a background check. Let’s get started!


What Does A Background Check Show?

Are you wondering, “What’s on a background check?” We already mentioned that a background check could reveal different things depending on the kind of check that is run. Some might show your criminal record, while others are more focused on your credit history. The purpose of the background check typically dictates the type of information that will be included in the background check report. Here are the most common types of background checks you might encounter and the information that will be included in each.


— Pre-Employment Background Check

Pre-employment background checks are one of the most common types of background checks that you will encounter. Almost all employers screen potential candidates upon making a job offer, and the offer of employment is usually contingent upon a successful background check. So, what information is included in the typical background check for employment?

At a minimum, you can expect this type of background check to include identity verification, employment history, education verification, criminal history, and verification of any professional licenses. Many people wonder, “Do background checks show employment history,” and the answer is yes. A background check provider can supply this information to the employer by using just your full name and your Social Security number. Depending on the nature of the job, the employer may also require additional information to be included.

In some cases, your driving record will be included in the pre-employment background check. This is typical if your potential job responsibilities include driving a company vehicle. Similarly, the check might also contain information about your credit history. This is common for jobs in the financial services sector or in positions in which you will be handling cash or other payments. It is worth noting that the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) has rules about what can appear on your credit check. For instance, bankruptcies more than ten years old cannot be reported on a credit check.

Finally, you might also need to submit to a pre-employment drug screening before you start your new job. While that information is usually separate from the background screening, it is almost always included as part of the screening process. Job candidates who fail either the background screening or the drug testing are likely to have their job offers withdrawn.


— Criminal History Check

Criminal history checks are often included as part of other background checks, like pre-employment screenings. Criminal background checks are usually not performed separately, but they can be done that way if necessary. There are a few items that you can expect a criminal history check to include. First, it will include any prior criminal convictions. Both felony convictions and misdemeanor convictions will appear on the criminal history check.

Incarceration as an adult will appear on a criminal history check. However, time spent in juvenile facilities will typically not show up on these checks. Usually, a judge will seal your juvenile offender records, and those do not appear in future background checks.

Do pending charges show up on a background check? Usually, the answer is yes. Pending criminal cases will also appear on your record, and any arrests pending prosecution will also show up. Whether or not arrests that ended in an acquittal appear on these reports depends on the company performing the search. Some background check companies exclude these arrest records in compliance with EEOC standards, while others still include them on the report. You might even find out you have a warrant as a result of a criminal history check!

You should also know that criminal history checks are subject to state law restrictions. Some states prohibit the disclosure of convictions after a certain period of time. For example, felonies older than seven years might not appear on your history, and misdemeanors more than five years old may not show up. California, Kansas, New Hampshire, New York, Hawaii, Maryland, and Washington are some of the states that prohibit disclosure of prior convictions beyond a certain time period.


— Driver Record Check

There are a couple of reasons why your driving record might get pulled. First, you might be applying for new car insurance, and the insurance company needs to check your driving history. Next, a driver report might be needed as part of the hiring process for a role that includes driving as an essential responsibility. Either way, driver record checks usually include the same basic information.

The information contained in your driver’s record usually comes from the state Department of Motor Vehicles. These reports will usually list all traffic accidents, violations, citations, convictions, and license suspensions on your record. Parking tickets may or may not show up on these reports, as these reports are often limited to moving violations only. The report will also show a license verification, and the report will usually show whether you have any current restrictions on your license.

If your driver’s license has been subject to any suspensions or other disciplinary actions in the past, those records will appear on the driver record check. The results of this check can affect a company’s hiring decisions. For example, a potential employee with multiple infractions on their driving record might not qualify for insurance coverage on their company vehicle. This could prevent the company from hiring that individual.


— Fingerprint Background Check

The fingerprint background check process typically focuses on criminal history. Instead of matching a name, date of birth, and Social Security number to your records, these checks match all records with your fingerprints. Some people argue that a fingerprint background check is more complete and accurate than a standard criminal history check. However, others say that this is not always the case.

Not all law enforcement jurisdictions participate in fingerprint databases. When conducting a fingerprint background check, the background check company will usually search the FBI database for files that match your fingerprints. They might also search for AFIS or other criminal database records. A fingerprint check could be incomplete since your fingerprints might not be associated with every conviction on your record.

The main thing to know about a fingerprint background check is that it shows as much information as possible about your criminal history. It might contain more information than a standard criminal history check, although it could also be missing items from the standard check as well. Fingerprint background checks are simply another method used by employers and other agencies to obtain criminal background information about a person. These checks are often used in conjunction with a typical criminal background check that uses a name, DOB, and SSN to obtain a complete historical profile of a person.


— Level 2 Background Check

A Level 2 background check is a specialized type of criminal history check that typically uses your fingerprints for identification. This type of background check focuses specifically on identifying any potential criminal history of violent crimes or crimes against vulnerable people, such as children. Job applicants who are seeking to work at a school, daycare, special needs facility, or similar facility will usually be subject to a Level 2 background check. Similarly, volunteers at these facilities or potential foster parents will also need to undergo one of these checks.

A Level 2 background check focuses specifically on identifying violent crimes and crimes against vulnerable people. For example, someone on the sex offender registry will fail a Level 2 background check. As you can imagine, a prior sex offender is not a good potential hire at a school or daycare. When it comes to a Level 2 background check, a traffic ticket is probably of no concern, but a conviction for a violent crime is a red flag.

The other important thing to know about a Level 2 background check is that it also includes records that might otherwise be sealed. For example, these background checks might include juvenile convictions or other information from juvenile proceedings. So, if you were convicted of a violent crime as a minor, that information could still show up on a Level 2 background check.


— FBI Background Check

The FBI background check is the most comprehensive background check on this list. This type of background check is designed to report every encounter that you have had with law enforcement. Even arrests that did not result in a conviction will be shown on these reports. These background checks use a combination of fingerprint checks and checks using other identifying information. The FBI background check is often used for potential employees of government agencies and other highly secure positions.

In addition to convictions, you can expect the FBI background check to show arrests and any other encounters with law enforcement that have been reported to the FBI database. It is likely that even traffic citations and parking tickets will show up on these reports. Some non-criminal activity, like information from previous employers or civil court records, might show up on the FBI background check.

Although an FBI background check is very thorough, it is not the same thing as gaining a security clearance. Getting security clearance is much more involved, although the FBI background check might be the first step. To get a security clearance, several more steps are required. In addition to the background check, the agency will also filter through your entire life history. This might include looking through your social media accounts, interviewing family members or previous roommates, and performing numerous reference checks.


Reasons For A Pre-Employment Background Check

An employer discussing the background check process with a prospective employee.

You might be wondering why a potential employer needs to conduct a background check. What are the reasons why they would need that information about you? First, the pre-employment background check helps to ensure that you are telling the truth. It is possible that someone could lie on their resume about their work history or professional certifications. However, the background check process validates your past employment, professional licenses, and certifications. Any discrepancies in employment verification would appear in the results of the background check, and the employer could address those differences with the potential employee.

Another reason for the pre-employment background check is so that the employer can perform an assessment of the candidate’s criminal history and driving record in some cases. A few tickets are likely not an issue for an employee who will not be driving a company vehicle. However, traffic citations could be a big issue for a taxi driver, for example. Similarly, a prior conviction for a petty crime might not affect hiring a warehouse worker, but repeated convictions for violence might prevent that person from getting hired.

Remember that some pre-employment background checks are more involved than others. For instance, the background check conducted after a job offer from the FBI or CIA will be much more involved than the background check conducted by Walmart or some other retailer. These in-depth background checks will be used to ensure that your record is “squeaky clean.” Even minor run-ins with law enforcement might prevent you from obtaining employment with a government agency.

Finally, a pre-employment background check can be used to assess a person’s financial history and stability. This is typically used when the potential employee has access to cash or other financial instruments. For example, if a pre-employment background check reveals that a person is in significant debt and has missed multiple payments, that person might not be a good candidate for a bank teller position. The bank might feel that allowing the person that much access to cash would be too risky, given their financial situation.


How Long Does A Background Check Take?

The length of time required to complete a background check depends on a few factors. Most background checks are completed within two to three days. Some pre-employment background checks might only take a few minutes, especially those that focus more heavily on your credit history. Employers can run a credit check within a few minutes, and that check will provide them with the information they need to determine whether a job offer can be made.

The background check company that your employer uses also plays a role in how long the background check will take. Some companies are faster than others. Spikes in the amount of hiring taking place can also affect the timeframe of a background check. If there are hundreds of background checks in the backlog due to a hiring spree, then it will take longer to complete the ones at the end of the line.

Finally, the level of detail provided in the background check report will play a role in how long it takes to complete the check. Extremely detailed reports, like the FBI background check, will take longer to complete. These reports require searching in more databases, identifying more information, checking more references, and putting together more detailed information. Instead of just including convictions, these reports also include all arrests, encounters with law enforcement, and even traffic tickets. Gathering all the required information for a detailed report can take more time, so an FBI background check could take up to a week to complete. Likewise, obtaining a government security clearance can sometimes take several weeks.


Next Steps After A Failed Background Check

What happens if you fail a background check? Do you have any options for disputing the information contained in the report? First, you are generally entitled to obtain a copy of the background report along with your rights under the FCRA or equal employment laws. In addition, the employer will need to notify you of their findings prior to any “adverse action.” Basically, this means that they must notify you of the content of the background check and allow you an opportunity to respond before they rescind a job offer (or fire you if you already work there).

If you suspect errors in the report, consider running your own background check to verify the results. There could be a criminal out there who shares your name, and the criminal’s information has gotten onto your background report. Contact the reporting agency to dispute the information and work with them to have it removed from the report.

In the event that the information contained in the report is accurate, there are still some things you can do. Most felonies and misdemeanors remain on your record forever. However, that’s not always the case! Many states have recently instituted expungement laws that allow you to remove certain criminal convictions from your record. Consider talking to a criminal law attorney to have convictions expunged from your record. You can also visit the EEOC website to learn more about the laws concerning the way employers can use your background check results.

Be open and honest with your potential employer. Discuss their criteria for a “failed” background check and determine the steps you need to take to get to a passing status. In some cases, there might not be much you can do. However, at other times, you may be able to get a passing grade with a little bit of effort.


The Bottom Line

Background checks are used for a variety of different reasons, and pre-employment background checks are one of the most common types. A background check can include everything from criminal history to credit history, and some reports even include parking tickets or incidents that occurred as a juvenile. Most background checks are completed within 48 hours, although some of the more thorough checks might take several days to complete. If you fail a background check, you do have a few options. The main thing is to be honest and ensure that the information contained in the report is true and accurate.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


What do employers look for in a background check?

Different employers may look for different things in a background check. Some might only be concerned with a criminal history. A criminal conviction might prevent you from getting a job with that employer. However, others might only be concerned with violent crimes or crimes against children. Employers in the financial sector might also look at your credit history. These employers will use the information contained within your credit file to determine how financially responsible you are. Financial irresponsibility might preclude you from getting a job at a bank or other financial institution.


What causes a red flag on a background check?

Felony convictions usually cause a red flag on a background check. Some employers might also be concerned with misdemeanor convictions. If you are applying for a job with a government agency or law enforcement agency, a single arrest might be enough to preclude you from employment. Even if you were not convicted, some employers have very strict rules about failing a background check. Finally, bankruptcies, missed payments, or significant debt can be a red flag to a financial services employer. These items could mean that the potential employee is not responsible with money; therefore, they would not be a good fit for that industry.


What are the possible outcomes of a background check?

Typically, you will either pass or fail a background check. However, these determinations are usually made by the potential employer or entity running the check and not by the company providing the information. Most employers have policies that determine what types of items will cause someone to fail a background check. These policies must be applied equally to all potential employees, and the policy cannot discriminate against anyone based on race, gender, or other factors. If you do fail a background check, you can always consult an employment law attorney to discuss your options.