How Does a Background Check Work?

In running an employment background check—or consenting to one—employers and job seekers often have a similar question: how does a background check work? The answer is more complicated than you might think with nuances that depend on who is running the check, the type of check, and the database in the check, among other factors. In this post, we provide a concise overview of how the background check process works. 

The Type of Background Check 

First, understand how the type of background check will impact the way that the check takes place. A driving history check involves pulling state DMV records. Education or employment verification checks require calling college offices or HR departments to verify information listed on a resume. In this article, we focus on the criminal history check. 

The Entity Conducting the Check 

Different employers have go-to strategies or providers for their background checks. Public entities, including public schools, will often run fingerprint background checks through the FBI database. Private employers don’t have access to the same government resources, so they hire private background check companies to take care of each employment background check. 

The Type of Criminal Background Check 

There are different types of criminal background check products available. At, we have four: county searches, state searches, federal searches, and our US OneSEARCH multi-jurisdictional search. 

The process is different for each of these checks. If you order a county criminal history check, we will access court files from the specified county. In some cases, we will be able to do that digitally. In other cases, we will physically send a “court runner” to the courthouse to conduct the records search in person. Even within this process, there is variation. For instance, some courts have public computer terminals that anyone on the premises can search. In other cases, court runners will have to fill out and submit record search forms and then wait for a court clerk to sort through the (often undigitized) files. 

Federal criminal checks work similarly, pulling from US District Court indices rather than county court files. State criminal record checks are different. These checks involve searching state repositories, electronic systems to which counties from throughout the state intermittently report criminal record information. We can search these electronic databases by name to look for records that match a job candidate. 

Finally, our proprietary US OneSEARCH database—which compiles 650 million conviction records from throughout the country—is an entirely digitized resource. We can search this system and render instant results for our customers. 

Are you interested in getting an even deeper understanding of how the employment background check process works? Contact today and check out our Learning Center for additional resources.

Get monthly updates on  background check news, industry trends, and changes in laws and regulations.

Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

Michael's recent publications

Browse by topic

More Like This Post

State Criminal Search

Virginia Criminal Search

A Virginia state background check can uncover more criminal records. Learn about these tools and the legal restrictions involved.

Order a Search for Virginia