What Happens If You Fail a Background Check

By Michael Klazema on 3/16/2018

Failing a background check is a concern for many job seekers whether or not they have criminal histories. Most often, to fail a background check is to be disqualified from job consideration. However, because there are few objective standards for what constitutes a passed or failed background check, there can be some confusion about what to expect when you submit for a screening. Below, we explain some of the events that can lead to a failed background check and what you can do to improve your chances of passing.

How to Fail a Background Check

The most important thing to realize when you are talking about passing or failing a background check is that every employer has slightly different standards. Some employers are willing to hire candidates with criminal histories. Others are more hesitant to do so. Some employers run a wide variety of checks—including criminal history, employment history, education verification, driving history, and credit history. Other employers only do criminal history checks. Because of these factors, it can be difficult to predict the outcome of a background check.

Here are a few ways that you might fail a background check

  • You have a conviction on your record directly relevant to the job at hand: Usually, simply having a criminal record doesn’t mean you fail a background check. Because of EEOC guidance, employers are expected to assess the relevance of criminal activity to the job at hand before making an adverse hiring decision. As such, if you are applying for a data entry job and have a five-year-old drug charge on your record, you probably won’t be disqualified from job consideration. Your criminal activity does not have much relevance to the position for which you are applying. If you are applying for a delivery driver job and have a two-year-old DUI conviction, you are likely to fail the background check and be denied the job opportunity. In the eyes of the employer, your DUI directly inhibits your ability to perform the job and flags you as a risky hire.
  • You stretched the truth on your resume: Many employers run verification searches to check the information on your resume. The college you attended, degree(s) you received, GPA, job titles and responsibilities, employment dates, skills, professional licenses: all these things are fair game in a verification check. If you lied or stretched the truth on your resume, there is a good chance your employer will find out. Getting caught in a lie will almost always qualify as failing a background check.
  • Your check showed other red flags that raised questions about your ability to perform the job: Even if you don’t have a criminal history and are 100% honest on your resume, you can still fail a background check. That’s because employers will sometimes look elsewhere to learn more about you. If you are applying for a job that involves managing a company’s finances but your credit history check reveals debt and missed payments, that might impact your hiring chances. Similarly, if you are applying for a driving job and your driving history check shows a dozen speeding tickets, you are likely to fail the background check in the employer’s eyes. These checks won’t be things you face at every job. When they are relevant to the position, they carry weight.
  • Your employer mistakenly included records that don’t apply to you on a report: If you disagree about the inclusion of a criminal record in your background check report, consult your employer. While background check companies pull data from public records, an employer makes the ultimate decision whether identifying criteria on the record matches the applicant. Sometimes, an employer may accidentally add an out-of-date record or a record that does not apply. Because of these factors, it is possible to fail a background check for criminal history or other data that doesn’t apply to you. Per the FCRA, employers must provide you with a copy of the background check and a written explanation of any adverse hiring action they are taking against you.

The Aftermath of a Failed Background Check

Usually, failing a background check will mean you need to keep trying to find a job elsewhere. An offense or red flag that leads to disqualification from one hiring process might not have the same impact everywhere. Some employers are more lenient and more willing to give people second chances. Keep in mind no employers can deny all people with a criminal history or they will face discrimination claims.

If you want to increase your chances of passing your next background check, here are a few things you can do:

  • Run a background check on yourself: Conducting a background screening on yourself gives you the chance to see what prospective employers are seeing. If there are records on your report that don’t apply to you, you can fix those issues before they cost you another job opportunity.
  • Understand which jobs you are unlikely to get: Certain crimes or defenses make it hard to find jobs in certain fields. For instance, a sex offender can’t hold a job that involves working with children, while someone with a violent criminal history is unlikely to pass a background check for a customer service job. If you have a criminal history, do some homework online to gain a more thorough understanding of the types of jobs that are longshots for you. That way, you can focus your energy on applying for jobs you are more likely to get.
  • Be honest: Don’t embellish your resume. Don’t lie in interviews. And if the job application asks if you have ever been convicted of a crime, don’t answer “No” if the answer is “Yes.” Your chances of passing any background check—be it a verification check or a criminal history search—go up significantly when you are honest and forthright.

To learn more about background checks and the complexities of passing and failing them, visit the Learning Center.

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