What Does It Mean to Pass a Criminal Background Check?

By Michael Klazema on 1/21/2020

Many businesses, on their job postings or employment listings, will say: “Candidates will be required to pass background checks before they can be hired.” This statement is mostly meant to let prospective job applicants know that the company runs background checks on all finalists. However, one word in that sentence can be confusing: “pass.” What does it mean to pass a criminal background check, and what can job seekers do to improve their chances?

First, note that background checks do not typically work on a pass/fail basis. When conducting a background check, most employers will weigh the findings and use them to make an informed hiring decision.

There are certain background check findings that can automatically disqualify candidates from job consideration. For instance, schools cannot legally hire registered sex offenders. Banks and financial institutions must steer clear of individuals with a history of embezzlement or other financial crimes. Most employers across every industry will also view violent criminal offenses as major red flags.

Even these findings won’t lead a person to “fail” every employment background check that they face, however. Employers are encouraged by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to assess background check reports on a case-by-case basis. That guideline might mean looking at how relevant a conviction is to a certain job or considering how much time has elapsed since the conviction. These factors complicate what it means to fail or pass background checks.

Unfortunately, use of the phrase “pass a background check” on job applications will sometimes convince candidates with criminal histories that they need to try to “beat” the background check. Instead, job seekers are often best-served by being as honest as possible with prospective employers. Honesty is one value that virtually every employer values. Telling the truth about your background—even if it’s a background that might cause you to “fail” a national criminal background check—has significant value.

You won’t always be asked for criminal background information on a job application due to the growing trend of ban the box legislation. If you are asked to disclose your criminal history, come clean. Be honest about any past convictions and provide explanations or context that might shed some light on your situation.

If you need help with this process, offers a useful tool for self-checks. For just $12.50, you can run a national criminal background check on yourself and get a sense of what a hiring manager might find on your background check.

Remember that “passing” a background check isn’t just about criminal history. Many employment background checks include verifications of educationwork history, and professional licenses. While resume lies are common, they are also easy for employers to find. Being honest about your background is the better route to employment and success.

Want to find out more about how employer background checks work? Visit our Learning Center today.



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