Can you pass a background check with a criminal record? Job seekers with or without criminal histories have repeatedly asked the question. Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer. Background checks are complex and can yield many results.

So, what does it mean to “pass” a criminal background check? Contrary to popular belief, background checks aren’t something you either pass or fail. Passing a background check simply means the hiring manager was satisfied with its results. Employers who use these checks consider various factors before making any hiring decision based on your background check data.

What to Expect From a Background Check

A study by and the Professional Background Screening Association found that 95% of companies use pre-employment background checks during hiring. Employers may conduct a background check as a form of due diligence to learn more about potential hires or to spot red flags. Employers don’t want to hire people who pose a risk to their customers, employees, brands, or the public. They can minimize these risks by checking job candidates’ criminal histories.

However, not all criminal history checks are the same. There is no central hub of criminal records that employers can search before hiring someone. Instead, criminal history information is spread out across many databases and locations. County courts file away much of this information. Some of it can be found by searching state repositories or multi-jurisdictional databases, but there are holes and blind spots in these databases.

In other words, background checks aren’t infallible. Depending on the checks an employer uses, there is a chance that reports will be clean even if the candidate has a criminal record. This candidate would then have technically “beaten” the background check, but that’s frequently not the end of the story.

Depending on the job, background checks might include credit checks, drug testing, and driving record verification. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) prohibits employers from conducting a background check without your permission.

Best Practices for Passing a Background Check

Whether you have a criminal history or not, you shouldn’t rely on luck to get you through the screening process. Employers are increasingly stringent about their background check policies. They are fleshing out their criminal checks to avoid blind spots or adding supplementary checks (education and employment verifications, address history checks, etc.) to improve their hiring process.

Following these best practices is your best bet if you want to pass a background check.

Don’t lie about your name

Many background checks are name-based—though some employers use fingerprint or Social Security Number checks for more precise results. Because of this setup, some ex-offenders assume that they can beat background checks by adopting fake names. This idea works in theory, but it falls apart when employers use alias searches, which many do. Even hiring managers who don’t use a formal alias background check often Google candidates online before or after the first interview. If nothing turns up, it can arouse suspicion.

Get your story straight

If you have a criminal record, you should always assume that employers will find out about it. Your best bet to pass a background check isn’t to lie but to tell the truth. If ban the box policies are enforced where you live, know that this kind of law restricts employers from asking about criminal history on the job application.

Instead, it delays the background check until later in the screening process. This policy aims to give candidates with criminal histories a chance to prove their skills and qualifications without their past mistakes overshadowing their potential. If ban-the-box is in your favor, put your best foot forward so employers don’t give your criminal record too much weight when they discover it.

If ban-the-box is not in effect in your state, it will likely be best to disclose your criminal past on the job application. Your best bet in this scenario is to be honest and transparent. Explain to the employer what happened and what you’ve done since to atone for it. You have the chance to control the narrative—take it.

Run a background check on yourself

That doesn’t mean you’re in the clear if you don’t have a criminal record. The background check company might pull the wrong file, showing results for someone who shares your name but not your innocence. Or someone at the local courthouse could have misfiled something under your name.

Either way, you need to be prepared for the possibility that you might not pass the background check, even if, by all accounts, you should. The best way to prepare for this unlikely (but possible) outcome is to run a background check on yourself. There are plenty of places online where you can order a self-check. This precautionary step will give you an idea of what will appear on a background check during your job application.

Consider expungement

Sometimes, all the honesty in the world only does you so much good. The truth remains that it’s usually difficult for people with criminal records to get jobs. Ban the box legislation is designed to help, and some employers are willing to give ex-offenders second chances. If you have a record and have repeatedly tried to find gainful employment with no success, it might be time to consider expungement.

States have different rules regarding expungement depending on the crime for which you were convicted, how much time has passed since the offense, and the remainder of your record. An expunged record should stop appearing on background checks and won’t spoil employment opportunities.

What is a Red Flag on a Background Check?

A background check determines whether the candidate is suitable for the job. Therefore, red flags on one employment background check may not cause any concern on another. Most employers consider criminal records and employment history during the background check process.

Here are some red flags in a criminal background check that may disqualify you:

  • Felony convictions (murder, rape, robbery, arson)
  • Multiple misdemeanors
  • A history of violence
  • Dealing in controlled substances
  • Refusing a background check

Here are some red flags that may come from employment verifications:

  • Long periods of unexplained unemployment
  • Discrepancies between your resume and experience or education
  • Negative references
  • Being fired for misconduct

Despite these warning signals, most fair employers will allow job seekers to explain their criminal or employment histories in more detail. Depending on the job you’re applying for, they may overlook old or minor offenses.

How To Pass a Background Check With a Felony

You can pass a criminal background check with a felony conviction, provided you are honest and open with the hiring manager. Arrange an interview before you mention your criminal history. That way, employers can get to know you before making any judgments. Make sure you present yourself well and warn them about your criminal record once they propose a background check.

Do not try to prove your innocence if you were convicted of a crime. Instead, accept your past and show the employer how much you have changed and why you deserve a second chance. You might not be paid well for your first job after prison, but you can use the opportunity to work hard and gain an outstanding employment reference for future roles.

What Does a Cleared Background Check Mean?

The term “cleared” on an employee background check report means that your employer did not find anything of concern during their criminal records search. It generally means there will be no adverse action, and they can continue the hiring process. A cleared status also shows that your future employer was satisfied with your employment verification, credit history, and driving records.

How Do I Check My Criminal Record in the US?

As mentioned above, running one on yourself is the best way to get ahead of a criminal background check. You might also need to prove you don’t have a criminal history for some overseas job applications. To check if you have a criminal record, you can request an Identity History Summary Check, also known as a criminal history rap sheet, from the FBI.

This process costs $18 per person and requires your fingerprints. You can also ask your local police department to conduct a county criminal records search to complement the background check data in your rap sheet.

The FBI’s criminal record check only shows arrest records—if you want more detailed information, private background check services are the best bet. offers reliable instant criminal database searches to help you check your criminal history online in under five minutes.

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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

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