What Do Employers Look for in a Background Check?

Deyan Georgiev
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Updated · May 11, 2023

Deyan Georgiev
Website Manager | Joined October 2021

Deyan has been fascinated by technology his whole life. From the first Tetris game all the way to Fa... | See full bio


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Many job seekers have perfected their interview and networking skills. 

But sometimes, that’s not enough. They need to pass a background check, too.

But what exactly do employers look for in a background check? And why is one necessary?

Worry not, I’ll explain everything.

Let’s dive in.

What Is an Employment Background Check?

An employment background check is a standard way managers verify a job candidate or employee’s identity. 

A typical background check for employment consists of a person’s work history, education history, social media profiles, credit history, and much more. 


Under the law, a potential employer has to notify you in writing and get a written consent from you before running corporate background checks

If a manager decides not to hire you because of something they discovered during the background check process, they are required by law to inform you in writing. Also, you are entitled to a copy of your background check.

They are also not allowed to use background check sites that are not considered a consumer reporting agency under the FCRA. While most people utilize people search sites to find information about another person's address or even dating profiles, employers can't use these websites to screen potential employees. 

But that’s not all.

The employer must give you a reasonable amount of time to dispute the report

So, what do they look for in a background check? 

Employers mainly look into records that can attest to an applicant’s credibility, qualifications, honesty, and reliability. 

Depending on the type of employment and the circumstances surrounding the hire, they may choose to conduct a check on an applicant’s:

  • identity
  • work history
  • credit history 
  • criminal records
  • sex offender information
  • social media profiles
  • references
  • drug test results
  • driving records
  • education, etc.

Let’s take a closer look.


Identity theft cases are pretty rampant. Hence, it is important for employers to verify a candidate’s true identity. 

Most employers use third-party background check services to confirm an applicant’s name, date of birth, address, SSN, and other key information. It also logs other fraud and active duty alerts.

Work History

When managers look into your work or employment history, they want to know that you did not lie on your resume. This job background check process entails calling your previous jobs and asking about your duties and performance. They may also want to confirm the dates of employment.

Criminal Records

Criminal background check details can cover offenses committed across county, state, and federal levels. They can include sex crimes, identity theft, violent offenses, etc. that could make someone a risky hire. A criminal record search also covers misdemeanor convictions, pending charges, felony convictions, dismissed charges, and acquitted charges. 

Note that there is no single central database for criminal information. Some states do not allow searches or questions into incidents that happened at a certain time in the past. 

Credit History

Credit history checks help employers determine a person’s financial responsibility. It typically entails a third-party background check that looks into a person’s social security number as well as current and previous addresses. The reports can also include: 

  • credit card loans
  • student loan debts
  • car payments 
  • mortgages 
  • late and defaulted payments. 

Credit history checks are more common in finance-related jobs. Note that credit screenings for employment purposes are illegal in some places. For example:

  • Colorado
  • Hawaii
  • Maryland
  • Washington DC
  • New York City, and 
  • Philadelphia, 

Sex Offender Information

You may be surprised to learn that there are over 780,000 registered sex offenders in the US. Knowing this, employers strive to take the necessary precautions to protect their company. 

All states in the US have a sex offender registry. The reports are available to the public and managers and HRs can access them via the internet. However, this does not cover minor sex offender charges. Most employers conduct a thorough job background check for such.

Social Media Profiles

There are laws that dictate how a person’s social media activity influences a hiring manager’s decision. However, an employer can choose to view a candidate’s public social media posts. Instances of hate speech, foul language, cyberbullying and harmful content can make someone decline a candidate for a job.


Often candidates have to provide references. This is because it is the most common background check used by employers. It involves directly contacting listed individuals and asking questions concerning your character. 

Drug Tests

Employers in industries such as driving and aviation might require drug tests to determine whether applicants use illegal drugs. The tests can even point to  recent use of prescription medication and alcohol. Some illegal drugs that are typically screened for in drug tests are:

  • THC (marijuana, hash, cannabinoids)
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamines (speed, meth, ecstasy, crack)
  • Phencyclidine (angel dust, PCP)
  • Opiates (opium, heroin, morphine, codeine)

Note that drug tests are a standard part of the job background check process

Driving Record

Certain employers prefer to run driving record checks as a part of their hiring process. This can happen whether the role they are looking to fill will require driving at some point or not. 

Anyone looking to hire can do a driving record check via the MVR or DMV records.

An MVR (motor vehicle record) check can give an employer information about a candidate’s driving history. It shows what class of vehicles they can operate and how long they have had their license. It also tells them if there have been cases of traffic violations or DUIs in the past.


When conducting a background check for jobs, most employers will seek to verify a candidate’s education history and certificates. The aim is to know whether the applicant actually attended the school and received the degrees they claim to have. 

Does this mean employers can access every information about a candidate? 

Certainly not.

What Employers Can’t See in a Background Check?

While a simple google background check can reveal a lot about a job candidate, there are certain types of information that they cannot access. Some examples of these are:

Medical Records

Doctor-patient confidentiality prevents employers from accessing a candidate’s medical records. If necessary, you can provide any information the company seeks directly to the hiring manager. 

However, asking an applicant personal questions about their health history can be discriminatory and cause problems for the employer.

Detailed School Records

Legally, anyone looking to hire can request to verify an applicant’s educational history and credentials. However, even the most sophisticated employer background check techniques will not reveal certain school records. For example, they can’t see the exact courses you took and the grades you received. Also, high school records are not accessible to the public.

Political Affiliations

The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 prohibits federal government employers from inquiring about an applicant’s political affiliations. Asking such questions could trigger a discrimination claim.

It is prohibited on federal and most state levels to ask or run pre or post-hire background checks on an applicant’s political affiliations. The exception - when an employer deciphers the candidate’s political thinking via their social media posts.

Military Records

Managers cannot access a candidate’s military record. Any information they require might be offered voluntarily by the candidate. If that happens, they cannot verify it or request details about the applicant’s military history. They are also not allowed to look for evidence of an applicant’s discharge from the military.

Wrap Up

So, what do employers look for in a background check?

Basically, everything they can find to prove that an applicant is credible. These checks include references, drug tests, credit history, criminal records, etc. The ultimate goal of an employment background check is to ensure that the candidate is a good fit for the company.

But can employers see everything when they conduct background checks?


Some information is not accessible, and some are downright prohibited. This includes medical records, political affiliation, school transcripts, and military records.

So, now you know what to expect. Where are you applying next?


What can be revealed in a background check?

There is so much more to a background check than just criminal records. A background check investigates a person’s history and can reveal the subject’s:

  • True identity
  • Past addresses
  • Credit history
  • Employment history
  • Motor vehicle history
  • International crimes and felonies, etc.

What background check site do most employers use?

There are lots of excellent employment background check services available. One of such is GoodHire. This service is well designed, has a clean user interface, and is easy to use. It also ensures FCRA compliance. Other top-notch options include:

  • Checkr
  • AccurateNow
  • HireRight
  • Sterling
  • Intellicorp
  • Certn

What can make you fail a background check for a job?

You can fail a background check for a job if you have a criminal record or were convicted of a felony. Other things that can make you fail an employment background check are:

  • Bad credit history
  • Embellished or false credentials
  • Social media red flags
  • Failed drug test
  • Poor report from references, etc.

Do all jobs do background checks?

No. Certain jobs don't require a background check. For example, don’t sweat it if you are an:

  • Actor 
  • Masonry contractor 
  • Carpenter 
  • Customer service representative
  • Freelance writer
  • Photographer
  • Chef 
  • Retail specialist 
  • House painter
  • Data entry clerk

Wanna know what exactly do employers look for in a background check? Check the article above.


Deyan Georgiev

Deyan Georgiev

Deyan has been fascinated by technology his whole life. From the first Tetris game all the way to Falcon Heavy. Working for TechJury is like a dream come true, combining both his passions – writing and technology. In his free time (which is pretty scarce, thanks to his three kids), Deyan enjoys traveling and exploring new places. Always with a few chargers and a couple of gadgets in the backpack. He makes mean dizzying Island Paradise cocktails too.

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