Interview prep

Why you failed your background check (and where to go from here)

Did you know you can order your own background check?

The thought of an employer sifting through your personal information can make anyone uncomfortable.

This makes background checks scary, especially if you don't know what to expect, or what your potential employer is looking for. It's important to understand that each company has different standards and that failing a background check will not carry the same consequences everywhere. With that in mind, here are some reasons you might not have passed, and some ideas on how to move forward. 

Why People Fail (and how to avoid it)

1. An undisclosed criminal background

Having convictions isn't necessarily a deal breaker. Divulging them before a background check is conducted (and taking the time to explain them) will give you the best chance of passing. 

A criminal background check is one of the most frequently used (and highly significant) checks an employer makes. You may fail a criminal background check if:

  1. You have an extensive criminal record,
  2. Have one or more felony convictions, or
  3. Have committed crimes related to the position's responsibilities.

On the other hand, if you have been convicted of a misdemeanor or have other criminal convictions unrelated to the position, there's a decent chance that you won't be penalized.

2. Inconsistencies on your resume

Companies often use background checks to verify:

  1. Your degree,
  2. Your past jobs and dates of employment, and
  3. Any certificates, projects, or activities you list on your resume.

If your resume does not properly reflect your employment history, educational background, skill set, or other information, you will most likely fail a background check.

Lying about or embellishing your credentials is one of the top reasons a job application will be thrown out or a job offer will be rescinded.

Even if your resume is not as impressive as you'd like, it's essential to include honest information about your history. Remember that omitting information can also count as lying, so be sure to include all significant positions in your background check, even if they were ultimately unsuccessful (or resulted in your termination). 

3. Poor credit history

Many employers in the United States don't run credit checks. If they do, it's often because you'll be working in a position that deals with large sums of money.

A low credit score, large amounts of debt, bankruptcy, or other significant financial hardships could raise red flags: if you're irresponsible with personal funds, they may not trust you with the company's.

For the most part, however, a hiring decision will not be made based on your personal finances. If you believe you are being unfairly targeted because of your financial past, read about your rights under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission here.

4. Poor driving history

Many employers also don't consider your driving record. However, if your job would involve operating a vehicle regularly, or if you would gain use of a company car, your driving history will become relevant.

  • Minor offenses, like a couple of speeding or parking tickets, will likely not hurt your chances.
  • Major instances like a DUI will raise a red flag for most employers. Once again, it's best to be honest and upfront, and to prepare an explanation for any major offenses. 

5. Drug test failure

This one is pretty self explanatory. Many employers have strict policies against drug use, which are often outlined in your employment agreement. Even if certain drugs are legal in your state (like marijuana, for example), companies with national accounts may prohibit their use by employees.

Be aware of whether or not your potential employer requires a drug screening and act accordingly. Some prescribed medications can cause false positives on drug tests, so you should also be prepared to present proof of your prescriptions.

6. Bad references or reviews

In many cases, companies will only verify your employment status, dates, and role responsibilities. Due to legal reasons or company policy, further digging may not always be possible. In some cases, however, employers will try to get in touch with previous bosses or coworkers. They may examine factors like work ethic, attitude, personality, or other characteristics related to job performance and company culture. This will likely be a factor if you had a poor relationship with a previous boss, or left a job on bad terms.

👉 If you're marked as unregretted attrition, read more about what you should be aware of.

7. Social media

The chances of your future employer examining your social media are high. Violent, discriminatory, explicit, illegal, or otherwise disturbing content will be seen as a red flag and could very easily cost you a job. Exercise reasonable caution when it comes to posting, sharing, and liking content. If you believe you are being unfairly targeted due to your social media profile or activity, read more about social media background checks (and the rules that govern them) here.

Inaccurate background checks happen too!

Every once in a while, a background check fails due to error on the side of the background check company. Sometimes, public records are inaccurate, or records from someone with the same name were placed under yours. If you believe this is the case, see options 3 and 6 below: ordering your own background check or appealing the failure may be your best courses of action. 

Fixing A Failed Background Check

1. Know and exercise your rights

  • Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you are entitled to know if you failed a background check, the agency that ran the check, and how to contact them.
  • You are also entitled to a copy of the report and have the right to dispute inaccurate findings. For a full breakdown of your rights under FCRA, refer to this link.

2. Understand company policy

When it comes to an initial background check, different companies examine different factors. It's alright to inquire about which aspects of your background they will explore before you even begin the process. If you already failed a background check, it's important to understand the potential consequences.

Some companies automatically disqualify you due to a failed background check, while others may not take adverse action until they allow you due time to explain the failure. Still others will consider it on a case by case basis. If your prospective employer does not disclose this information upfront, it never hurts to ask! 

3. Order your own background check

If you pay to run one yourself, you'll be able to see exactly what potential employers are seeing. This can help you avoid surprises and correct any mistakes you see. For example, if there are incorrect records attached to your name, you can contact the proper agencies and eliminate them.

4. Be honest from the start

If you disclose everything up front, your chances of passing a background check, or getting hired in spite of a failed one, are much higher. Employers are more likely to forgive past mistakes than present lies. If you're a dishonest applicant, they assume you'll be a dishonest employee, and your chances of getting the position will be slim to none. Plus, odds are that a background investigation will uncover anything you're trying to hide regardless, so being dishonest won't get you anywhere!

5. Ask for a chance to explain

If the employer has not already offered, ask if it's possible for you to explain any discrepancies. Some background checks may fail for minor reasons, like small inconsistencies in your resume or an inability to contact a previous employer. Even if the reason is a bit larger, it never hurts to argue your case.

6. Appeal the background check

If you believe that you failed a background check because the background check company had incorrect information, you can attempt to appeal it. This requires that you know what information was incorrect, where it came from, and documented proof that it was false. The best way to gather this information is by running a background check on yourself to identify the false information and building your case accordingly. You will likely be dealing with whatever agency was responsible for the inconsistency, not your potential employer. Although this is a tiring and tedious process, it's worth it if you're in the right!

👉 Passed the background check and just received your offer? Congratulations! Start thinking about your salary negotiation next.

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