What to do with background check red flags?

Last updated: April 23, 2024
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Sara Jones
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What to do with background check red flags?
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When you apply for a job, the hiring manager wants to know if you'd be a good fit for the company. To start with, they'll want to learn about your employment history, education, and skills.

But there's more. 96% of employers use background checks as part of the application process.

The background check process will depend on the job. Common types of checks include criminal checks, credit history checks, and driving history checks.

It's not uncommon to have an issue on your employment background check. It could be a misdemeanor, a felony, bad credit, or a traffic violation.

So, what are common red flags for employers? And, what should you do if you don't have a clean record? Get set because we’re about to answer both these questions and more.

What is a background check?

Background checks are common toward the end of the hiring process. Employers use a third-party provider to look at your history for any red flags.

You'll need to give your permission before they can look at your records. But, if you decline, you'll likely miss out on the job.

The background check process depends on the position. For example, the employer may ask for your credit history, criminal history, and driving history. The information comes from national, state, interstate, and local databases.

During this process, they may also check that the information you've given on your resume is accurate. This can include your work history and education.

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And the employer may look at your social media profiles to see if you share the same values as the company.

Some companies perform regular background checks on employees. So, even if you pass the initial screen, you’ll still have to keep your record clean to keep your job.

Remember, it’s important to always be honest when applying for a new position.

Why do companies do background checks?

Employers have a responsibility to their customers and team members. They want to make sure the workplace is safe and that there's a low risk of theft or property damage.

A background check is usually the final step in the application process and verifies any information given by the candidate. It shows whether you've been honest and helps them make the final hiring decision.

Every company is different, and so are their background check criteria. For example, an accounting firm will be looking for instances of financial fraud. And, a retail store wants to know the customers won't feel threatened.

Some companies are stricter than others. The employer may only look at your criminal reports and ask you to take a drug test. Others will be interested in driving records, credit history, and professional history.

The good news is that some employers are willing to give people a second chance.

What can cause a red flag on your background check?

Pre-employment background checks give the employer an overview of criminal, credit, and driving history. A red flag on your record is something that affects your ability to do your job.

Let's take a look at potential red flags on your background check:

1. Credit history

Employee background checks can include your credit history. Most employers won't be worried about credit card debt or unpaid loans. But, there are a few exceptions.

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Some jobs require employees to be financially responsible. And, banks and other financial institutions have insurance that doesn't cover employees with even minor red flags on their credit history.

If you have access to company funds, the employer will be looking for evidence of your financial habits. For example, if someone has a long history of borrowing money and not paying it back, it could be a red flag.

If you've ever filed for bankruptcy, this will appear on your credit report. But, the reason for your bankruptcy won't be shown.

Not all managers will be worried if they spot this on your record. However, those looking to work in the finance industry or with company funds could be impacted.

There are many valid reasons for filing for bankruptcy, including divorce, medical expenses, job loss, or an emergency. It's best to explain your situation to the hiring manager before the background check stage.

Your credit report can also help employers verify your personal information. If an employer does a credit check, it won't affect your credit rating.

2. Driving records

Sometimes companies will look at your driving history. These are usually positions requiring driving, such as delivery drivers and truck drivers.

The background check company will use your driver's license to verify your details. They'll make sure your license is current and hasn't been suspended.

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They'll be looking for a history of safe driving. If there have been accidents and incidents, these will usually be red flags. Accidents aren't always your fault, so it's important to discuss these with the hiring manager.

Minor traffic violations, such as parking fines, can appear on your background check. These won't always be a deal-breaker unless they happen regularly.

Other criminal activity can automatically disqualify you from the position. For example, drunk driving, reckless driving, driving without a license, or assault with a vehicle will all be red flags.

3. Misdemeanors

Misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies and can come with a fine, community service, or short jail time. For example, petty theft, trespassing, basic assault, or indecent exposure are usually treated as misdemeanors.

These minor crimes will show up on your background check. But, if your arrest didn't lead to a conviction or the case is sealed, they won't be included in the report.

Prospective employers have different expectations about misdemeanors. Depending on the job, the hiring manager can be flexible if time has passed, or you can explain the circumstances.

4. Felonies

One of the most common types of background checks is the criminal check. If there is a felony on your criminal record, it could be a red flag for employers.

A history of violent crimes, sexual offenses, robberies, or serious drug offenses can make it difficult to pass a background check.

However, it can still be possible to get a job even if you have a criminal history. As long as the crime is irrelevant to the position, you could still be considered.

For example, someone with a history of violent crimes may not get an opportunity to serve customers. But, they could work in a warehouse preparing packages for delivery.

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There are lots of companies that will give felons a second chance. If significant time has passed and you've made efforts to change your life, you can still get hired.

What is Ban the Box?

The Ban the Box policy is about giving all job seekers a fair chance. In some locations, it’s mandated for private companies, and the policy has been adopted in over 37 states.

When you fill out the job application, the checkbox asking about previous criminal convictions won’t be there. Instead, the hiring manager will give you an interview based on your cover letter and resume.

This means you won’t be discriminated against just because of your history. You’ll have a chance to explain your circumstances and show the employer why you’d be a good fit for the job.

The employer will usually still do a criminal background check, but it'll be at the end of the hiring process. You may even get a provisional offer of employment. You’ll get the job as long as they’re satisfied with your background check and any drug tests are clear.

What should you do if you have an issue on your background check?

You may already know that you have something on your record. But, if you’re not sure, you can do a free background check.

Checkr is a background check company trusted by some of the top U.S. employers. To help you get a job, they’ve created a free background check for personal use. It’s called Better Future, and when you input a few details, you’ll be able to see exactly what an employer would see.

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When you know something is going to come up, you can address it beforehand. For example, during the interview, you can explain the circumstances to the hiring manager. You can tell them how you’ve made changes, such as rehabilitation, education, or volunteering.

Look for employers who are willing to give second chances and who follow the Ban the Box policy. When you’re upfront and honest, they won’t be alarmed when they see a red flag on your report. And they’ll appreciate your honesty.

You can also use your history to help you apply for the right jobs. For example, if you’ve got a record of reckless driving, a position as a delivery driver might not be a good fit. Instead, you could look for a retail or food services job.

If you have an issue on your background check, make sure every other part of your application shines. Check your resume for spelling and grammatical errors, and when you arrive for the interview, make sure you’re prepared. Having references can also help you get the job.

How far back do background checks go?

Background checks usually go back between five and ten years. Most commonly, employers look at the past seven years.

The length of time can vary between companies and the job type. For example, if it’s a high-paying role with more responsibilities, the check can go back ten years or more.

The national Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) protects your rights during this process. However, some states have even stricter limits on how far background checks can go.

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If you’re unsure about your rights, you should research the laws in your local area.

What should you do if there is a mistake on your background check?

Issues on your background report can have an impact on your job application. Most of the time, these checks are accurate, but mistakes can happen.

If there is a mistake on your background check, you don’t have to live with it. You can contact the background check company and file a dispute. Your dispute will need to be in writing, either via email or mail.

The company will then investigate your claim and make sure the information is accurate.

What should you do if you fail a drug test?

Some employers ask for a pre-employment drug screen. If you fail this test, you usually won’t get the job.

If you pass the initial drug test, there may be times when you have to have another drug screen at work. If you fail the workplace drug test, your employer may be lenient the first time. You could get a warning and support to help you quit.

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Other companies will have a zero-tolerance policy, and you could lose your job.

It’s always best to check with your employer to learn more about their drug policies.

What companies hire people with a criminal record?

Even if you have an issue with your pre-employment screening, it doesn't mean you can't get hired. Many employers understand that meaningful employment can help people get back on their feet.

There are companies throughout the U.S. that hire people with a criminal record. As long as you fit the other requirements for the job, you have a chance.

Examples of companies willing to give everyone a fair chance include Target, Applebee's, Burger King, Starbucks, and Microsoft.

You can start looking for work on our job board. Or chat with like-minded people in our community discussions.

Looking for work when there's an issue with your background check

Prospective employers are interested in learning more about you. Toward the end of the application process, you can expect to have a pre-employment background check.

The company may look at your financial, driving, and criminal records. Not all employers have the same policies, but anything in your history can be a red flag.

If you do have an issue on your background check, you should be honest in your interview. You can explain to the employer how you’ve progressed since the incident occurred.

As long as you’re a good fit for the job, many employers will still consider you for the job.

Are you ready to start looking for work? Visit our job board. Want more articles like this one? Take a look at our resource center.



Christie Heron
Bullet point
Josh Osborne
Bullet point

How old should a misdemeanor domestic battering be to get a job

Sabrina Phillips
Bullet point

My brother has done got fired from 2 Jobs and then got fired and he doesn't know what to do about it and he needs to work.

Dana Jackson
Bullet point

The graphic you used is not accurate. Not all felony charges require prison time. There are plenty of people who have served 3 to 9 mo month sentences, but the charge is a felony charge. I clicked on this article hoping it might actually have some legit advice, but it did not. The most accurate thing you said was pointing out how many people are affected by having a less than perfect background record. It is very frustrating how much mis-information there is out there and yet employment is such an important issue. The caveat to this is that often being on probation comes with some sort of job requirement so as to not violate and go right back to jail. Its easy to see how people easily get lost in the system (naming it the department of corrections is ironic as there is very little correcting taking place). I dont mean to come off sounding harsh, but this is a subject that has recently become near to my heart. I have drug related charges. I did not do anything “bad” or commit any other crime other than being in possession of controlled substances. But now for the next 7-10 years employers have the right to treat me like scum without bothering to ask questions or get to know me. More often than not, a person that gets involved with drugs is probably alteady struggling with their sense of worth and then to get caught up in the system to be let back out in a society that frowns upon allowing felons back into the workplace….well then how are we supposed to be building our sense of worth back up? Anyway….sorry this is so long. Far too many words than just my own two cents.

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