A Comprehensive Guide to Completing a Personal Background Check

Last updated: April 12, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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A Comprehensive Guide to Completing a Personal Background Check
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Many landlords and employers require a background check to submit an application. Though you can wait and see what pops up on their end, why not prepare by running a check yourself to find potential problem areas?

Whether you have a prior strike on your record or not, knowing what personal details are available to those searching allows you to stay in the know and catch any discrepancies. Ultimately, compiling a personal background check report can give you peace of mind as you begin to fill out your application, whether it be for a job or a home.

In this article, we’ll break down the background screening process and what you might find on your check. Plus, we’ll include a guide to running a personal background check so you can catch any unexpected red flags early — and, if possible, resolve them.

What is a background check?

Before we outline the steps to running a personal background check, let’s investigate the background screening process and dig into what these checks actually are.

A background check report offers insights into the history of a housing or job candidate, verifying both private and public records. And though there are regulations that limit what information is accessible (we’ll dig into these later), there’s plenty of info online for investigators to dig through.

Ultimately, comprehensive background checks give a fuller picture of the candidate, allowing employers, landlords, and prospects to make an informed decision.

Why should you run a personal background check?

Running a personal screening lets you verify, rectify, and privatize any personal information you come across. That way, you’ll know what to expect when an employer or landlord asks for screening consent.

In addition to reviewing inconsistencies, you can use the information you find to anticipate any questions or concerns that may arise due to past records.

What comes up on a background check?

Though there are several different pieces of info that make up the screening process, it’s up to local laws and company discretion which reviews to put in place. That said, it’s important to brush up on both basic checks and more comprehensive background checks to prepare yourself as a candidate.

Listed below are different verifications used in regular background checks.

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Identity verification: One of the most common types of background checks is proof of identity. This includes personal information, like your name, Social Security Number (SSN), email address, phone number, date of birth, and current address.

Motor vehicle record (MVR) check: Also referred to as a driver’s license verification or driving record check, an MVR review is typical for positions that involve driving. Accessible information includes DUIs, citations, accident reports, traffic records, and more (depending on the company and state).

Education verification: Another standard assessment for potential employees is an educational background check. Though some positions require less schooling than others, verifying a candidate’s education history is common. During this check, the hiring manager will often call the academic institution you attended (especially when industry-specific education is required) to verify your official diploma and other recorded accolades.

Criminal record search: This screening is common among applicants looking for a job or rental property. The person conducting the criminal background check will request public files through civil and county court records, checking for arrest warrants or records, misdemeanor or felony convictions, watchlist offenses, plus pending and acquitted charges.

Employment verification: Also known as occupation verification, this includes contacting references and reviewing qualifications. However, pre-employment checks aren’t always necessary, especially for entry-level positions.

Credit reports: Included in most housing applications and some employment opportunities is a detailed credit history review. These checks can include your payment history, possible tax liens, and current or recorded debts.

Fingerprint background checks: Though fingerprint background checks are uncommon for most positions, employers hiring for high-security occupations will likely record or run your prints in the FBI database.

Drug testing: While drug testing is often left up to the discretion of the employer, local laws and regulations heavily impact who can and can’t drug test. That said, many positions — especially those in the medical and care fields — require candidates to undergo drug testing to move forward in the application process.

Social media review: Many hiring managers will check the candidate’s social media accounts during the hiring process to gauge their online presence in public forums. Red flags for most companies are vulgar language, hate speech, radical political views, aggressive behavior, and any other disruptive online habits.

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Important note: Employers must notify applicants before they run any screenings, allowing the latter the option to deny unwanted checks. That said, employers aren’t obligated to hire prospects who forgo background screenings.

How to conduct a personal background check

Now that we’ve covered the background check basics from an outsider’s perspective, you might be wondering, “Why would I need to run a background check on myself?”

It’s one thing to know the information is available, but it’s completely different to actually track down the info and compile it into an accurate background check. Below, we’ll walk you through personal checks, which allow you to stay one step ahead during the hiring process and prepare for potential questions.

Personal background checks step-by-step

While employers often use internal HR screenings or background check companies, individuals who run personal checks have a wide range of options for gathering info.

For example, if you want to enlist the help of a third-party Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)-compliant background check service, there are plenty of commercial screening companies that can help.

However, if you’re hoping to save your money by conducting a self-investigation, you can do this by following the steps below.

  1. Compile and verify any personal identification information

The first step in your self-investigation should be to compile your personal information. Make sure you know (and have on hand) your SSN, current address, phone number, and any other personal contact details, like name changes or, if relevant, your immigration status.

  1. Run a credit check

A review of your credit history is crucial when putting together a comprehensive background report. Fortunately, there are plenty of options — both free and paid — for collecting credit information. While reviewing your report, take note of any dodgy payment history, high loan or debt totals, short-lived accounts, and any other credit faux pas. That way, you can correct any inconsistencies and make a plan should possible issues arise.

  1. Check your criminal record and MVR

Next, contact your local court and police department to request a personal criminal record and MVR report. Though this step might be unnecessary, depending on your history with the law, checking the available records can help you catch any discrepancies. Should you have prior criminal convictions or fingerprint records, you can offer an explanation upfront or avoid applying for certain positions.

  1. Review and validate your employment and education records

Depending on the jobs you’re applying for, you may have industry-specific and educational requirements to submit. And though you can get around gaps in your employment history by keeping the peace with previous employers and collecting reviews from past references, there are certain criteria you can’t work around. So make sure every degree, certificate, past job, and reference is up-to-date.

  1. Scrub your social media accounts clean

When conducting a personal background check, you should always take a deep dive into your social media accounts, implementing privacy settings wherever possible. In addition to searching (and, if necessary, deleting) posts, you can do a simple Google search for your name and social handles to see what information is available.

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  1. Take a self-drug test

Whether you use substances or not, taking a drug test on your own before you pay for an application test can save you if you’re not clean before your appointment. Plus, you can catch any oddities that may arise in the results.

  1. Review and compile your findings

Once you’ve checked off the above steps, it’s time to start reviewing the information you gathered. Consider making a file — online or physically — with copies of all important documentation. That way, you’ll have easy access to any information when submitting applications. Plus, should you come across any concerning info, you can work to clean up your record or iron out any mistakes.

Frequently asked questions about background checks

Yes, personal background checks are perfectly legal and encouraged for those hoping to stay on top of their personal and financial past, present, and future. Even if you’re not actively applying for positions, it’s generally wise to keep track of your records.

How do I know if a background check provider is legitimate?

If you choose to go the third-party, commercial route, you’ll want to make sure you find a provider who fulfills the requirements the U.S. FCRA sets. That way, you’ll know the information gathered is accurate and was legally sourced.

Why choose a commercial service over a self-run personal background check?

Commercial background check providers have easy, active access to government databases and billions of records — something the average person may struggle to collect.

If you find a company that complies with the FCRA, you can save yourself a lot of time and possible frustration by working with a firm. Just make sure you check the consumer reviews before making any financial obligations.

Why do employers conduct background checks?

There are endless reasons why employers and landlords choose to run background checks on applicants, from safety considerations to specific certification requirements. And though there have been cases of overstepping, employers face heavy consequences for doing so in the form of fines and possible lawsuits.

Who can legally conduct a background check?

Typically, employers and potential landlords can conduct background checks to ensure candidates will be safe and responsible additions. However, there are laws in place protecting your information.

For example, employers must follow the laws put in place by the FCRA and enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to ensure the information collected is accurate and lawful. Plus, anyone running a background check must gain the prospect’s consent and disclose any findings that result in the dismissal of their application.


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If you suspect you’ve been the victim of an illegal check or screening discrimination, review your rights and contact the FTC.

Which kinds of jobs typically run background checks?

There isn’t a hard and fast rule as to which types of jobs involve background checks. Depending on the company, position, and local regulations, there are different requirements that make it easier (or harder) to run checks.

Though plenty of businesses opt out of most screenings, some occupations require checks for the majority of applications. These include the following:

  • Childcare and education positions

  • Medical and healthcare professionals

  • Financial specialists

  • Government employees

Is now the time to run a personal background check?

Running a personal background check is an excellent way to stay in the know about what information is available online when applying for jobs or housing. Not only can you flag any discrepancies, but you can also gain a full picture of what employers or landlords will see should they conduct a review of your background.

Plus, keeping track of and compiling your personal information can help you move past any prior hiccups and better market yourself to potential employers. Whether it’s a criminal charge, an unpaid parking ticket, or a mistake on a transcript — running an individual screening can help you bypass surprises in the application process.

If you’re looking for help passing a background check, writing a cover letter, or even nailing an interview, Jobcase has you covered. Simply punch in your question and find community posts, blogs, and more to help you with your job hunt.

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