Learning how to pass a background check for work will help you set your expectations right and determine what you should pay attention to before sending out your application.

Pre-employment background checks target several different areas, including employment history, education, credit reports, and criminal records. Companies conduct them to decrease the risk of hiring an unqualified person or someone who can pose a threat to the workplace.

The scary part about background screening is not knowing exactly what the prospective employer is looking into. While you can’t control what the employer does, you can use our tips on passing a background check to have some peace of mind, knowing you did everything on your part to make the process go smoothly.

Key Takeaways

  • A pre-employment background check can include various components, such as criminal records, educational background, and employment history.
  • To increase your chances of passing a background check, you should prepare for it by checking your records and providing correct information on your resume.
  • If you fail a background check, you’ll have a chance to take corrective steps post-failure and address negative findings.

What is a Pre-Employment Background Check?

A pre-employment background check is a process conducted to verify the information job applicants have provided. It’s quite common—72% of employers do it.

A typical pre-employment background check involves looking into the following:

  • Criminal records. In this stage, your potential employers check to see if you’ve been involved in any illegal activities. While this phase usually takes one to two business days, checking international records can last for as many as 20 days, sometimes even longer.
  • Education. This part involves verifying your educational background, including your degree. The process generally takes a few days.
  • Professional licenses and certifications. Similar to the previous phase, this one involves verifying any licenses and certifications listed in your resume. On average, it takes two business days.
  • Social media. Checking a candidate’s social media typically lasts for two to five business days. However, it’s unclear what exactly employers look into on social networks, so it’s best to lock your social media accounts prior to sending out your application letter.
  • Employment history. In this stage, your potential employer verifies the validity of your work experience by asking about past job roles, periods of employment, and reasons for termination. They may also address any employment gaps you may have. This phase typically lasts for two to four days, although it can take longer, especially if you’ve worked abroad.
  • Reference checks. During this stage, the company looks into the references you’ve provided to gather data about your skills, work ethic, and character. Reference checks shouldn’t take more than five days.

How to Pass a Background Check in 6 Easy Steps

Knowing how to pass a background check for a job may not come naturally, which is why we provide you with a step-by-step guide—to increase your chances of overcoming this obstacle and reduce the probability of it affecting your career goals.

#1. Explore What Employment Checks Are

The first thing you need to do to ensure you pass a background check is explore what employment checks are. Although they generally don’t differ much from one company to another, there may be some nuances depending on the employer and job title.

In addition to the stages we’ve listed, a typical background check process can involve verification of your credit, drug testing, and more.

Luckily, you don’t have to guess, as you can contact the HR department and ask what information you need to provide for the screening process. Moreover, you can learn the status of your background checks at any time during the process and up to a year after the beginning of your employment.

Lastly, make sure to research the company—its culture and values may give you a hint as to what the employer may be looking into.

#2. Research Banned Substances and Local Employment Laws

Since some employers conduct drug tests, you need to research banned substances in the state. If you take prescription medications that may be illegal in some areas, be honest and upfront about your situation.

In addition to banned substances, you should look into local employment laws, especially if you work remotely from a state different than the one the company is located in since they can differ depending on the state.

#3. Gather the Necessary Documentation

Gather the Necessary Documentation

In order to prevent any inaccuracies in your employment history, you should gather and look through all the necessary documentation beforehand. To do that, you can contact former employers and ask for copies of your employment record.

Namely, laws about what employers can and can’t share about their former employees vary from one state to the next, but regardless of the state, you have a right to those copies.

#4. Check Your Records

Before your potential employer conducts their background screening, you should check your records to ensure there aren’t any issues and discrepancies. For starters, get a copy of your credit report and review it. If you find anything that doesn’t seem right, reach out to the creditor.

Then, you can move on to your legal records. There are several ways to check these, including applying for a copy from the police department and reviewing your records at the courthouse.

#5. Understand Social Media’s Impact

In this day and age, you need to understand social media’s impact on your prospective employment. Namely, your accounts paint a picture of you that you want them to paint, and they serve as an online representation of you. That’s why you may want to improve your social media skills and, more importantly, review your posts.

If you don’t want to delete anything from your social media accounts but don’t want to share your content with your prospective employer either, make sure your social media profiles are private.

#6. Be Honest and Forthright

Ensuring you pass a background check requires you to be honest and forthright. Specifically, if you’ve come across any issues while checking your records, make sure to bring them up yourself instead of waiting for your prospective employers to discover them. That way, you can explain any extenuating circumstances and make a difference in their perception of you.

What to Do if They Find Something

Even if you take all the preventive measures, the question remains: ‘’What should I do if they find something?’’ Before you start thinking all hope is lost, let us assure you that there are steps you can take to do some damage control.

But before we dive into that, let’s go through common reasons for failing a background check, as well as ways to address negative findings.

Common Reasons for Failing a Background Check

Here are some of the most common reasons for failing a background check:

  • Criminal history. Having a criminal history is one of the most obvious reasons for failing a background check. This isn’t surprising, as employers want law-abiding citizens for their employees.
  • False credentials. If the prospective employer discovers that you don’t have the qualifications you have listed on your resume, you’re highly likely to fail the background check, especially if the job requires specific certifications and licenses.
  • Poor credit history. Not every company will check your credit history, but it may be important for roles that call for financial responsibility.
  • Failed drug test. Given that drug use is generally unlawful and employees who use drugs can pose a risk to both themselves and the company, the potential employer is likely to pass on a candidate who fails a drug test.
  • Social media red flags. Your social media can give your prospective employer insight into your personality and character. Thus, any discriminatory or otherwise offensive content can be the reason for failing a background check.
  • Poor references. If the hiring company consults your past managers or coworkers and learns that you’re difficult to work with for any reason, the employer can use this as a reason to eliminate you from the hiring process.

Addressing Negative Findings

Addressing Negative Findings

You’ll get a chance to address negative findings and dispute any inaccuracies after the background check is completed. Namely, the employer is lawfully obliged to provide you with a copy of their report under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

When addressing negative findings, always be honest. Remember, the worst-case scenario is that you don’t get the job. However, if you’re dishonest and the employer discovers something problematic during the background check, your reputation may suffer.

Corrective Steps Post-Failure

If you don’t pass a background check, you can take corrective steps post-failure to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

For instance, if you have a criminal record, you can diminish its impact by acquiring a certificate of expungement or rehabilitation. The same goes for other negative findings—learn from your mistakes and take all the necessary steps to ensure you don’t repeat them.

Passing a Background Check with Specific Issues

If you have a criminal record or a poor credit history, you should look into ways of passing a background check with these specific issues. That way, you’ll know what to focus on and what measures to take to mitigate its effect.

Addressing Criminal Records

The key to addressing criminal records is to be honest. Provide accurate information and avoid hiding any details, as your credibility may be questioned if you do. Rather than minimizing the offense, take responsibility for it and provide some context for the employer.

Additionally, you can emphasize the steps you’ve taken to address the issues that have led to your criminal record.

Lastly, familiarize yourself with the laws regarding your situation and learn your rights as a job candidate with a criminal record.

Improving Credit Score

Improving your credit score before a background check can help you pass it, so let’s look into some steps you can take to achieve that:

  • Order your credit report online and review it
  • Address any inaccuracies on your credit report
  • Pay off debts
  • Maintain a minimal balance
  • Pay your overdue accounts
  • Make timely payments
  • Request a credit line expansion
  • Add on-time utility and rent payments


Learning how to pass a background check is a process that starts with you checking your records and ends with addressing potential negative findings.

Although the stages of a background check depend on the company, there are some things most employers look into, such as criminal records and employment history. While it’s best to keep them all in check, all is not lost if you have something problematic in your history, provided that you address it right and learn from it.

Either way, you should look into the hiring company’s background check process and make any necessary preparations before you submit your application. That way, you can make sure (mostly) everything is in order before the background screening starts.

How to Pass a Background Check FAQs

#1. How can I speed up my background check?

You can speed up your background check by answering questions concisely, updating your references’ contact information, and ensuring all the information you’ve submitted is correct.

#2. Why is my background check taking so long?

Your background check may be taking a long time due to incorrect or incomplete information, varying state regulations, and delays caused by outside parties.

#3. Will I pass a background check with a misdemeanor?

You’re more likely to pass a background check with a misdemeanor than a felony. However, you can petition to have it expunged from your record.

#4. How do you do a background check on yourself?

You can do a background check on yourself by obtaining your credit report, checking your criminal record, and reviewing your employment and education history. However, you don’t have to do it all yourself, as you can pay for a commercial service to do it for you.