Things that can make you fail an employment background check

A background check for a job is more than likely in your future. From minor infractions to major crimes, learn the common deal breakers for employers.

Things that can make you fail an employment background check

Lies and misrepresentation can harm your job search.

You can swear on your dog and promise up and down that you’re a trustworthy person, but chances are, a potential employer isn’t going to take your word for it. A background check for employment will likely be done before they can officially welcome you aboard. A whopping 98% of businesses perform background checks on job candidates, a survey by risk-alert firm Endera found.

The good news: As a job seeker, you have some protections. Employers must receive written permission from you before running a background check, and if anything in the reports leads to the company deciding against hiring you, the employer is required to inform you and provide you with a copy of the report.

Look, no one likes having a background check; even seasoned job seekers may still be concerned about companies prying into their personal information. After all, can you really be sure you’re as squeaky clean as you think?

Maybe. Maybe not. What dings your record for one job might not have the same effect in a different job. Meaning, if you were convicted of a crime that is relevant to the job's responsibilities, you'll set off a red flag. Hiring standards can vary by employer and may be regulated by federal or state law, and employment screening criteria can also vary depending on what industry you’re in, explains Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

In other words, “a person does not really ‘fail’ a background check, although a screening company might use that terminology,” says Stephens. “Rather, the question is whether an individual meets the hiring standards set by the particular employer.”

That said, there are some red flags that generally make employers hesitant to hire job candidates. Read on to learn what can make you fail a background check for employment.

Criminal history

Criminal records searches are used by 93% of employers that conduct pre-hire screening, according to Sterling Talent Solutions' 2017 Background Screening Trends & Best Practices Report. But many employers take into consideration the nature of the crime and whether the job candidate received a criminal conviction, Stephens says.

And even then, the majority of employers (59%) only disqualify 5% or fewer applicants based on past criminal convictions, the Sterling survey found—and 67% of employers said they would proceed with a candidate evaluation after finding a conviction not divulged initially on an employment application, with most saying that they would give a candidate the opportunity to explain their criminal past.

However, there are some industries where a clean record is of utmost importance; for instance, jobs that require high security clearance will deny you if you committed a major offense or one that was related to addiction, mental health issues, sex offenses, or cyber crimes. It's a similar situation with jobs wherein you'd serve vulnerable populations (children and the elderly), such as caregiving, teaching, school bus driving, etc.

Drug and alcohol tests

Many employers make job offers contingent upon candidates passing a drug or alcohol test and, unfortunately, American workers are testing positive for drug use at the highest rate since 2004, according to the annual Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index.

Credit history

Have a few blemishes on your credit report? In most states, employers are allowed to see a candidate’s credit history before extending a job offer. But having subpar credit isn’t typically a deal breaker, says Jeff Shane, president at Allison & Taylor, a professional reference-checking and employment-verification company based in Rochester, Michigan.

“Unless you’re applying for a financial position, where you’ll have access to the business’ financial instruments, like a company credit card,” he says, “your credit won’t really matter to an employer.” If you're applying to a job that requires you to handle money, however, your credit history will indeed be a red flag to employers.


More thorough background checks for employment will uncover bankruptcy filings, but employers can’t see on a background check the reason why you filed for bankruptcy—meaning the onus is on you to explain what your financial troubles were and what steps you’ve taken to regain your footing. Again, this will matter more for financial jobs than for non-money-handling jobs.

Most employers understand if a divorce, medical issue, or some other unexpected event caused you to file for bankruptcy, but it’s best to have this conversation in person.

Driving record

Having a couple speeding tickets or moving violations on your driving history shouldn’t be a warning sign to employers. The exception, of course, would be if you were applying for a job that requires you to drive, since having a driving accident while you’re on the clock could mean financial or legal consequences for your employer.

If you have a DUI on your DMV record, though, be prepared to explain the circumstances to your prospective employer.

Employment history

Some background checks include a report of the job candidate’s employment history—a list of all the companies you’ve worked for, your job titles, and dates of employment. Thus, your resume should be free of falsehoods and accurately reflect your work history.


When running a background check, many employers will verify the job candidate’s education credentials—and some employers will go an extra mile by asking candidates to show certificates of achievement or awards. Assuming you were honest about your education history on your job application, you have nothing to worry about.

Worried about finding work? Do this next

A background check for employment is awkward, no doubt. The job search is stressful enough without wondering whether or not your past will mess with your odds of getting hired. The more chances you get to shine, the better off you’ll be. Could you use some help getting good exposure? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Take every advantage to show them what you can do.