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Failed a background check after a job offer? What now?

Failed a background check after a job offer? What now?

  • What is a background check, anyway?
  • What are employers looking for on a background check?
  • So you’ve failed a background check—what happens now?
  • What if you think there’s been a mistake?
  • Key takeaways

If you’ve failed a background check after a job offer, don’t despair. There are things you can do to increase your chances of keeping the job. Find out more about background checks, what they’re looking for, and steps you can take to head off any potential problems at the pass.

You’ve managed to get through the applicant screening processes, aced the interview, and gotten the job offer. Great! But don’t celebrate just yet. You may have one more hoop to jump through before you start your new job: the background check. You don’t have to be a hardened criminal to be subjected to one, as they’re pretty common in the working world. But what happens if you fail this background check? Are you doomed forever? Not at all. By learning a little bit more about the background check, and what it entails, you can be better prepared the next time around.

In this article, we’ll discuss what happens if you fail a background check after a job offer, including:

  • What is a background check?

  • Can a job offer be withdrawn after a background check?

  • What looks bad on a background check?

  • What does a “red flag” mean on a background check?

  • What to do if you fail a background check

What is a background check, anyway?

A background check is a fairly routine procedure that confirms your personal and professional history, including your professed identity, your job history, and college degrees, as well as taking your fingerprints and checking to see if you have a criminal record of any kind. (They might even check your social media profiles!) While it’s most often done post-interview but pre-job offer, it can happen at any time, including after a position has been offered. It may take days or weeks to complete the background check, depending on the type of check and if they have to pursue out-of-state information.

Remember, just because a company does a background check on you, doesn’t necessarily mean you have the job locked up. According to a survey by Verifirst, 74 percent of U.S. employers perform a background check after a conditional job offer (meaning that the offer can be rescinded based on what they find), and 16 percent screen after they’ve interviewed you but before they extend an offer, and only three percent do the check before you’ve interviewed with them. So, yes, a job offer can be withdrawn after the background check.

Expert Tip

Are background checks legal? 

Yes, they are. However, according to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, the employer must observe federal laws that prohibit discrimination on “race, color, national origin, sex, or religion; disability, genetic information (including family medical history), and age (40 and older)." If the employer is utilizing a third party to run the background check, they must abide by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). If you don’t get a job because of a background check, the employer must let you know and provide you with a copy of the report used to make their decision and the contact information of the company that provided the report. You also have the opportunity to dispute any items on the report within 60 days if you feel they’re incorrect.

What are employers looking for on a background check?

While the results of a background check can vary depending on the job you’re applying for as well as the state you live in, most background checks will include the following information and potential “red flags:”

  • Your identity. I.e., your name, past addresses, and any aliases.

  • Your employment history. I.e., contacting your references.

  • Your education. Verifying any degrees or certifications you claim to possess.

  • Your financial history. This may be relevant if you’re being considered for a position that handles money. A red flag might be a bankruptcy filing, for example.

  • Your social media profiles. Checking for red flags, such as bad-mouthing a past employer or making racially or socially insensitive comments or statements.

  • Your criminal record. While having a record doesn't automatically mean you can't or won't get the job, it may disqualify you for certain positions depending on the severity of your offenses and the requirements of the position itself.

  • Your driving record. This is especially important if you’re applying for a position as a driver or operator of heavy machinery. A DUI, for example, may show up as a red flag, but if the position doesn’t require driving, it might not disqualify you.

It’s important to understand that if any red flags pop up on your background check, the employer can (and very well might) rescind the job offer, especially if the information directly relates to the position you’re applying for. 

Statistical Insight

The Harris Poll performed a survey of employers and found that 71 percent feel that checking out a candidate’s social media profiles is a good screening tool, and “55 percent have found content that caused them not to hire the applicant.” Consider “cleaning up” your social media profiles before you apply for a job, just in case.

So you’ve failed a background check—what happens now?

While you might feel embarrassed about failing a background check, it’s not the end of the world. If you do receive notice from an employer that you failed, they should send you:

  1. A pre-adverse action notice, which is to let you know that the company won’t be hiring you for the position due to information discovered during the background check, 

  2. A copy of the background check itself

  3. A written statement outlining the reasons for your disqualification for the position.

  4. A copy of “A Summary of Your Rights Under FCRA,” issued by the FTC.

If you haven’t yet failed but you’re afraid you’re going to, be proactive. Alert the hiring manager about any potential issues that might pop up, and give them some context. You can also run a background check on yourself if you're concerned, which will allow you to see any problems ahead of time and take any steps you can to correct them—or at least give the hiring manager a "heads-up" about them. 

There are a few companies out there that will perform background checks for you, such as Criminal Watchdog, but be aware that they don’t check everything (like driving records). You can also do the checks yourself by contacting the DMV, the court where any charges were filed, credit checks through the three major credit bureaus, and request copies of transcripts from any schools you attended. It might take some time, but if you’re worried about what a potential employer could find, it might be worth the effort.

What if you think there’s been a mistake?

Mistakes do happen. So if you think any data on you is wrong, take the steps listed above and provide documentation to the employer. If they still reject you, they’ll have to provide you with something called a Final Adverse Action letter, which will tell you the reasons for the rejection. And if you can’t contest the background check’s findings, don’t despair. You might just have to adjust your career goals and search for a position where any red flags won’t hold any weight in a company’s hiring decision.

Need a little help keeping your job applications organized? Check out Career.io’s Professional Job Tracker tool, which will help you manage each step of the process in one convenient location.

Key takeaways

  1. A background check is a fairly routine procedure that confirms your personal and professional history.

  2. Background checks are legal, but must adhere to laws protecting you from discrimination based on race, religion, age, sex, disability, or national origin.

  3. If a “red flag” comes up on your record, it doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get the job, but if you don’t, you have options, such as appeals, corrections, or simply explaining it to the employer.

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