Making Money

4 Things a Background Check Tells Potential Employers

Written by Deb Hipp

Don’t let a pre-employment background screening keep you from getting hired at your dream job.

When the interview goes great and a potential employer is ready to welcome you to the team, you may think that the empty corner office down the hall is practically yours. However, any career plans with the new company could be tripped up if the potential employer wants to run a background check on you and finds information that makes management think twice about hiring.

On the other hand, a pre-employment background check could also work in your favor, showing a history of financial, employment and other life choices that demonstrate that you know how to come through on obligations and responsibilities. Whatever your past includes, knowing what a potential employer will see on the background check can help you prepare an explanation for any information that may be off-putting to a potential employer.

Employers are legally required to get your permission before running a background check during the hiring process. And if the employer takes an “adverse action” by not hiring you because of the screening, it must provide notice of the adverse action, a copy of the background check and allow you to make your case with an explanation. For example, you might need to explain that your credit took a hit when you lost your job due to the pandemic but now pay all your bills on time.

Not every background check is the same, since each company chooses the areas it needs to focus on when hiring new employees. However, you can count on at least one or more of the items below.

Credit history

A pre-employment background screening may include your credit history, such as a bankruptcy judgment within the last ten years or defaulted loans, collection accounts, late payments or tax liens within the past seven years. A poor credit history may put some employers off, since the employer might see unpaid debts or late payments as an indication that you don’t follow through on your responsibilities.

If you know that your credit history includes information that’s going to make you a less desirable job candidate, you might want to get ahead of the bad news. Explain to the interviewer before the company runs the background check the specific factors that affected your ability to pay, how you’ve worked on improving your credit and what you’re doing now to get back on track. That way, you present an honest picture of yourself and a sense of accountability, both desirable traits in an employee.

Before applying for jobs, get a free copy of your credit report from so you’re aware of any credit history that might work against you with a potential employer.

Criminal record

Are you a late bloomer with a troubled past who worked hard to turn your life around? Maybe you made a bad decision once and received a criminal conviction that could still haunt you if the potential employer sees it during a background check. If your criminal record is from less than seven years ago, it will likely appear on the background screening report, although state disclosure laws vary.

Just like with a spotty credit history, getting ahead of a criminal record that could dim your employment chances is a good idea. So, if only the obligatory background check stands  in your way of getting hired, be upfront with management about your spotty past and let them know you regret your actions and would never make the same mistake again.

Work history

Thinking about omitting your short employment with a company that left a bad taste in your mouth? That’s probably not a good idea, since many pre-employment background screenings include your employment history. If you don’t include that former employer on your application for the potential employer running the background check, you look dishonest, and that’s never a good look for a job candidate.


Employers may include verification of your education credentials on a pre-employment background screening, so don’t make up a degree that you never earned, no matter how impressive it makes you seem to a potential employer. If the employer finds out you lied about your education credentials, there’s no way you’ll graduate to the next step in the hiring process.

About the author

Deb Hipp