A job catches your interest, so you submit a cover letter and resume. You get called in for an interview, and it goes well. However, before you can be hired, the company wants to conduct a drug test and a background check. It’s natural for the words “background check” to make anyone anxious. So, what can be revealed in a background check?

The Areas that Get Examined

A basic employment background check typically covers three areas: criminal record, credit report and driving record. Of course, the specific areas depend on why the check is being conducted, what is legally allowed and the thoroughness of the business doing the check.

Your Credit Report

You must give a prospective employer written permission to obtain your credit report. If you don’t, your job offer could be in jeopardy. That is especially true if the job relates to financial management or issues of power or confidentiality. The credit report should show:

  • Any bankruptcies you have gone through in the past seven to 10 years
  • Loans and accounts in collections for the past seven years
  • Unpaid tax liens for as long as 15 years

However, the credit report check probably will not show the following:

  • Your credit score
  • Bankruptcies older than 10 years
  • Loans and accounts in collections for more than seven years

Of course, items do occasionally slip through the cracks. It’s possible that old bankruptcies could show up or that erroneous information gets listed. To ensure your credit report is as accurate as possible for employers, get your free copy. Correct any mistakes promptly. Check that outdated information such as an old bankruptcy is removed.

The effect of a “bad” credit report on a job offer varies. Much depends on the type of job, the pool of applicants, the age of the negative items and the steps you have taken in the meantime.

Your Criminal Record (If Any)

If you have a criminal record, it is somewhat likely to show up. Does that mean it is always part of what can be revealed in a background check? No. State laws vary, and records can be patchy. For example, if you lived in another state and have a conviction there, it may not necessarily show up. In general, though, expect these to be revealed:

  • Sex offenses
  • Misdemeanor convictions
  • Felony convictions
  • Warrants
  • Incarceration records
  • Court records

Some offenses do disappear from background checks after a while, depending on the locality and type of offense. In any case, it is good to be upfront with employers about a criminal record. You have the opportunity to explain what happened and why, and what your life has been like since. An employer surprised with a criminal record in your background check may not be as willing to listen with an open mind.

Your Driving Record

The law in some localities allows schools, employers, volunteer organizations and some other entities to do a motor vehicle records check. If you have tickets and violations dating as far back as 10 years, they may show up. Some areas allow these searches only for the past three years, though.

The Employer’s Perspective

Employers run background checks for reasons such as ensuring the safety of other employees, customers and clients. In addition, certain positions such as bank teller and accountant emphasize hiring people who can be trusted around money and who have stable credit histories. Many job applicants worry that a subpar credit history or a criminal conviction could doom their job prospects. That is not true in many cases. A lot depends on the job type and the employer. Whatever the case, do be open with the employer in advance about a criminal record. The same goes for any credit report issues if you’re aiming for a financially sensitive job or a job that gives you a lot of power.

One more thing: some companies include employment verifications as part of background checks, while other companies see them as a separate type of check. An employment check attempts to verify that applicants worked where and when they say they did, held the job titles they claimed to and performed the job duties they listed. The focus is usually on objective information that can be easily verified. Many employers do not comment on current or previous employees’ work ethic, overall personality and other subjective issues.

When it comes to what is shown in a background check, this all depends on various factors, such as who is running the background check and what it is for. Some checks will include all of the above, while others will only include criminal records and credit reports or just one or the other. Now you know what is generally revealed in one. It may be a good idea to run a quick background check on yourself to see what might show up.