How to Do a Background Check

It’s the year 2021.

The COVID-19 hype is slowly subsiding.

Chinese rover Zhurong successfully landed on Mars.

And, background checks are nothing peculiar any longer.

In fact, it’s been some time since hiring an assistant, choosing a business partner, or a tenant has become unimaginable without pre-screening. In a world where everything is happening too fast, this precautionary measure comes as no surprise.

For that reason, in this article:

  • We won’t talk about the pandemic anymore.
  • We will talk about background checks a lot.
  • We’ll teach you how to do a background check yourself.

What Is a Background Check?

A background check is the most common method that employers and managers use to verify a person’s professional and criminal history when joining a company or a team. This practice helps reduce the feeling of uncertainty and anxiety that is usually present when someone new arrives.

By getting at least some kind of insight into their colleague’s previous whereabouts, people tend to relax and trust that person more.

And, of course, aside from promoting emotional security, an accurate background check can help create an actual safe and secure environment for everyone.

What does a background check consist of?

This mostly depends on the background check’s principal purpose. However, very often, background checks include:

  • Education history authentication
  • Previous work and references checks
  • Criminal records investigation
  • Credit reports check
  • Medical and driving record check
  • Social media profiles inspection
  • Pre-employment drug testing (sometimes)

Naturally, the more demanding the future position, the more thorough background checks one can expect.

Types of background checks

There are tens of different background checks. They’re usually divided into four main categories according to their level of inclusiveness.

Level 1 background checks

The first level of background check is the most basic one. It’s a name-based background check that consists of:

  • previous employment verification,
  • criminal record inspection.

At level one, these are checked under one jurisdiction only — the current address of the subject.

This level of background search may suffice for positions with minimal social responsibility.

Level 2 background checks

A background check company conducting the pre-employment level 2 checks will perform the same checks as with level 1. With one difference — it will extend the jurisdictional screening to the state and national levels. The purpose of Level 2 checks is to exclude any possibility of previous crimes and prosecutions.

Level 2 checks are necessary whenever hiring someone for a highly responsible and trust-based duty.

Level 3 background checks

It’s the most common pre-employment background check due to its extensive content.

A level 3 background check includes:

  • verification of education,previous working history,
  • references,
  • criminal history,
  • results of pre-employment drug testing (in some cases).
Level 4 background checks

Once you add the social media and national bankruptcy search to the already broad Level 3 investigation, you get the level 4 background check.

Typically, employers run a Level 4 background check during an executive promotion or other significant position assignments.

Background check vs reference check

Both background and reference checks play a significant part in the hiring process.

A regular employee background check usually comprises a complete and diversified candidate’s professional, personal, and legal search. On the other hand, reference checks concentrate on career achievements and competencies.

In other words, reference checks serve the purpose of distinguishing one exceptional potential employee from the other one. And, they’re usually conducted in the final phases of recruiting.

Background check vs criminal record

Again, while a regular background check can give a general personal overview, a criminal background check tends to be more specific.

When bringing someone to a more intimate or home environment, you may want to concentrate on your candidate’s thorough criminal record check. An example of this is hiring a babysitter or choosing a tenant.

This significantly differs from introducing someone into a large company with advanced security systems and cameras, where a standard background check should suffice.

Universal background check

As opposed to what its name suggests, a universal background check is not so universal.

Over time, the term became synonymous with firearm purchasing background checks. In the meantime, it has raised many controversies.

A universal background report should ensure that the person in question is physically and mentally fit to possess a firearm. In line with that, the person shouldn’t hold any criminal or clinical record that could disprove their fitness.

How to Do a Background Check Guide

The traditional way of performing background checks is quite a resource-intensive and time-consuming task.

To complete background checks in an old-school manner, one would require particularly developed research skills, impressive connections, and possibly a university degree.

Luckily, with today’s numerous online background check options, none of these is necessary anymore.

The most important steps of each background check

Almost everyone can do background screening within only a few minutes by following these essential steps.

Step 1 — Familiarization with the law requirements.

The first step of your search should focus on legal requirements to follow.

By the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you must inform anyone whose background check you are about to perform of your intentions. On top of that, each state has specific laws that protect each individual from illegal personal details exposure.

For example, some states prohibit disclosure of personal criminal records that are over seven years old. Others forbid criminal background checks altogether or, at least, those that didn’t result in an arrest. And finally, some make employers disregard any credit history information during the screening process.

So to make sure you are performing a legal background check, learn the basics about your background check state law first.

Step 2 — Informing the candidate.

According to the FCRA, a single piece of paper — with no other information aside from the checks information — should be enough to satisfy the legal side of the process.

Of course, whenever possible, try to get your candidate’s written consent to a background check as well.

A proper background check authorization form, signed by the candidate, is the best legal backup you can have if something unexpected occurs.

Step 3 — Finding the right screening agency.

To find the best background check company to fit all your needs, get ready to spend some time researching.

It’s true that many companies even offer the option of a free background check. However, those are usually not the most reliable ones.

Always try opting for accredited Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) or those that are FCRA compliant. And, if that isn’t possible in your case, at least choose one of the agencies that offer certified background checks.

If you’re unsure which of these requirements your preferred company respects and follows, it’s always a good idea to ask. Besides, you should always double-check what exact type of service the company offers.

Keep in mind that different background check companies offer and specialize in various types of checks.

Step 4 — Choosing and hiring the right agency.

Whether you need the best background check service to check on someone’s criminal record, find a property, or get a long-lost friend’s contact, it’s all possible.

You can either opt for a company that is the best in one field or choose one that is averagely good across different areas. Of course, the best option would be to hire an agency that is exceptional across many fields, but that would cost accordingly.

Always take into account how often you require the services.

If you need a quick one-time search, seek some more budget-friendly options.

But is there a totally free background check?

Free background checks do exist. However, they are usually amateur-performed, and so they take more time and are less reliable. Truth be told, anyone can access the state’s official government website and search for the public information they need. But, if you need to look up different people within various states, your search could get really complex and inaccurate.

Your final choice will depend on the purpose of your checks, their frequency, and the budget available.

Once you’ve set your mind on a specific background check agency, all you need to do is visit their official website and subscribe to the service.

Step 5 — Running a background check

After finding the best background check site for your needs, running the checks should be very straightforward.

Most of the time, all you’ll need for the screening are the search subject’s basic details such as full name, birthday, and address. However, this can vary based on the exact situation.

Fill in the required fields, and press the search button.

Make sure you ask for an official background check report at the end of each research.

How to do a background check on a tenant?

Finding a tenant is easy.

But finding a good tenant that regularly pays rent and doesn’t cause any trouble to you or damages your property might take some effort. To significantly ease the whole process on yourself, you should run a tenant background check each time before accepting a new person.

A tenant background search usually doesn’t differ much from any other type of background check. You need to provide the basic info about the person, several data records will get investigated, and there’s a background check policy to respect.

Still, to ensure the most professional search there is, opt for specialized tenant screening services. Companies that offer such services usually already have legal access to necessary records and all the legal paperwork ready.

Aside from that, some screening companies go one step further by enabling you to advertise your property and collect payments through their apps.

How to do a pre-employment background check?

A typical background check for employment purposes is somewhat more challenging than any other type of pre-screening.

This is mainly because a pre-employment screening usually leaves more space for controversy. It also carries more legal weight than other background checks.

For that reason, you should always start your pre-employment screening with signed authorization for the background check. Next, respect and follow your state law throughout the search. And finally, try hiring only the agencies that are FCRA compliant for this highly responsible job.

How to do a credit background check?

A person’s credit history can tell a lot about them.

How somebody manages their personal finances and debts is a good example of their responsibility and integrity level. This can affect their future work too. And, it’s of high importance in job positions where the candidate is bound to handle money on a daily basis.

Specialized background check services like GoodHire can quickly show almost anyone’s credit and payment history, unpaid bill proofs, and bankruptcy notifications.

All you need for this type of check, in most cases, are the candidate’s name, address, and social security number.

Again, beware of your state laws. Some states limit the usage of this kind of information during the hiring process. Others prohibit credit history checks altogether.

How to Run a Background Check on Yourself

For those of you who are wondering:

  • Can I try a background check on myself?
  • How can I do it?
  • And is this advisable?

Here are the answers.

First of all, yes, you can run a self background check. What is more, it’s becoming quite a common practice lately. People mostly perform these checks before changing employment or when they suspect some illegal activity around their identity.

However, everyone should run a precautionary background check on themselves randomly from time to time. Aside from gaining insight into what your future employer might see, this allows you to keep your record clear and updated.

For instance, there might be a person sharing your name with not such a great criminal or credit record. In that kind of scenario, if performing regular check-ups, you could prevent your files from getting mixed up in the future.

What is more, you can prevent your identity theft, a huge safety breach that happens a lot.

Performing a self background check with the proper screening company shouldn’t take longer than a few minutes. All you need to do is choose the screening plan and then fill in your details.

Besides, there are fewer legal implications to worry about, in this case, since the person you are about to check is yourself.

What Are the Benefits of Doing a Background Check?

The benefits of doing background checks are numerous.

Let’s summarize them by their main categories.

Benefits of a pre-employment background check

It’s not easy to find a productive and reliable employee. In large corporations especially, it can be challenging to keep an eye on everyone’s behavior. In the same way, in young developing firms, one wrong decision can disrupt the whole system.

However, by conducting a full background check each time a new person is about to join the team, you ensure:

  • Fewer chances of hiring someone with a criminal past,
  • Fewer chances of hiring someone with problematic habits and faulty work ethics,
  • A better altogether trust among the teammates.

Benefits of a tenant background check

Having someone stay at your property, you can never be too watchful.

And so, a proper personal background check of your future tenant should ensure:

  • General insight into each candidate’s reputation as a renter,
  • Better chances of choosing someone mindful of keeping your flat in good condition,
  • Regular rent payments,
  • No neighbors-related issues.

How can you benefit from conducting a background check on yourself?

Whether you prefer conducting a free background check on yourself or hiring some expensive agency, try making it one of your regular activities.

As we’ve mentioned earlier, a timely background check on yourself could protect you and change your life.

Here is how:

  • You get to see your public files before your future employer does.
  • You get to clear and sort all the discrepancies on time.
  • You’re avoiding any possibility of identity theft.

Best Background Check Sites

In the vast ocean of screening offers, choosing the right agency for the job can make a lot of difference.

Preferably, background check sites of your choice should be affordable, accurate, and above all licensed.

Also, whenever possible, try choosing a screening agency that is FCRA compliant.

Here’s the narrowed editorial pick of the best background check sites based on the aforementioned criteria.

The best pre-employment screening site — GoodHire

If you’re looking for a background check site that’s transparent about its pricing, thorough in its search, and easy to use, look no more.

GoodHire, with its excellent interface and impressive speed, is ideal for large companies where time is money. The site enables you to perform:

  • a national background check,
  • an international criminal records inspection,
  • credit checks,
  • social media profiles search, and more.

A specifically tailored employment verification feature is available. It enables employers to see which of the candidates have exactly what it takes for the role.

And most importantly, the site is accurate, legitimate, and following FCRA requirements.

The best tenant background check services — TurboTenant

TurboTenant is one of the most popular landlord’s and managers’ sites, and it’s not without reason.

The site researches and shows everything that you need to know about your future tenant. Get insight into their:

  • credit history,
  • criminal background,
  • payment history records,
  • fraud indications, and more.

Next, you have two main plans to choose from and the possibility of passing the screening costs to your applicants.

Finally, you get the benefits of free advertisement and useful landlord tips.

All this from a background screening company that is FHA and FCRA compliant.

The best self-screening services provider — Intelius

You’ll be able to perform a background check on yourself at almost any free public criminal record check site.

However, if you’re looking for an express, detailed, and beginner-friendly solution, Intelius is the right choice for you.

Enjoy the ease of use, transparency, and the variety of searches that the site offers for an affordable price.

Key Takeaways

At first, background checks may seem like a lot of additional work to do on top of our already tight schedules.

However, with the right screening agency by your side, and if done legally and accurately, a comprehensive background check could save you a lot of time and money.

From running a free criminal background check to various chargeable cyber background checks, your options are boundless.

All you need to do is choose the screening site, enter a few basic details of the person whose search you are conducting, and press the search button.


What shows up on a background check?

A complete background check can show education and employment history, reference checks, criminal records, arrest records, bankruptcy records, and other similar information. The search results will depend on your specific interests and background search agency fields of specialty.

How long does it take to do a background check?

A background check performed online could take only a few minutes. Traditional background investigations usually take much longer, weeks even.

How to do a free background check?

You can do a completely free background check by accessing state by state official government websites and manually searching public information you need.

How much does it cost to do a background check?

The cost of an average single background check can vary from $20 to $100. However, the costs can easily pile if you conduct multiple searches across various states.

What do I need for a background check?

To run a background check on someone you will need their basic information such as full name, birthday, address, and/or social security number.

Can you run a background check on anyone?

Technically — yes, you can run a background check on anyone, as long as you have their basic information such as full name and address.

Will someone know if you do a background check on them?

You can complete many background checks completely anonymously. On the other hand, some official investigations like employment criminal background checks require pre-authorization.

Is it legal to do a background check on someone?

Background checks can be both legal and illegal, depending on the state law. Always research ahead how to do a background check legally.


A human nature explorer disguised as a linguist. Maybe if I have traveled less and in fewer directions, I could’ve been an expert in one particular field. Instead, I’m just a passionate researcher, reader, and writer. The subjects that I always gladly cover are mostly from the world of finance, sociology, and psychology. My flying experience (both as a cabin crew and a pilot) taught me never to disregard the human factor. For that reason, I write all my articles in a way that every human can relate to in one aspect or another. In my free time, I am an animal lover (sometimes during work hours too).

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