What Shows Up on a Background Check?

Have you ever wondered:

What shows up on a background check?

Imagine you’ve had the perfect job interview on which you’ve scored amazingly well. However, later on, you find out that somebody much less qualified has got the position.

But why?

Before you start blaming the stain on your shirt, the stars’ alignment, or simply your bad luck, take a moment to take in that:

Over 96% of employers nowadays perform a background search before hiring a new person.

Maybe the reason for not getting hired hides within that fact.

But what could make your prospective employer change their mind about you?

What does a background check show?

And, how do background checks work?

We’re about to discover all that!

But first:

What Is a Background Check?

Before we dive into possible background check results and outcomes, let’s define the term.

Background checks can have different aims and results, depending on who is conducting them and for what reason. However, background checks most often serve to segregate trustworthy and competent job candidates from the more questionable ones.

And so, it’s becoming a widespread practice in the business world.

Other than that, background checks can precede various law enforcement situations or identity verifications.

Tenant screening services are also widely used because people like to know to whom they entrust their property.

And as the field of the standard background check keeps widening, it’s a good idea to learn more about it.

What is a background check — the better you understand the basics, the better the outcome of your checks.

What Shows Up on a Background Check?

Whether you’re anticipating your check or you’re planning to conduct it on someone else, you should understand that these are rarely universal.

Background screenings come in different levels and forms, and so do their results. The level of the search will primarily depend on the screening intent and the research scope of the person or agency conducting it.

However, one should always strive towards respecting the legal information flow and usage.

Let’s now take a look into what appears on some of the most typical background checks.

What shows up on a criminal background check?

Criminal background checks are the foundation of most background searches.

Safety comes first! No employer will easily disregard a candidate’s criminal past. And no landlord or manager will risk accepting a potentially dangerous tenant.

And so, things that show up on a criminal background check are:

  • A complete criminal history report
  • Individual current or pending criminal cases
  • Pending charges and prosecutions
  • Felony convictions
  • Misdemeanor convictions

Some background check agencies go as far as looking up the arrests that didn’t lead to a conviction.

However, that’s not according to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) guidelines. And so, it shouldn’t be the practice.

And how far back do background checks go?

Depending on your state law, criminal background checks could go up to seven or ten years back.

Notably, California, Massachusetts, New York, and some other states forbid disclosing and abusing more than seven-year-old convictions.

Disclosure of juvenile convictions should also not be a part of routine criminal history background checks.

What shows up on a background check for a job?

According to the US Department of Labor, one wrong hiring decision could cost more than 30% of a new employee’s salary. Translated to money language, that is tens of thousands of dollars.

The wide presence of employment background checks doesn’t come as a surprise at all then.

Aside from criminal history checks common to most searches, employment background check companies concentrate on education and career-related findings. Some of these are:

  • Education verification
  • Employment history check
  • References checks
  • Job-related licenses verification and similar

Of course, there are cases in which employers require specific records other than these. Driving records and pre-employment drug testing reports are quite common too. Employers mostly insist on these whenever applying for some more socially responsible positions or those that include driving.

If you’re an employer, always give an advantage to FCRA-compliant pre-employment screening companies. These will provide you with the necessary legal backup during and after the hiring process.

What shows up on a rental background check?

Most landlords agree that the best tenant is the one that is trustworthy, responsible, and pays rent on time. To get better insight into these, various tenant screening companies have developed specialized search engines.

The results include:

  • Personal details
  • Criminal background report
  • Full credit history — including bankruptcies, foreclosures, ongoing payment obligations, and other potentially worrying signs
  • Applicant’s credit score — estimated credit-worthiness of a candidate
  • Eviction records

Ultimately, what tenant background checks show depends on the agency and services you choose. Leading credit bureaus such as TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian collect reliable credit data from banks and credit records. However, not all screening agencies will employ those.

As a landlord, it’s a good practice to keep all your tenant background check files for a longer period. They can protect you in case somebody decides to accuse you of groundless eviction or discrimination.

What shows up on a military background check?

Most military positions involve access to classified information and files. Misuse of these could seriously affect and jeopardize national security. Therefore, even for entry-level job positions, employees’ potential files should be impeccable.

So, if you are about to undergo military background checks and you are not sure what to expect, we’ll be honest:

You can expect everything!

Or, at best, you can expect a very thorough and strict screening process.

Aside from a long and very detailed personal questionnaire to fill up, a complete military background check incorporates:

  • Identity verification
  • Social Security Number validation
  • International and federal background checks of criminal records — convictions and non-convictions included
  • Financial information — credit reports, bankruptcies, tax evasion history, and similar
  • Professional information — general work history, businesses, skills, and licenses (certified attorneys, investigators, pilots, and similar are at an advantage)
  • Private information — marital status and your spouse, family, and associates criminal history
  • Thorough social media search — media background check on someone usually aims to prove questionable or illegal activities.
  • Driving history
  • Previous army records — superior officers references, ranks achieved, family service history.

But, will a 20-year-old felony show on a military background check?

Yes, military search agencies do have the power of digging out even 20-years-old felonies. However, the good news is, such findings don’t need to affect the admission decisions. Numerous other factors from within this long period could prevail.

Finally, candidates typically get the opportunity to confirm or disprove each of these findings through an extensive personal face-to-face interview.

On top of that, the candidate’s spouse, relatives, past employers, and friends could get furthermore questioned if deemed necessary.

All in all, each military background check is a layered set of interviews and investigations. These are programmed to extract as many details as possible about each candidate.

What shows up on an FBI criminal background check?

Before you shiver at the mere thought of it, let’s first reassure you that FBI checks are nothing alarming or unusual.

Nowadays, even transport companies like Uber run them before hiring. Not to mention companies and public institutions hiring people for work with minors, the elderly and filling other sensitive positions.

You’ve probably already had an FBI criminal background check without even being aware of it.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) collects, sorts, and stores arrest records from across the USA, making them available for occasional inspections.

The FBI background checks usually reveal:

  • The entire adult-life arrests
  • Details of all the arrests — such as individual charges, times, and dates
  • Felonies and major misdemeanors
  • Bankruptcies and other significant credit changes

How do I know if I have a misdemeanor on my record?

According to the Freedom of Information Act, each US citizen has the right to see their personal FBI files.

You can submit a formal request to the FBI and get your full FBI report in exchange for a symbolic fee. Submitting the request is possible through the official website, via email, or by one of the FBI Channelers.

5 Background check red flags

What does a background check show? It can vary greatly, based on a high number of different factors.

But, how you read the results can make all the difference.

Even a brief one-time background check could tell you a lot about your job applicant or apartment candidate if you know what details to pay attention to. On the other hand, the most thorough employee background screening won’t mean much if you are not sure how to analyze the results.

To help you with this, we bring you the five most prominent background check red flags.

1. Candidate’s refusal to take the check

One of the first, if not the biggest, red flags is the applicant’s hesitation about undergoing a background check.

For some types of checks, like military ones, this is a straightaway reason for disqualification.

Such a refusal could indicate that the candidate:

Hides a significant mistake or incident from the past, or
is extremely secretive.

Either way, not performing an employment background check could eventually create problems, especially at socially responsible and team-oriented job designations. Besides, being around someone whose past you know nothing about could sooner or later raise the feeling of uneasiness.

A person being transparent about their mistakes is always a better choice than someone that is hiding them. No matter the severity of those mistakes.

2. Criminal past

Almost every background check for employment includes criminal background screening. This fact alone speaks enough about the huge importance of clean criminal records.

And, while a minor incident from the distant past may not necessarily be the deal-breaker, a series of such incidents should probably raise a concern. Aside from this, some other criminal check red flags are:

  • Major unsolved legal incidents in any way related to the candidate
  • Legal incidents in close relation to candidate’s profession or previous employment
  • Any major conviction in the candidate’s past
  • Any recent conviction, no matter how serious
  • Problematic driving record (if the person is applying for a job that involves driving)

Still, sometimes we can’t find all the details surrounding the arrest record in a background check. For example, an arrest that didn’t lead to a conviction could have been just a law enforcement lapse.

Besides, what shows up on a background check is usually just what the screening agency has been able to find. Mistakes are possible. Also, identity thefts happen.

So it is always a good idea to discuss each of these occurrences with the candidates themselves.

3. Professional/educational discrepancies and gaps

If you’re looking for a consistent and organized job candidate, their professional and educational history should be like that too — at least, to an extent.

Of course, various types of personalities exist. And, the mere fact that a person likes trying different things doesn’t necessarily imply a lack of determination and responsibility.

In fact, a pre-employment background check showing various diplomas and employment could be an advantage. Unless:

  • The person has changed too many employers in a very short period
  • The person has several long gaps in employment or education
  • The candidate’s resume shows too many inconsistencies with the candidate’s claimed experience

4. Poor references

One negative job reference could be nothing more than a result of a misunderstanding or an uncontrollable situation. But, if the candidate mostly gets poor and negative previous employers’ references, that could be a big red flag.

The same goes if a couple of previous employers refuse to give references at all.

5. Unfavorable credit history

One of the leading federal employment background check disqualifiers is troublesome credit history. Also, anyone applying for a role related to business solutions, finances, and management should have a decent credit score.

That means the credit reports of this person should not contain any traces of:

  • Bankruptcies
  • Unpaid debts and loans
  • Late payments of bills

Once again, keep in mind that a single poor report could be a circumstantial thing. For example, someone could lose a spouse or another family member and end up in debt. These cases should not go without an investigation.

How one does background checks can greatly affect each of their candidates’ final results. So, as an employer, you should learn how to do a background check fairly and precisely.

Key Takeaways

Background checks are widely spread in each segment of the law, business, and real-estate world.

What information shows up on a background check will mostly depend on the type of the check and the screening agency’s reach. And so, the results of a military background check could completely differ from the results of tenant background checks of the same person.

Still, the information that most background checks verify is:

  • Personal details
  • Criminal records
  • Education and employment
  • References
  • Credit reports
  • Social media accounts

For a background check to be as successful as possible, each person in charge of it should take a responsible approach. This includes being thorough, spotting red flags on time, and giving each candidate some benefit of the doubt.


What does a background check consist of?

Most background checks consist of:

  • thorough criminal records investigation,
  • employment history check,
  • references checks,
  • education verification and
  • credit reports.
How to do a background check on someone?

The easiest way to do a background check on someone is to hire a professional agency or company to do it for you. Otherwise, you could personally search the public court records for free through different state’s official websites.

Do arrests show up on background checks?

Yes, most of the time, an arrest will appear on a background check even if it didn’t result in a conviction. However, the exact content of each background screening will depend on the agency’s policy and scope of search.

Do misdemeanors show on a background check?

Yes, most of the time, misdemeanors appear in public background checks.

Do traffic warrants show up on background checks?

Traffic warrants will typically show up on background checks, especially if unresolved and if driving records inspections are part of the checks.

What causes a red flag on a background check?

Different factors such as criminal past, professional record discrepancies, poor credit score, and similar can cause a red flag on a background check. Refusal to undergo a background check is a red flag too.

What shows up on a background check for an apartment?

An apartment background check will usually show identification information, criminal record, credit report, and overall credit score. Again, what shows up on a background check most often depends on the screening agency policy.


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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1 Comment

  1. Fantastic blog. Your information is very valuable. background checks include a criminal history check, based on information supplied by the candidate, including their Social Security number. Criminal background checks will reveal felony and misdemeanor criminal convictions, any pending criminal cases, and any history of incarceration as an adult.

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