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What is a Background Check?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 23, 2024
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A background check is a way to find information about someone that may not be readily available, and individuals and institutions choose to conduct them for a whole host of reasons. They are conducted through third party institutions and are meant to provide a picture of an individual's character based on past actions and records. These checks reveal information about an individual's professional, financial, criminal, and public history, and they include everything from speeding tickets to time spent in jail, bankruptcy to employment history.

When a person applies for a job, there is a good chance that his prospective employer will perform a background check in order to look into his professional and criminal record. If that applicant had seven different jobs within the last tax year, the employer may wonder if he are a good candidate who will stick with the job.

Furthermore, the check will reveal any criminal record that the individual has. Many employers are wary of hiring people with any kind of a criminal record, and they usually specifically ask about arrests and convictions. It is important for applicants to be honest about this as the company is very likely find out about the person's record anyway. When applying for a job to work with children, a criminal background check is often required to prove that the applicant has never been convicted of committing a crime against a minor.

Some landlords also use back ground checks before allowing individuals to rent apartments and houses. If a tenant with a criminal record were to create problems with neighbors (who may also be the landlord's tenants in other units), the landlord could have a serious mess to deal with.

Individuals some times also conduct background checks for personal reasons. Some dating safety sites advise women to consider conducting one at the beginning of a relationship, or even before the first date. While some people feel that doing this may stem more from paranoia than practicality, others argue that it is better to know everything up front.

There are many companies and services that offer these services to the public, and their price and comprehensiveness varies from service to service. A quick online background check can immediately provide basic information about a person in question, but a comprehensive one can take longer to compile and can cost a significant amount of money.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By anon358902 — On Dec 13, 2013

I had a few date discrepancies with my jobs and a gpa discrepancy from my high school. Will that cause me to lose a job?

By anon318546 — On Feb 07, 2013

Do background checks ask about mental health history?

By martin4050 — On Aug 31, 2012

My ex-employer stated that I abandoned the workplace and never returned, which is totally inaccurate. He also stated that I never made the amount I was claiming to make and ultimately gave details that I am a poor employee.

By anon255716 — On Mar 19, 2012

I joined a company with UG qualification. Even with having PG qualification, will this create any problem in my career?

By Dan Webguy — On Jul 24, 2011

there is a company called Social Intelligence which helps recruiters screen candidates based on what they say on social media platforms.

they claim to only use publicly available information, but overall it's just not pleasant sounding! I think it's unethical.

I'm researching background checks right now.

By anon186407 — On Jun 15, 2011

i just want to ask what is the qualification needed for a post of police officer and what else in physical and medical? I'm sure about it because my height is 6'6 but I just want to know what qualifications are needed.

By edwardk — On Feb 10, 2011

A background check is necessary in life. We often meet strangers at our home or in our office. Sometimes, we cannot avoid a relationship with them. And without knowing the background of that person, it would be quite dangerous for us to have any kind of relationship with them.

In this respect, a background check is the one and only way to solve this problem.

By anon142310 — On Jan 12, 2011

if you get arrested in canada and you are a U.S citizen, does it show up on your background check?

By anon124503 — On Nov 06, 2010

Question #31: Most likely not even if you had gotten a charge a year ago, that won't hold you back. Only if you have a felony charge, then there might be some problems. With a Misdemeanor, don't worry about it at all.

By anon124215 — On Nov 04, 2010

Can a misdemeanor over seven years old cost you a state job or a state license? Please help!

By anon89094 — On Jun 08, 2010

will your family history show up or just yours?

By anon79112 — On Apr 21, 2010

Do companies background check you if you're a minor?

By anon78640 — On Apr 19, 2010

Can a background check reveal your immigration status?

By anon70960 — On Mar 16, 2010

i was arrested when i was in school for being in possession of cannabis with intentions to supply. i did not get sentenced. i pleaded not guilty and i want to work in the police force. will i be able to?

By rixter6742 — On Mar 04, 2010

If you got a job that does a "criminal background" check (not a security clearance), can you fail that check by having a bankruptcy in your background?

By anon67131 — On Feb 23, 2010

Our brother-in-law was arrested and is serving jail time in Canada. He is a US citizen. Will this show up in a criminal check done in the US (when he returns and looks for a job?) and secondly, we don't know exactly what he was convicted of, can we find out?

By anon60039 — On Jan 11, 2010

A background check is used to make sure those of us who have made mistakes in our past are never allowed to be part of legitimate society.

Because of the mistakes i have made in the past, i have several DWI felonies (there was never a collision or accident involved) and I am unable to get a decent job, and nobody cares. I am 40 years old and forced to live with my parents because of this. Society does not give a crap about you once you have committed a felony, and I wonder why they even let you out of prison when nobody will give you a job, nobody will rent you an apartment, you can't get credit, the list of licenses you are no longer eligible for is too long to list here - it's all a bunch of crap.

I am considering suicide because I am so sick of all the doors getting slammed in my face. If society doesn't want me around, fine - I'll off myself and I hope all of you feel better for it.

By anon58707 — On Jan 04, 2010

A police check is the start of australian fascism which, when linked with the current social climate of stickbeaks, gigs, whistleblowers and police pimps is being manipulated to employ applicants approved by members of the freemasons. Can someone please explain why the commissioner of police and George Brouwer managed to obtain positions for which they had no merit.

By anon55334 — On Dec 07, 2009

I am 27 years old. I got a DUI when I was 19, one when I was 21, and 1 when I was 25. I was thinking of becoming a cop in my 30's. there are no other convictions. will this dui business hurt me because it is a repeat offense?

By anon52045 — On Nov 11, 2009

if someone in your family has been in prison three times does that prevent me from becoming a police woman?

By anon50570 — On Oct 29, 2009

If the application asks if you've had any convictions in the last 10 years, can they hold older convictions against you? My conviction is 14 years old, the application asks for the prior 10 years.

By anon46545 — On Sep 26, 2009

Can you become a police officer if you have been in a psychiatric hospital and diagnosed with bipolar disorder?

By anon45613 — On Sep 18, 2009

i got a dwi when i was 19 now i have remained clean and out of trouble and really want to serve my community.

By anon35790 — On Jul 07, 2009

what does background dismissed mean

By diane54321 — On May 15, 2009

When an prospective employer checks your background is it a state check or a national check?

By gerardbba — On Mar 18, 2009

I want to become a cop, but because the state of Idaho will not let any one in with a felony charge. My career might be ify. *But*, I committed this felony when I was a minor. My question is: will they still check my background records when I was a minor?

By Undecided — On Dec 21, 2008

If applying to the police force, after completing a criminal justice program (but I had a criminal record a a young offender - for mischief, resisting arrest, obstructing a peace officer, and 2 counts of breach of probation, which now does not show if I get a record check) do I have a chance of getting hired or will I be dismissed as not suitable for the job?

By zackattack — On Dec 06, 2008

If in high school i smoked marijuana, but have been clean over a year, how much time is needed before i should apply and will that determine my career in law enforcement ??

By anon20434 — On Oct 30, 2008

can a background check show if you were fired from a job?

By vasuki — On Sep 27, 2008

how much importance is given to a DUI misdemeanor during a back ground job check and interview?

By alx336699 — On May 14, 2008

How specific can an employer get during a background check? Basically, an ex employer of mine revealed untrue information to a possible employer. The ex employer stated that I abandoned the workplace and never returned which is totally inaccurate, also stated that I never made the amount I was claiming to make and ultimately gave details that I am a poor employee. She has a notorious background for acting this way after employees leaves the the company. Is this labor infringement and defamation of character? I also signed a contract which stipulated that upon my college graduation a raise and full benefits of a full time employee will be instituted which was never put into action hence the reason for my resignation. I have the CFO as witness that this was never applied even though a signed contract was put into place. Is there any way that I can have her retract the inaccurate information or threaten my ex employer with a lawsuit for labor infringement and defamation of character, this is causing me a possible job. The possible employer's HR department is negating to hire me due to these reasons and I need to get this fixed. Please help. Thank you

By Momz — On Mar 17, 2008

Can they reject you if you were in an altercation with an individual 2 years. prior out of self defense?

By aslaughter — On Nov 03, 2007

Can a background check reveal if you have received a summons?

By anon4194 — On Oct 07, 2007

Can background checks reveal if you have been laid off or fired from a job?

By anon3887 — On Sep 22, 2007

Can a background check find out if one has a Post Tramatic Stress Disorder condition at a Veterans Administration hospital?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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