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What Does a Background Check Show?

Morgan Lichtenstein
8 min read

When you need to fill a job opening at your company, of course, you want only the highest quality candidates for the job. Running a check on a job candidate is one of the most basic yet important steps to ensure that the person you hire has the credentials they need and has been truthful on their application and resume.

But what exactly does a background check show? And what's the difference between a Level 1 and Level 2 background check? In this post, we'll help you better understand the different types of background screenings available, what they reveal, and how long they take, so you can make the most informed hiring decisions.


What Is a Background Check?

A background check is a screening process many employers use to vet job applicants. In fact, a 2020 study finds that 94% of employers surveyed use at least one type of background check as part of the applicant-screening process. The precise information that a background check reveals may vary based on the type of background check ordered and the state or jurisdiction where the screening occurs. However, some common examples of information in a background report include:

  • Criminal history
  • Employment history
  • Driving record
  • Credit history
  • Identity verification

While employers most often conduct background checks, anybody can use screening services. A family looking to hire a nanny or babysitter, for instance, may require applicants to submit to a background check as a condition of the work.


How Far Back Do Background Checks Go?

How far back a background check goes is known as a "lookback period" and will depend on the type of screening. The most common lookback period for a pre-employment background check is seven years. This means that criminal history, credit history, employment records, and similar information from the past seven years will show up on the report. However, lookback periods can vary from one state to the next: Some states allow a lookback period of up to 10 years.

Certain information may also have a longer or shorter lookback period in some states. For example, a motor vehicle record check may only reveal the past three years of driving history, whereas the same background check may reveal a bankruptcy within the past decade. Generally, the lookback period for credit information is based on each state's adoption of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

The type of background check can also affect the lookback period used. For example, a Level 2 background check (which is more in-depth) can go back indefinitely in many states. Some states, such as Florida, have laws that restrict even Level 2 background checks from revealing arrests and criminal history older than seven years.

The length of time that a background check goes back can vary greatly based on state laws and the type of background check being conducted. In general, most information on a background report will be no older than seven years. However, Level 2 background check reports can contain information from decades ago.


How Long Do Background Checks Take?

Many factors can affect how long a background check takes to complete. For starters, the type of screening will affect how long the report takes to return. A basic pre-employment screening that relies mostly on public records may be completed in about a day. On the other hand, a fingerprint background check or Level 2 background check will require a deeper dive for information and thus will take longer to come back. It's not uncommon for a Level 2 background screening to take several business days to complete.

The state and reporting jurisdictions for a background screening can also affect how long the process takes. States are responsible for running their own public records systems. As you might imagine, obtaining information from one state's system may be a quick and easy process, while getting the same information may be complex and drawn out in another state.

Several issues can affect the timeline of a background check. If the applicant accidentally provides inaccurate information (such as a Social Security number that's off by a digit), it may take some time for a screening service to identify the mistake and have it corrected. Recent name changes, aliases, and even multiple recent addresses can drag out the screening process.


Understanding Different Types of Background Checks

Not all background checks are the same. Depending on the information an employer needs, many different types of background checks can be useful.

Pre-Employment Background Check

A pre-employment background check is the most common option that employers use to verify basic information about a job applicant. This type of background check simply requires an applicant to submit to the screening in writing (usually by checking a box on a job application). From there, the name and Social Security number provided by the applicant are used to search local, statewide, and Federal records to reveal things like:

  • Criminal history
  • Court records
  • Education
  • Previous employers
  • Driving record
  • Credit standing

A pre-employment background check is suitable for most positions, but we'll go into more detail about the information these screenings reveal a bit later.

Fingerprint Background Check

In some cases, employers may instead request a fingerprint background check. This type of screening reveals the same information as a standard pre-employment screening. However, how the information is obtained differs. Rather than using the name and Social Security number provided by a job applicant, the person's fingerprint data is used to search for information.

Fingerprint background checks aren't very common, especially when you consider the limitations of fingerprinting itself (it's not standard practice for most positions unless you have a criminal record). Still, some employers may use a combination of standard background checks and fingerprint background checks to confirm an applicant's identity and check for criminal history.

FBI Background Check

Another possible type of background screening that some employers may conduct is an FBI background check. This screening involves running a person's fingerprints and data through the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), which contains more than 70 million records. This type of screening can reveal a bit more than a standard background check, including whether the person has legally purchased a firearm.

It's important to note that not all employers have access to IAFIS. Only those with a unique Originating Agency Identifier (ORI) number can access the system — and only for purposes specifically outlined by the FBI. Some examples of employers that may use IAFIS for background checks include schools and government agencies.

Level 2 Background Check

For jobs that require a high level of trust and responsibility, employers may choose to conduct Level 2 background checks instead of (or in addition to) standard pre-employment screenings. While the specific details of a Level 2 background check can vary from one state to the next, a Level 2 screening is generally more in-depth. It involves a fingerprint screening that shows criminal records and other details (like employment history and driving history) on a nationwide basis.

With a Level 1 background check or standard pre-employment screening, the information shown on the report typically doesn't extend beyond state or even county lines. While this may be fine for jobs with a lower level of responsibility and risk, employers may want to use a Level 2 background check when hiring for more critical or sensitive positions.

It's also worth noting that reports can take significantly longer to come back due to the more detailed nature of a Level 2 background check. Compared to a Level 1 check (often completed in about 24 hours), a Level 2 background check can take several business days to complete. This is something employers should keep in mind when completing their background screenings.

In addition to these common background checks, some employers even conduct their own investigations using social media as a screening tool. While this type of additional screening can tell you some important things about a job candidate, it's important to be careful with social media background checks. Some information is protected under equal employment opportunity (EEOC) requirements.


What Typically Shows Up on a Background Check?

Now that you have a better understanding of the different types of background checks available, it's time to explore some of the things that typically appear on one.

Identity and SSN Verification

Perhaps the most basic information a background check will reveal is a person's name, address (and sometimes, previous addresses), and Social Security number. This part of the check is completed by requesting records from both the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration.

If a Social Security number is invalid or has been associated with a different name in the past, that may also show up on this portion of the background check. Although this information may seem basic, employers need to know that the person applying for a job is, in fact, who they claim to be.

Criminal Records

One of the most common reasons employers run background checks is to check for criminal history among job applicants. This makes sense when you consider that about one in three Americans has a criminal record of some kind. Because employers can face future legal issues for knowingly hiring an employee with a criminal history, most business owners will want to protect themselves by being aware of an applicant's past record.

Background checks typically reveal a person's:

  • Pending criminal charges
  • Past convictions (both felony and misdemeanor)
  • Acquitted or dismissed charges
  • Incarceration records
  • Active warrants
  • Sex offenses

Expunged convictions, on the other hand, generally will not show up on a background check.

It is worth noting that criminal background checks may be run at a county, state, or Federal level. For example, a county background check may not pick up an applicant's criminal convictions if they occurred in other jurisdictions.

Past Employment

In some cases, a background check may also include information about a person's work history. This can be useful for employers who want to verify that an applicant is truthful about their past experience on a resume or job application. Unfortunately, research shows that 78% of job seekers lie or embellish at some point during the hiring process — so employers need to be especially careful here.

While a background check typically won't reveal many specific details about a person's work experience (such as specific job titles or the reason for leaving the company), this type of screening can help with employment verification.

Credit History

While most jobs don't require an employer to check an applicant's credit history, some do. For example, jobs in banking, financial advising, stock trading, and other positions involving ongoing access to financial access may require some money management skills. In these situations, employers may (understandably) prefer to hire candidates with decent credit.

It is worth noting, however, that a background check does not reveal credit history in the same way running an independent credit check would. For example, the person's credit score is not revealed as part of a background check. Some examples of credit information that may show up, however, include the person's:

  • Percentage of available credit
  • Credit and spending limits
  • Current balances on any lines of credit
  • Past bankruptcies or liens
  • Accounts past due vs. in good standing

Driving Records

A background check that reveals a person's driving record may minimize liability risks in situations where a job requires an employee to drive a company vehicle. For instance, a cab company probably won't want to hire somebody with an extensive history of moving violations, reckless driving convictions, and similar charges. A background check can reveal these infractions to help hiring managers make better-informed decisions.

Likewise, a background check can also reveal these details for jobs requiring specific professional licenses or endorsements on a driver's license. For example, a background check can confirm that an applicant for a truck-driving job carries a valid commercial driver's license (CDL).

Education and Professional Licensure

These days, more employers are looking to hire candidates with college degrees than ever before. In fact, studies find that 62% of employers consider a college degree a must-have, even for entry-level positions. Meanwhile, less than 40% of adults in the United States actually have a Bachelor's degree (or higher). As a result, unfortunately, some job applicants lie about their educational experience on their resumes.

A background check may be useful here, revealing details about a person's degrees and professional certifications, the schools they attended, their enrollment status (if applicable), and graduation dates. Employers can use this information to verify details on a job application or resume, empowering them to make more informed hiring decisions.


Hire Dependable Candidates With Hunt Club

Filling job openings with the right candidates can be challenging, but relying on the best background check services can help your organization narrow down applicants and ultimately make more confident job offers. Background checks, reference screenings, and other proactive research make it easier to pinpoint suitable applicants.

Looking for more help finding dependable and qualified candidates? Hunt Club has you covered. Our technology leverages the power of references and relationships to find you the best talent in the industry. With more than six million passive candidates and more than 12,000 subject matter experts ready to assist you, we're ready to transform your recruiting processes. Get in touch with our team to learn more and get started today!

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