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Can You Fail a Background Check?

Job application fraud costs US corporations up to $600 billion dollars per year. That’s a massive amount of money – and as a result, background checks that confirm any and all information presented are now standard. Unfortunately, it can be hard to know why you may fail a background check, or what you can do to improve the odds in your favor.

In this article, we’ll set the record straight. We’ll explain how you can fail a background check, what you can do to help yourself, and which services you can use to pre-screen yourself for a preview of what employers see when they look you up. We’ll start by covering key features any background checking service you use should have.

What makes a great background checking service?

There are lots of background checking sites out there, all claiming to the best. Sure, there are many great options, but there are many more which would be happy to collect your payment, personal data, and search data, only to give little in return. Top-notch services are without exception governed by the following criteria:

  • Research quality – hiring the wrong person can cost your business large sums of money. You need to be able to rely on the results of any background check service you use. To that end, the quality of the research they’re working with is of utmost importance.
  • Report appearance and quality – the report you get from your background check should be easy to read, comprehensive, and chockful of useful data. Steer clear of providers with wishy-washy reports that don’t look presentable.
  • Search speed – it’s important that you get your search results quickly and without any unnecessary effort. Response times can and do vary from service to service, but as a rule of thumb, the most advanced searches shouldn’t take more than a few days. Basic ones should take minutes.
  • Custom searches – being able to personalize your search to include the exact information you need is a common and useful feature. If a provider doesn’t offer it, consider going with someone else. The last thing you want is a report full of information you have no use for.
  • Website dashboard – a dashboard can make or break your user experience. Look for ones that are easy-to-use, well-designed, and optimized for you to find all the information you need quickly and easily.
  • Mobile apps – leading services have apps for iOS, Android, or both. In the absence of these, look for responsive websites that replicate the look and feel of an app without asking you to install anything.
  • Customer support availability – live customer support is the best possible option, since it gives you the chance to get answers to your questions immediately. In its absence, look for customer support available at regular working hours. Services without support are safe to ignore.

Top recommended background checking sites

With the above features in mind, let’s take a look at some specific providers you can (and should) use to run background checks.

1. TruthFinder

TruthFinder is another two-tier background checking service. With a basic membership, you’ll be able to see someone’s criminal records, driving records, possible photos, and some social media activity. This is enough to get an accurate preview of what an individual or organization will see when checking your background. Unless you’re applying to work in medicine, manufacturing, the army, or a federal organization, this is more than enough to see if you’ll fail a check or not. If you do want to be more thorough, there’s a number of more advanced features, too. For example, TruthFinder’s advanced features can look through years of social media activity and deep-web information that’s usually invisible to Google and human users. These can help replicate more thorough checks performed by security-first organizations.

TruthFinder’s dashboard design is convenient and natural. We found that most users can enjoy the service without having to look at the instructions for it. Making custom searches that look at the specific information sources you want to prioritize is a breeze as well. Once you’re done choosing the filters you want to apply, start the search and get your reports in a matter of seconds (in most cases). The reports themselves are clearly presented and labeled, with a lot of information contained in a small number of pages every time. Customer support is 24/7, with operators who tend to be both knowledgeable and polite. Last but not least, there’s an Android app and an excellent responsive website for smartphone and tablet users.

2. Instant CheckMate

Instant CheckMate‘s basic subscription rate allows you to dig up criminal records, marriage and divorce records, relatives’ details, addresses, and more. This should be enough to help you predict whether you’ll fail a background check or not. If you do feel you need a little more diligence, however, you can pay extra to get information about financial history, driving licenses, and weapons licenses. There’s even a reverse phone lookup service that lets you get detailed information on someone based on their phone number. Between the basic and advanced options, figuring out whether you’ll fail a background check or not is straightforward. Whatever you choose, you can count on getting your results in an expedient fashion.

Outside of the basic features, Instant CheckMate is full of valuable extras. There’s an app for Android phones, available from that respective app store. If you use iOS devices or another mobile operating system, there’s a beautiful responsive mobile website that works well with any browser and operating system on the market. Reports are beautifully designed and instantly scannable no matter how much or how little information is in them. Customer support is available around the clock, and is helpful and quick to respond. There’s even a toll-free number for US residents so you never have to worry about making expensive calls to another state.

3. Intelius

Want to know if you or someone else will fail an upcoming background check? Then Intelius is one way to find out. It looks through someone’s background based on criminal records, sex offender lists, credit histories, property records, and more. Since these are the main data points used in scoring background checks, this will give you a solid idea of what third parties will see as well. In terms of other service fundamentals, you’ll be glad to know that the web dashboard is both intuitive and rich in features. You can customize your search, you can find the results you need easily, and looking at past searches only takes a couple of clicks.

Intelius will gather the most relevant data into a single comprehensive report, and make it read logically and clearly so you can interpret your results instantly. This is also true when you’re using the iOS and Android apps that the brand offers. No matter which version of the service you’re using, the reports you get are clear, concise, and pleasant to look at. Even if you do find that you need any extra help, customer support is always available (24/7) to help you make sense of any potential issues.

How does one fail a background check?

There are several common ways to fail a background check. The first and most obvious one is to have a crime that directly stops you from taking on the job you want. For example, sex offenders can’t work in any organization that deals with children. People with criminal backgrounds pointing to violent crimes or abuse won’t be allowed to work with anyone that’s considered vulnerable and may be relegated to jobs with minimal human contact. People who’ve committed crimes of any kind won’t be allowed to work high-security clearance jobs, especially in sectors adjacent to federal and military organizations. Depending on the severity and age of your crime, exceptions can happen – many states let people seal minor crimes that happened years ago – but that’s the rule of thumb.

Another major problem is falsifying experience and qualifications. As a rule, you won’t be penalized (or even notified) if employers discover you added a few percents to your salary or extended your actual tenure by a few months. But any flat-out lies, as well as falsehoods that call your ability to do a job into question, are likely to lead to a terminated job application. This also applies to job-related qualities. If you want to work a job in the security sector, or a private company with military connections, a dishonorary discharge will be a problem – especially if you try to conceal it. The same goes for a poor credit score and the financial sector. Honesty really is the best policy here.

Why run a self-check?

It can be difficult to mitigate the damage of a blemished permanent record. While there’s usually no way to hide or erase your history, coming prepared to explain certain parts of it can give you a leg up. Generally, you shouldn’t seek to place blame, and instead take responsibility for your part in the situation. Demonstrate how you’ve taken steps to correct or otherwise make amends for your mistake, and give evidence of how you’ve incorporated the lessons learned into living a better life.

This is not a guaranteed pass, but prospective employers, landlords, creditors, etc. are all people too, and generally take transparency as a positive personal point in considering your application and background test results. The key is, however, knowing ahead of time just what the talking points are likely to be. This is where running a background check on yourself is invaluable.

A final note of caution, if you have multiple blemishes on your record, don’t go out of your way to volunteer every negative point. Let your interviewer prompt you to explain the points they’re most concerned with. What you might consider a potential deal breaker might not matter as much to your interviewer. Of course, the opposite could also be true, so prepare for the worst and hope for the best.


That’s it, you now have the tools you need to look into your public record. The information you find can help you to better prepare for interviews, loan applications, licenses, leases, and more. While it is always possible that past mistakes may cause you to fail the background check run by your interviewer, having time to prepare for their questions and concerns can make the difference between success and rejection.

Have you ever failed a background check? What advice can you share from that experience? Or, have you been able to successfully reframe your past mistakes so they weren’t dealbreakers? Let us know how in the comments below.

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