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What Does a Military Background Check Entail?

Joining the military is a big decision for you, but also for them. Many military roles involve giving you access to confidential information and dangerous equipment. The military needs to trust the people they put in these roles which is why their background checks are so rigorous. But what exactly do they entail?

In this guide, we will explain how a military background check works, what information it is looking for, and how you can see if your own record is likely to pass. We will also give you some tips on what you can do if something does show up on your record that might prevent you from getting a military role.

Joining the military is one of the biggest decisions a person can make. The decision to sign up to serve your country is a big step and one that is guaranteed to make your family both proud and worried.

But applying to join the military is just the first step and there are a number of hurdles you have to cross before joining up. One of those steps is a military background check and these checks are among the most rigorous of any job.

This can put some people off applying but it doesn’t have to. They say knowledge is power and as long as you know how the process works before you get involved you will be able to prepare for every eventuality. That is what this guide is all about. We explain exactly how a military application works with a special focus on military background checks.

We will explain what steps you have to go for, what the military will be looking for on your records, and how you can check your own records in advance to see what shows up. If you find something you think could prevent you from getting a military role, we will also give you a few tips on how to get around this.

Why are military background checks so rigorous?

If the military offers you a job, they are placing a huge amount of trust in you. Many military roles will involve people having access to dangerous military hardware. Often, they will have been fully trained on how to use these for maximum impact.

Other roles can involve accessing classified information, some of which may be critical to national security. More senior roles may even require you to have government security clearance.

Military personnel will also sometimes have access to high-profile individuals such as senior military generals, government officials, politicians, and even the President.

As a result, the military has to be especially careful of who it hires. And it is. Even if you are applying for an entry-level role, you will still have to pass through one of the most stringent vetting processes of any job in the USA.

Applying for a military role

If you want to apply for a role in one of the US Armed Forces, you are likely to do so through an external recruitment agency. There are hundreds of these operating up and down the country and the recruiter you use will be able to answer any questions you might have about signing up for the military.

Questions you should be asking are things like salary levels, where the role will be based, what medical requirements there are for the role, and so on. While there are some general requirements that all military applicants have to meet, there are also huge differences between individual roles, so be sure to ask lots of questions from your recruiter about the role you are interested in.

The basic requirements of almost all military roles are:

  • Citizenship – You must be either a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident with a valid Green Card.
  • Age – You must be at least 17 years old to enlist if you have parental consent, or 18 years old if you don’t. Each branch of the military has a maximum age limit too. For the Navy and Air Force this is 39 and for the Army it is 34. To be a Marine you can be no older than 28 years old.
  • Education – You will need to have your High School Diploma or a GED certificate.
  • Health and Fitness – You will need to pass a physical examination and also meet the individual weight limits each branch of the military has in force.

If you think you will meet all of these requirements, you will then have to submit an application form detailing your educational and employment history as well as answering various personal questions about yourself and your family.

What does a military background check involve?

Almost all military background checks involve a number of different components. The precise nature of these will depend on the role you are applying for, so this is something you should check with your recruiter.

All applicants will be required to submit the answers to a questionnaire about their background. This will include all sorts of things including criminal history and drug use. If you fail to answer any of these questions you will be automatically disqualified from the job, so it is important to answer accurately and truthfully.

If you are worried about a criminal record, don’t be. Having a criminal record does not automatically disqualify you from joining the US military. But lying about your record does and may even be considered as a federal offense on its own.

On your application, you should reveal any criminal records, including juvenile records and offenses that have been sealed or expunged.

If you have minor offenses on your record, such as traffic offenses or misdemeanors, you might be able to obtain something called a ‘criminal record waiver’ that will allow you to enter the military regardless.

If you have a more serious offense on your record, you are likely to be invited for a personal interview. At this interview, you have the chance to explain the circumstances behind your record and any changes that you have made to your life that could be used in mitigation. The interviewer will then decide whether your record should preclude you from a military job or not.

There is an element of pot-luck to this process. Different military roles will take certain offenses more seriously than others while some interviewers are much more understanding than others too. But this is beyond your control. What is within your control is being 100% honest about your record and being sure you are in a position to make the case why you should still be admitted to the military.

One of the best ways to do this is to run a background check on yourself to ensure that there is nothing you have missed or forgotten.

How to run a background check on yourself

When the military runs a background check on you, there are a number of steps they will go through. They will take your fingerprints and run a fingerprint check against the FBI database. They will also run a more conventional professional background check to scour through all criminal records at federal, state, and county levels in addition to checking your employment and education records and more. They are extremely diligent and the chances of them missing something is remote.

To be sure you are submitting all the right information, you will want to check through your own record. The best tool available for you to do this is a public background checking sites. These sites are open for anyone to use and will sift through thousands of different data sources to pull together all available public data about you.

Some sites can even send runners to county courts to dig out undigitized local records, although you will usually have to pay a little more for their premium service to get this.

Running a background check on yourself is really easy and surprisingly quick to do. The best background checking sites can generate detailed reports in no more than a few minutes.

The hardest part of the process is choosing the best background checking sites to use. There are hundreds available but performances vary significantly.

Fortunately, we can help there too. We have been testing all the top background checking sites to see which are best at generated detailed and accurate criminal records data. As a result, we are now in a position to be able to recommend the top two sites for you to use:

1. Instant CheckMate

Instant Checkmate - Editors choice

Instant CheckMate is fast, very fast. If you want to access your records quickly, they are the best choice. This site will turn around a background check in a matter of moments. Furthermore, it is impressively accurate too, meaning you are not just getting fast data, you are getting the right data.

The service is easy to use and the Instant CheckMate desktop dashboard and mobile apps make managing searches simple. Information is present is neat reports and the helpful customer support team will deal with any problems or queries you may have.

Prices start at $34.78 per month, but if you choose a three-month subscription you can pay as little as $27.82 per month. This is a bit higher than some of its competitors, but if you value quality and speed, Instant CheckMate is definitely worth the money.

2. TruthFinder

TruthFinder - Editors choice

TruthFinder is a hugely detailed background checking site that has a proven track record of reaching the information many other sites can’t. Its big USP is accuracy and it excels in this, even if you input misleading or inaccurate information.

Final reports are easy to read and searches can be managed easily with mobile apps and the desktop dashboard. Customer service is also very impressive and something a number of our researchers raved about.

A one-month subscription starts from just $27.78 or you can pay $23.02 for two months. The basic package offers a full criminal record check which should return information including sex offender registers and driving records. If you pay a little more for their premium package, you will get every record there is including hard-copy records from county courts. We would recommend military applicants use this additional service, but either way, TruthFinder is an impressive service.

EXCLUSIVE DEAL: Looking for deep insight into your own public record? Try TruthFinder, one of the industry titans. Get the service with our generous reader discount.

Finishing the Recruitment process

The next step will be to attend a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS).

MEPSs are located across the USA and are where recruits undertake the majority of their application process. This includes undertaking your physical examination and sitting the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB).

The ASVAB is a multiple-choice exam that tests your basic skills at core subjects like math, science, and engineering as well as determining which military roles you are best suited for. Sometimes you may be able to sit your ASVAP elsewhere.

Assuming you pass all of these stages, you will then be invited to meet with an MEPS career advisor to determine the right military career for you. This interview will give both parties the opportunity to express their preferences and reach an agreeable conclusion.

You will then be invited to take the oath of enlistment. This is the so-called ‘swearing-in’ ceremony where you will swear allegiance to your country and vow to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Once you complete this stage, you are officially a member of the US Military.

After the MEPS, there are two possible steps. You will either ‘direct ship’, which means you will head off to basic training in a matter of days or weeks. Alternatively, you will join the ‘Delayed Entry Program’ which means you commit to basic training at some point in the future. This is usually within one year and you will be given further instructions to follow in the future.

Background checks with security clearance

If you are applying for a military position that requires you to have security clearance, you can expect the background checking process to be even more thorough.

These checks can take quite a long time and involve a wide variety of different stages including detailed criminal records checks and an extensive personal interview. Some roles will even involve interviews with your partner, close family members, friends, neighbors, educators, employers, and professional references.

If you are accepted for a role that requires security clearance, you are likely to have to go through this again periodically. Typically, this will be every five years, but some roles will require more regular checks.


Military background checks are among the most comprehensive and detailed of any currently operating in the USA. There is good reason for this. Military personnel have access to dangerous hardware and confidential information and this access is not given lightly.

In this guide, we have explained how the military recruitment process works and what information you can expect you to be asked about, We have also detailed how the background checks will run and explained how you can check your own records in advance. We even recommended the best sites to use to do this.

Have you ever applied to join the military? How did the background checking process work for you? Did you encounter any problems? How did you overcome them? Do you have any tips for our readers that are not covered in this guide? Our readers always welcome advice from people who have been in a similar position to them, so please do share your thoughts with us today using the comment box below.

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