A negative background check can cost you a job. Here's how to research what might turn up and fix any errors.
If you lose a job opportunity because a background check turned up something negative, you're often entitled to know what the specific problem is. Alternatively, you might want to check on your background and fingerprint records before you apply for employment. Lots of personal records contain errors, so it's in your interest to correct them before a prospective employer sees them.
Checking Your Own Background Record
It doesn't take much to make your background check a disaster – someone hitting the wrong computer key or filling in the wrong box on a form could be enough. If you're about to start job hunting, there are several steps you can take to catch errors in a background check:
- Apply for your credit report at the Annual Credit Report website, which will provide one report a year from each of the three major credit bureaus. If there are errors – accounts you closed are listed as still open – you can contact the bureaus to correct them.
- Check relevant court documents if you've been involved in any cases. If the records contain errors, get them corrected. For example, get copies of important paperwork that shows that charges filed against you have been dropped.
- Ask for a copy of your current driving record from your state's department of motor vehicles.
- Do a Google search for yourself to see if anything alarming turns up.
- Ask your former employers for copies of your personnel files.
- Contact the screening company that conducted any previous background check on you and ask for a copy of their report.
If you're really determined, you can hire an investigator to make a background check for you to see whether something turns up that could get you red-flagged.
Researching Your Fingerprints
If you've never had your fingerprints taken before, a fingerprint check can't turn up anything. But, if your fingerprints are on file as part of a criminal investigation, naturalization or an earlier background check, you can ask the FBI for an identity history summary check. For example, if you were arrested and fingerprinted, the summary will identify the agency that submitted the fingerprints. If you spot an error in the arrest record, you can contact the agency to get the facts corrected.
Download the application for the summary check online, then send it to the FBI with a complete set of your fingerprints and the required fee. It usually takes between three and four months to get the results.
State law may be more restrictive than federal law. California, for example, doesn't usually allow employers to access arrest records if there was no conviction. Research your state's laws online or consult an attorney with experience in employment law.
If you've already applied for a job, and the background check turns up a problem, you're entitled to a copy of that information. You can try explaining the errors to the employer, which is easier if you've already researched your record and have proof of any errors, but they're not obligated to listen. If nothing else, you can try to correct the errors before submitting your next job application.
If a prospective employer conducts its own background checks instead of hiring a screening company, you don't have a right to see the report. And an employer can simply lie about the reason you were rejected.