How Can You Fail a Background Check

Whether you’re looking for your first job or wanting to change careers, a background check is likely part of the process. But what happens if you fail one? While the answer may vary depending on the reason for your failed check, there are a few things you can do to remedy the situation. Here’s what you need to know.

What is a Background Check?

A background check is a report that’s compiled using your personal and public records, such as court documents and census data. The information collected helps determine whether someone will be qualified for a position.

Who requires Background Checks?

Employers may require applicants to provide them with a background check as part of the employment process. When submitting to one of these checks, you’ll need to make sure all the information provided on your application is accurate because it will be used as the basis for your report. You can find out more about what goes into a background check here and this infographic if you’re curious about what employers might discover about you with one.

What do Companies Look At on Background Checks?

The truth is, no two companies will conduct a background check exactly the same way. For example, a company might look at your driving record, credit history, and criminal record. Or perhaps they’ll consider your salary and education level and look for red flags like repeated large deposits or withdrawals from your accounts without explanation.

When Is a Check Considered ‘Failed’?

Typically, a failed background check means that the information you provided was not congruent with what was found. The reasons for this are numerous, but most commonly, they found something that makes you incompatible with the position. It could be something as simple as providing inaccurate information regarding your education or employment history or something more serious like failing to disclose prior criminal activity.

Can I Ask Why?

Typically, employers will tell their applicants why the check is conducted. This cannot always be guaranteed because some companies must follow state guidelines about providing background checks or could have other reasons not to specify why the check was requested. While this isn’t something you should expect, if they aren’t forthcoming with an answer, it would be best not to try and probe them further unless you’re okay with looking bad at your current company or moving on.

What Can You Do?

If you find that your background check has been flagged as failed, it’s not the end of the line. In fact, there are a few simple things that could help restore it.

  • Amend your application. If you feel that this is an error on your part because you made a mistake or omitted something, take action to fix it. It only takes one phone call to the right company representative to put this process back on track so use this opportunity to get ahead of any errors before they can affect your report.
  • Explain yourself. Sometimes the red flag comes up because past employers were uncooperative with requests for references during previous positions. If you think this may be the reason, explain the situation and offer to provide contact information for a reference yourself.
  • Double check. Make sure that all the information you provided was correct to avoid any future errors. Employers may be more willing to overlook past indiscretions if they feel you were entirely forthcoming about it. In some cases, this means submitting additional paperwork or other documents as proof of your compliance with federal laws.
  • Be patient. With the millions of background checks performed each year, there’s bound to be at least one instance where something falls through the cracks, and your check is flagged as failed for no good reason. Unfortunately, these things do take time, so just wait it out and contact a representative about getting involved once your report is fixed.


Many companies will allow you to fix any errors before your report is considered failed. Sometimes though, the process behind background checking can be complicated, and there may be red flags that come up for reasons outside of your control. There are several things you can do to fix the problem, so don’t panic if this happens to you.

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