What causes someone to fail a background check?

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What causes someone to fail a background check?


At certain points in your life, you may be subjected to a background check that is meant to go deep into your history and check up on you. A background check is essentially an assessment of your life and your actions thus far. That includes your education, your places of employment, a credit check, and in certain cases, even a check of your political affiliations, any partisan activity you may have been part of in the past, criminal history and so on.

By Editorial Team | 3rd May 2019
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A background check doesn’t come up that often, but there are a few different scenarios when it might be necessary. Background checks can be thorough or light, but they are typically performed when you are in the final stages of an interview process for a new job, or otherwise, when you’re looking to get a loan, like a mortgage. Some landlords will do a check before they sign a lease with the help of background check companies like BeenVerified, US Search, Backgroundchecks.com, Intelius, or Truthfinder.

What are the reasons why someone might fail a background check?

Criminal record

In most cases, the existence of a criminal record will be a red flag on a background check, especially when it was previously undisclosed. Depending on what the check is for, this can render you unsuitable. Most often, the cause is not actually the criminal activity itself (unless it’s extensive or very serious), but the fact that you lied about it or tried to hide it. No one likes that, from employers to landlords, so it’s always best to come clean about these things.

Bad credit

Again, depending on what the background check is being conducted for, a poor credit history can disqualify you. It shows that you’ve got poor decision-making skills, or are irresponsible, and possibly immature. You can certainly fail a background check for this reason, especially if it’s your landlord performing it. You never want to be singled out as the person who cannot clean up their credit and who keeps making bad decisions.

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A poor credit score can count against you if you are subject to a background check (Picture: iStock by Getty)

Lies in interviews or on a resume

If there’s one thing that’s been made clear so far, it’s that during a big background check like a pre-employment background check, lies will not get you far at all. During any check of this kind, honesty and complete disclosure are actually incredibly important, so you have to do your best to be forthcoming and cover all your bases.

If it comes up that there are numerous inconsistencies between what you stated on your resume or in your interview and the results of the background check, then that’s a failed background check right there, most of the time.

Bad recommendations/reviews from a previous employer

It’s not surprising that your previous employment situation can mess things up for you. Want to know how to pass a background check? Be nice to people at your job, because while you may move on to the next opportunity shortly, your behavior can haunt you forever. Your check may include reviews from your supervisor, or it can include co-worker reviews.

That colleague of yours and the conflict you had? That can cause you to receive a bad reference. All those lunches you stole? Your bad attitude? Those aren’t good, either. Be careful.

An unsavory image on social media

In this day and age, you’ve got to be extra careful about what you put up on social media, because you bet they’re going to check that, too. Yes, it’s not technically part of the job requirement, because this is your personal life. However, if it’s accessible, it’s going to be viewed.

It’s not unheard of for people to fail background checks because of their “messy” social media presence, which can include public fights, offensive language, drunken statuses and so on.

Especially if you’re looking to work for the state or a very “official” institution or company, you have to keep a squeaky clean image and that includes your social media accounts.

Asian woman hand using mobile phone with online transaction application, Concept e-commerce and internet online investment
Make sure your social media image is squeaky clean ahead of background checks (Picture: iStock by Getty)

Your employment background check pulled up the wrong person

Would you believe that this actually happens? It is entirely possible that your answers to questions could look completely mismatched, because the person they checked up on is not actually the person who gave them all the information. That is to say, they checked the wrong person! You can certainly fail a background check this way, at least until you figure out what happened.

A case of mistaken identity comes up more often than you think, especially if you have a very common name, or if your identity has been stolen and used for identity fraud before. It’s unfortunate, but definitely possible.


It’s natural to be nervous about background checks, but if you’ve got nothing to hide and haven’t lied to anyone, there isn’t much to worry about. That being said, there are several scenarios that can lead to you failing your background check.

The most important take-away should be to never lie, because any inconsistencies between what you state and what is found during the background check will be your downfall. No one likes a dishonest person, so if you end up failing, it’s most likely because of that.

Other things can be rectified, especially if it’s something like a poor credit history. If it’s a matter of your previous behavior or performance at a different job, there isn’t much to do there, other than mend the relationships. Either way, your social media accounts should be kept clean and on lockdown, as much as possible.

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Editorial Team
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