Background Check Questions: What Employers Want to Know


background check questions

The process of trying to find a new job or career includes multiple steps. One of those steps is often having a background check completed (which is, in fact, separate from the reference check process).

Many employers will run these checks on potential employees to ensure that they are the best fit for the position. The background check process relatively simple, providing useful information possible employer.

But what exactly does your employer want to know, what are common background check questions, and what information can they check?

Read more about what a background check can do below. 

Why Employers Conduct Background Checks

thinking person

A background check involves the process of having third-parties vet candidates and their history for an employment opportunity. The sources used may include public records, law agencies, credit agencies, and even previous employers.

Background checks allow your possible employer to get a more complete picture of a candidate. This comprehensive picture allows the employer to hire the most qualified person. It also allows your potential employer to prevent theft and criminal behavior, as well as avoid workplace safety issues.

A background check may reveal less than favorable facts about a candidate, which may also help preserve company reputation and image.

How Employers Conduct Background Checks

background check

Most employers will use a third-party service to conduct a background check, while others may use government agencies, and in some cases local law enforcement. When you’re asked to complete a background check, you’ll provide basic information that allows you to be identified by these agencies, such as your name, your birthday, and even your social security number. You’ll also sign a form that allows the entity to run the background check. Some employers may also have you fill out a questionnaire, which they will use to cross-reference and complement a background check.

Once your potential employer has this information from you, they’ll send this to the background check provider, usually electronically. Most background checks are completed within 48 hours, but some may take up to 1-2 weeks to return. Some background checks will need to be completed by local and federal governments and may require you to have your fingerprints taken and submitted. Your potential employer may or may not pay for this service.

Once the background check returns, any information found by the check will be returned to your employer for their review. If no record is found, the paper returned to your possible employer will state as such.

What Employers Can Check


The amount of information your employer can check depends on the position, clearances needed, what you agree to, as well as your location. A standard background check usually runs as far back as 7 years, except for in the case of criminal charges that have not been expunged. The information that your employer can seek usually includes your criminal history, your general housing information, and often your employment history. Some employers may also seek your credit history as well, especially if the employer is a financial institution. At the very basic level, your employer will look for criminal charges.

If you’re not sure what your employer is looking for in a background check, always be sure to read all contracts and paperwork before you sign them. It’s also a good idea to ask this employer questions about what information they will collect.

What Background Check Questions Employers Want to Know

Your potential employer is allowed to ask a lot of background check questions. These questions are usually relevant to your position and make sense to ask to ensure that the best choice is made. Some questions include:

Job History

who can i use as a reference for my first job

The potential employer will likely ask for a detailed list of past employers, including job titles, employment dates, company/client names, reason for termination, and job description. This is used to help determine if your past aligns with what the company is looking for experience and skill wise.

Salary Information


This question is illegal to ask in some places and isn’t always common to ask because of that. However, your potential employer may ask this to determine if your salary expectations and familiarity are in line with what they’d offer. Some less trustful employers may also use this information to offer you less money.

Legal or Ethical Problems


Your potential employer will likely ask for any legal issues you’ve had, but they may also ask for any ethical transgressions you’ve had, such as peer to peer fights at work, or excessive write-ups. This information is used to make sure that you’re a good fit for the workplace.

Credit History

credit history

As mentioned above, your possible employer may also ask for your credit history. This is more common with financial institutions, as they want to make sure that your financial history aligns with the company image. Some places may also not have insurance policies to offer those with poor credit history.

Motor Vehicle Records

how far is too far to drive to work

Your potential employee may also ask for your driving and vehicle records. This is usually only common with positions where you’re required to operate a vehicle of some type. This ensures that your driving record won’t cause any safety liabilities for the company.

Educational Degrees and Dates


Your potential employer may ask for your education history, including any degrees and certificates earned. Your employer will also likely want the dates that you’ve attended and completed this education. This ensures that you have the proper education needed to complete the tasks of the position.

Some states have limitations on what employers can say about or ask of you. Your state’s labor office will be able to answer any questions pertaining to the information that is legally allowed to be obtained and how it’s able to be used.

What Causes Red Flags on a Background Check

red flag

It’s fairly common for a red flag come back on your background report, whether it be a criminal record, a credit issue, or a traffic violation. A red flag doesn’t automatically make you ineligible for the position, and it will depend on the potential employer. Common red flags include things like:

  • Felonies: Felonies are a big red flag, and unfortunately, these matter to many employers. A history of violent crimes, sexual offenses, and theft is likely going to make it harder to pass a background check.
  • Other Criminal records: Other criminal issues may report on your background check. Depending on your employer, these may hold a lot of weight, or no weight at all. The individual offense may also matter to the employer rather than the fact it’s there at all.
  • Traffic violations: If you have a few too many parking tickets, this may show up,  but it may not matter to your employer. 


Passing a background check is often a common procedure when it comes to getting a new job. The background check questions that your employer is allowed to ask depends on the state you live in and may vary depending on the employer and job position. You may also be required to take a drug test around the same time.

If you have concerns about taking or passing a background check, reach out to your potential employer to ask what’s on the background check, and discuss any concerns you have upfront. Honesty will go a long way with a future employer, so it’s best to mention issues before they arise. For more information about your specific state and background checks, contact your local labor office.

About the author

ted wilson
Ted Wilson

Ted Wilson is a writer and marketing specialist with over thirteen years of experience. He has worked with clients of all types, including major brands like Bed Bath & Beyond. He has years of experience writing for career management and education websites and often tells clients seeking to advance their career that passion and consistency are key.

Recent Posts