What Does a Background Check Consist Of?

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Posted by: David Garcia December 06, 2023

Performing a background check on a potential job candidate is the best way to learn more about their past — and character — and verify their history. While you will almost certainly ask questions about the candidate’s experience during the interview process, you can uncover more about a person’s past that might not come up in the interview. 

In some cases, candidates may conceal specific facts about their past or embellish their educational and employment history. The employer may also not have access to the depth of information a background check can provide. 

The easiest way to gather information about someone you’re considering hiring is to run a full background check – but what does this consist of in the fine details?

In this blog, we’re covering the entirety of the background check so that you can understand what you’ll find in your detailed report.

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What Is a Background Check?

A background check is a comprehensive examination of an individual’s history, encompassing various aspects such as criminal records, credit history, employment and education history.

A background check is a process often used by employers to vet someone who has applied for a job. It looks into information such as their education, criminal history, and employment. 

While HR departments most frequently use background checks during the hiring process, anyone who may want to learn more about someone and verify their history can run a background check inquiry.

What Do Background Checks Consist Of?

Most people relate background checks to criminal history, but it covers much more than that. Background checks can vary, depending on the service used and what information the checker is trying to find. While not every background check contains the same information, they have the potential to reveal all of the following:


The initial stage of most background checks consists of identity verification. The first thing an employer usually needs to know is that the candidate they are considering is who they say they are. You’ll get confirmation of their name and address, which can confirm information they shared on an application.

Social Security Verification

After identity verification, a background check may also consist of social security verification. Social security numbers verify whether someone is eligible to work in the United States. 

This step will either confirm that the number they shared with you was accurate or share the actual social security number if what they provided was incorrect. It will also share the person with that social security number’s address, another confirmation of their correct residence.

Past Residences

Though the first two components cover the person’s current address, they don’t reveal where they have lived in the past. If this information is pertinent to the report, it will include a timeline of the different recent places of residence.

It does this by pulling the mailing addresses they’ve used, which may include places like college apartments, parents’ homes, or their own apartments or homes. 

While this information may not be as valuable for an employment background check, it can be beneficial when vetting potential tenants, especially if they are from out of state. 

Criminal Record

One of the essential parts of a background check is the criminal history. This portion of the background check will reveal any past misdemeanor or felony convictions and may report any cases that are currently pending. In addition to convictions, the report will also show records of any incarceration. 

For an employer, knowledge of the applicant’s criminal background is crucial. It’s especially pertinent for positions that involve finance or working with vulnerable populations such as children. The person’s criminal tendencies should not put your customers, employees, or company at risk.

The only criminal charges or records that will not appear on a background check are charges expunged from their record. If someone was once convicted and then cleared of the charges without getting it expunged, it will still likely show up on a background check.

International Criminal Record

Beyond learning about someone’s criminal past within the United States, some jobs need verification of their international criminal record. It can be crucial for applicants who are foreign nationals and companies with a global workforce. The international criminal history dives into any records or charges they may hold abroad.

Sex Offender Registry

All U.S. states are required to maintain sexual offender registries available to the public. If someone has a history of sexual offenses, this data will appear within a criminal background check. 

The information usually only reveals major charges, not minor ones. If their criminal history is significant, conducting a more thorough check may be of additional value.

Employment History

The employment history is one of the most critical elements for employers. While most people will share their employment history voluntarily, it can be challenging to prove that the information is correct without a full background check.

Candidates will often lie or fabricate things to look good on a resume, so the employment history check verifies the information they provided and reveals any inconsistencies.

While it’s possible to find out employment history manually by calling references for all of the past jobs they held, this is time-intensive and inefficient. The employment history verification does a clean sweep of all places they may have worked.

Credit History

Credit history may be part of certain background checks concerned with consumer or financial information. While this isn’t always essential for employment checks, it can provide credit card debt, car payments, mortgages, banking, and investing history.

Driving Records

Finally, driving records are necessary, especially when hiring for jobs that require operating a motor vehicle, like truck drivers, bus drivers, and machinery operators. A driving record check shows whether or not someone has a clean driving record, including any license suspensions, moving violations, major accidents, and any vehicle-related criminal charges. It will also reveal how many points someone has on their license.

What Are the Different Types of Background Checks?

Background reports cover various aspects of an applicant’s history, but the most common ones concern criminal, employment, driving, and universal checks.

Criminal Background Check

Criminal background checks help employers learn the criminal history of someone and determine whether they feel comfortable hiring them. A criminal background check will pull information from local, statewide, federal, and national records, not just limited to their residences. 

It also shows if a person is on a sex offender registry. 

Another thing it may cover is their potential presence on terrorist watchlists, which include the INTERPOL Most Wanted, European Union terrorism list, the FBI’s Most Wanted, and the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s No Fly List. This offering isn’t always guaranteed, so you’ll want to take a closer look to learn whether your background check service includes this portion.

Depending on the situation, an international criminal check may also be beneficial. If hiring for a global company, knowing whether someone has a history of international crimes can be beneficial. 

Employment Background Check

Employment background checks cover basic information like identity and address as well as employment history and, potentially, education history. The report is limited to the dates of employment and job titles held. It will not reveal anything about salaries, which most jurisdictions prohibit.

Some of these will only go as far back as the person’s current employer, while others may opt to delve further back into their past five years of work.

It often includes educational history since that pertains to degrees and certificates a candidate may claim to have. This information typically comes from the National Student Clearinghouse, which compiles data on U.S. students and graduates. 

Depending on how thorough the employer wants the background check to be, it may also include professional licenses and professional references.

Motor Vehicle Records Check

A driving background check reveals an individual’s entire driving history, including:

  • Date of license issuance
  • Date of license expiration
  • License status
  • Any driving restrictions
  • Driving endorsements or special licenses such as CDL
  • License points, suspensions, violations
  • Vehicular crimes

Other Common Types of Background Checks

Other kinds of checks may be relevant for specific situations. Some examples of additional background checks include:

  • Professional Licenses Background Check — Determining which professional licenses someone holds
  • Personal Background Check — Running one on yourself to find out what it reveals
  • Credit Background Check — Gather information on credit, debt, loans, and mortgages
  • Universal Background Check — Typically performed before firearms are purchased
  • DOT Employment Verifications — Specific checks run for anyone who the Department of Transportation may hire, much more thorough than a Motor Vehicle Records Check

How Far Back Do Background Checks Go?

Not only do you want to be familiar with the breadth of information that you’ll find on the background check you’re running, but you also want to understand how far back they will look, which will determine how much history you can access. 

There are no set limits for how far back one can go, at least not nationally. Even a 20-year-old misdemeanor charge may show up on a criminal background check. Yet, local laws may dictate what does and does not show up due to limitations on how far back they’ll pull information.

Most background check companies offer information up to 10 years back, but some states have stricter limits. California, Massachusetts, Montana, Washington, Texas, New York, Nevada, and Maryland all have a limit of seven years. 

There are still exceptions to these limits. In certain situations, like if the job has a salary over $125,000, they can access information up to 10 years back.

This variance from state to state and even within one state will drastically change what pops up on a background check. Paying close attention to each state’s unique rules will help you better understand how far back the information goes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does a Background Check Show?

A background check is a comprehensive process showing information such as an individual’s criminal records, education, and employment history, enabling employers to validate candidate details and make informed hiring decisions.

What Is in a Background Check?

Background checks look to verify details regarding an individual’s identity, social security, past residences, criminal history, employment history, credit, and driving records. Employers can then use this information to make well-informed decisions about candidates, fostering safe and trustworthy workplaces.

Final Thoughts

What a background check consists of depends heavily on the kind of information the employer requires.  When you work with Scout Logic to develop your background checks, we can help you design the right program that reflects your recruitment needs. Contact us to get started today.

Need help deciding what are the right components for your background screening program?

All of this is just a start when it comes to detailing the many types of background check components available today.  Have a question or need help designing your background screening program? Click below to work with one of our Scouts to help design the right program for your organization.



ScoutLogic is not a law firm.  You should always check with qualified counsel before you make any changes to your background check company.  If you need a qualified attorney, we would be happy to make a referral for you.

Topics: Background Check 101

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