What Causes a Red Flag on a Background Check?

Last Updated:
April 7, 2023

Employment background checks are incredibly common these days. When you apply to a new job, odds are that the prospective employer will order a background check to be performed by a third-party, specialized background screening agency.

Those agencies look for a lot of information, and they may point out a variety of red flags that may inspire your employers to ask you questions or rescind job offers. Let's break down some of the things that can cause red flags on background check reports.

Employment Gaps

Employment gaps can be major red flags on background checks and resumes, for that matter. In general, employers want to receive job applications from candidates who have consistent, long work histories. Whether or not you’ve worked in the same industry as your new prospective job, a consistent work history shows:

  • You can hold down a job for a while
  • You are responsible
  • You have experience holding a position for several years

Employment gaps can show the opposite if they don’t have a good explanation. For instance, if you quit your previous job and took a few months off, it’s a good idea to tell your employer why in the interview or include a note in your resume so they don’t see this red flag on your background check report and dismiss the rest of your resume out of hand.

Short Tenures at Previous Jobs

Similarly, if all of your previous jobs have had relatively short tenures, that could indicate to your employer that you aren’t a very safe hire.

Say that you have held several jobs in the same industry over the last few years. But at each of those jobs, you’ve only stayed at the employing company for fewer than six months. That can tell your next employer that you are likely to jump ship for another job opportunity sooner rather than later.

Employment/Education Inconsistencies

Employment and education record inconsistencies can spell disaster for your job interview and application.

These inconsistencies include any information that doesn't add up between a background check report and your resume. For example, say that you write that you studied at a local state college on your resume. But when your background check report comes through, there's no record of you earning a degree at that college whatsoever. Your employer will notice this and take it to be a red flag.

Employment and education inconsistencies can happen for a variety of reasons, ranging from background check errors (on the part of the background check agency) to mistakes you made on your resume. Regardless, try to make sure your resume is as accurate as possible, and remember never to fabricate information on your resume. The background check will find out sooner or later.

Criminal Records

Criminal records, naturally, can be a major red flag on any background check report. Employers don’t usually like to hire convicted criminals in any position, although this rule is more or less important depending on your industry. For instance, it’s virtually impossible to be hired as a police officer if you have been convicted of any crime, but you could still get hired in industries like driving, food service, manufacturing, business, etc.

Generally, felony convictions are considered to be much worse than misdemeanor convictions. Furthermore, any criminal convictions you have on your record that are older than a few years may be seen as lesser red flags compared to more recent criminal convictions.

If you do have any criminal records to speak of, be upfront about them in your interview with a prospective employer. Include a note in your resume, and be prepared to answer questions about those convictions just in case. 

Lack of References or Negative References

Many positions like to see positive references from former employers or supervisors, whether those were at previous jobs or at your college/educational institution. If you don’t have any references to speak of, or if all of your professional references only have negative things to say, you can bet that will be taken as a massive red flag by any employer.

Between the two, negative references are worse than no references. So if you don’t have any professional references just yet – for example, maybe you are just starting out in your career – don’t worry too much. It’s worse to fabricate references out of thin air or refer your new employer to people who don’t have good things to say about your work history.

Failed Drug Tests

Many companies require employees to take random or regular drug tests. If you submitted to a drug test in the past, the results of that test could show up in your background check. Any drug test failures could be seen as massive red flags for your employer.

As with criminal convictions, the further back the drug test results are, the less they matter to your current employment prospects.

Name and Social Security Number Discrepancies

When you file a job application and outline your resume, be sure to write down your name and Social Security number perfectly. If a background check report comes back with any discrepancies between your name and your Social Security number, your employer might think twice about hiring you.

That’s because many employers are wary of accidentally hiring individuals who have committed identity theft or stolen the identities of others. This issue can be more common if you have a very common name, such as John D. Anderson.

Regardless, if there are name and Social Security number discrepancies in your background check report, make sure that you filled out the information correctly. Then consider whether the background screening agency messed up and confused your identity with someone else's – in that situation, you can dispute the information and get the screening agency to fix the inaccurate info.

Bad Credit History

For some jobs, especially those in the financial sector or for executive positions, a bad credit history can be a big red flag.

Your credit history is an important element of your credit score, which is an averaged summary of your overall creditworthiness or financial responsibility. Your credit score affects whether you qualify for excellent loans and mortgages, as well as whether you’ll qualify for certain jobs. The higher your credit score, the better.

A bad credit history can include subsidiary red flags like:

  • A history of taking out big loans and not paying them back
  • A very low credit score
  • A history of bankruptcies or liens against you
  • And so on

If your employer notices a bad credit history, and your job involves dealing with finances or acting as the public face of a company, you may find your job offer in jeopardy.

Refusal of a Background Check

Of course, if you refuse to submit to a background check, that is a red flag in and of itself! Under the terms of the FCRA, all employers are required to get written consent from job candidates for background check purposes. An employer can’t order a background check without you signing a specific form, in essence.

If you refuse to sign the form, or if you are cagey about background check results in general, your employer might wonder whether you have something to hide. Therefore, it’s a good idea to submit to background checks whenever they’re requested. A background check should not damage your credit score, even if it involves a look at your credit report.

What if There Are Erroneous Red Flags on Your Background Check?

Sometimes, you may encounter false, out-of-date, or otherwise inaccurate red flags on your background check report. You'll receive a report of your background check at the conclusion of the hiring process or if you receive a pre-adverse action notice or adverse action notice. These notices tell you whether an employer is considering not offering you a job or has decided not to offer you a job, respectively.

If there’s erroneous information in your background check report, you have the right to dispute that information by filing a dispute letter with the background check company that made the report. Once the company receives the dispute, it has 30 days to investigate the issue and correct any erroneous information.

If the information isn't corrected, or if the company doesn't investigate the dispute at all, you may have grounds for a lawsuit. Fair Credit can assist with both suing FCRA rights violators and filing dispute letters. 

Wrap Up

As you can see, there are many things that can cause red flags on a background check. It’s a good idea to update your resume and make sure to provide your employer with 100% accurate information before applying to any new position.

But if you receive a copy of your background check report and there are red flags based on erroneous or false information, remember that you can file a dispute and correct the inaccurate info with the help of knowledgeable background check mistake attorneys. At Fair Credit, we can help you file a dispute, sue the background check company, and more. Contact us today!

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