What is an Individual Background Check?

An individual background check is a thorough examination that typically includes verification of personal information. These checks are usually done by third-party specialist companies.


Using this information in employment decisions must be handled carefully to avoid discrimination based on race, national origin or ethnicity; sex; religion; disability; genetic information; or age (40 or older). A standard background check may also include verification of education and scholarly certifications.

Criminal Records

When someone contacts law enforcement to report an incident or get an arrest they are usually fingerprinted and the record is sent to a state repository. The repositories chronicle all criminal charges, including misdemeanors and felonies, and are called a person’s “criminal history.” The records may be accessed by anyone with the person’s consent or, in some cases, by police agencies who have access to a central database.

Whether the records are sealed or expunged they remain with a person for life. They can affect whether a person is eligible for jobs, housing and many types of licensing programs. A record can also make it difficult to find a date or even to get a passport.

Federal and most state laws prohibit discrimination based on criminal convictions. However, questions about a person’s background history are frequently asked on employment applications. The Society for Human Resource Management reports that more than 75 percent of employers check a job applicant’s criminal history. The National Employment Law Project, the Brennan Center and other advocacy groups are pushing for policies that will remove questions about past convictions from employment applications or delay the inquiry until a job offer is made. Koch Industries has already taken the initiative to remove such a question from its application. A recent study by Alfred Blumstein and Kiminori Nakamura found that once a sufficient amount of time passes since an incident that resulted in an arrest, an ex-offender is no more likely to be arrested again than the general population.

Employment History

Employers often run background checks to verify employment history and other aspects of job applications. This information can reveal inconsistencies, such as the dates of past jobs. It can also show how long someone was employed at a company, which can be important for evaluating job candidates’ work stability.

Some companies may only be interested in the most recent employment history, while others might want to verify an extensive list of previous jobs that goes back many years. The most accurate way to verify employment history is to contact previous employers and request the applicant’s name, job title, and the dates of employment. However, some people may have difficulty remembering exact details of their employment history. If an employer mistakes a date, it can be embarrassing for the candidate and could impact their hiring decision.

Background checks can also include credit information, which is sometimes used to evaluate an applicant’s level of responsibility. A credit check can reflect past addresses and employers as well as any unpaid debts or liens. Depending on the job, some companies also look at an applicant’s criminal record, including arrests that did not result in convictions and cases that were dismissed after diversion programs.

As the legal landscape around background checks continues to evolve, some organizations are adopting policies that prohibit requesting an employee’s criminal history prior to making a hiring decision. These policies are intended to ensure that all job applicants have a fair chance to be considered for positions, regardless of whether they have a record.

Financial Records

Financial services companies, such as banks, credit unions, and insurance agencies, often conduct extensive background checks to protect themselves against theft, fraud, and property damage. Background checks typically include county, state, and nationwide criminal records that reveal past arrests and convictions for felonies and misdemeanors. They can also identify outstanding arrest warrants, sex offenses, and incarceration records, as well as any acquittals or dismissed charges.

A financial services background check might also include a credit report, which includes identifying information and shows how an individual manages his or her finances. The report will reveal whether an applicant has a lot of outstanding debt and is maxing out credit cards. A financial services company might also use the credit check to verify education and professional licensing.

Financial services companies might also request a civil court check, which can reveal past lawsuits or judgments against an applicant. This can be important if an employee will have access to sensitive customer and institution data. Background checks usually exclude civil judgments and lawsuits that are more than seven years old, but some companies might choose to look further back depending on local and industry regulations and their own policies.

Civil Court Records

Civil background checks enable employers to reduce risk and hire confidently, especially for trusted financial or management roles. A county civil search returns information about non-criminal cases at the county level and a federal civil search surfaces court records on your candidate from the federal courts. Both searches typically only go back seven years. The lookback period is determined by federal and state laws, but it also depends on the type of position you’re filling.

Civil records include claims, suits, judgments and offenses filed by a person or company against another party. They typically report on monetary claims and are often used to determine liability for damages or compensation. County civil courts often handle cases involving contract disputes, harassment, eviction, car accidents and personal injury. Federal civil courts handle lawsuits involving civil rights, interstate commerce, tax disputes and government regulations. Civil lawsuits may also reveal information about a person’s credit history, such as tax liens and debt collection records.

Unlike criminal conviction records, civil lawsuits do not usually contain any personal information such as date of birth and address. Additionally, the majority of courts do not share civil cases with other counties or private databases. Performing a civil background check requires a thorough search of individual county records, so it’s important to choose a trusted and experienced background screening provider. GoodHire adheres to all relevant laws during the entire process, including the FCRA and other state and local requirements.