I started a new job that requires a background check for access to non-sensitive areas. The form wants to go back five years.

Should I let my friends know that they may be contacted for my background check?

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    Are these references or do you not know who will be contacted - remember to tell them your cover story if its for a non avowed post. Commented May 8, 2018 at 18:02
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    Don't you mean access to sensitive areas? Why would a company not background check for sensitive area but for non-sensitive areas?
    – Dan
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 18:35
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    @Dan Agreed; I took it to mean "even for non-sensitive areas".
    – msanford
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 18:36
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    As a courtesy to whom? It looks to me that you need to contact them to get their help, so it does not look like a courtesy, but rather a request for help. Commented May 9, 2018 at 4:19
  • 1
    Can you clarify if you put them as personal references (which you would normally ask their permission beforehand)?
    – mattumotu
    Commented May 9, 2018 at 9:39

5 Answers 5


Yes so they are prepared and you don't scare them. I was going for a security clearance and a federal officer interviewed several of my neighbors at their house. They thought I was being investigated for a federal crime.

My favorite question was have you ever conspired to overthrow the federal government with yes no check boxes. Below was if you selected yes, please explain. Like there is a valid explanation.

  • 13
    Technically, you were being investigated for federal crimes... just among other things without assumption of any of them being true. =) Commented May 8, 2018 at 20:45
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    @closetnoc But it is an investigation. To say why is giving out personal information. It could be a job that itself is classified.
    – paparazzo
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 21:14
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    They are supposed to say it is for a security clearance as a function of a job. Not saying so leaves all kinds of imagination to stir. Nothing more needs to be said. I had neighbors and family approach me concerned. Completely unnecessary. Fortunately, some became used to it. In the end, I got tired of the constant investigations, forms, polygraphs, and so on. Each task phase, over and over again.
    – closetnoc
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 21:51
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    "Have you ever conspired to overthrow the federal government? If yes, please explain." "Yes. My old friend Billy Smith and I got drunk in the dorms one night and he started telling me a sob story of how the local dog-catcher euthanized his pet Boa without warning and, well, one thing led to another... Anyway, we woke up the next morning with splitting headaches in a tent on the outskirts of D.C. with an entire Toys 'R Us shelf's worth of Super Soakers wearing Crockodile Dundee costumes. After that we drove home and agreed never to speak of it again."
    – jmbpiano
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 22:30
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    I think they must immediately decide not to hire anyone who answered "no" to this question as being dishonest or most boring person ever. If you never thought that being sole ruler of universe is cool you have no life.
    – talex
    Commented May 10, 2018 at 10:09

You should definitely let your friends know, less out of courtesy, rather to prepare them so that they know it is a legitimate request that you have initiated.

If someone called me out of the blue claiming to be conducting a background check on my friend and he hadn't forewarned me, I'd assume it was a social engineering attack, identity theft, or some such thing, and promptly hang up on them.

As with any reference, you might want to ask them beforehand, as a courtesy, to ensure they're willing. For personal reasons in their background they may not to want to be contacted, which could also result in a panicked hang-up.

As Neuromancer pointed out in a comment on the original post, this assumes you know, at least to a high likelihood, who will be contacted: you can either guess confidently or you have provided a limited set of names.

If not, this is kind of moot: I would have a hard time identifying with any confidence even a large number of the people I've interfaced with over the last 5 years...

  • 8
    Dan: yes, but some may decline to be references, if you ask. And then you'd need to say, well, it's not really a reference, it's a background check, and I can't ask them not to contact you. So I think it'd be better up front to call it what it is.
    – CCTO
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 19:11
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    Usually at least from police / military background checks I was usually contacted by my friends beforehand that I may be contacted as they needed to provide a list of references. I can't really imagine how they would know who could be a trusted reference if you don't provide a list.
    – idkfa
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 20:27
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    Also, contact them prior so that they can prepare the right answers (i.e. the ones you want them to give). "Is he a good guy? Holy cow yes. Let me tell you about the time he helped a senior citizen cross the road to find a lost kitten..." Commented May 9, 2018 at 13:58
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    @ToddWalton For the purposes of a security background check (or at least for a TS/SCI clearance which is not what the OP is talking about), "coaching" the contacts is probably not worth the effort and is potentially harmful. My impression is that they don't really care if you were a jerk, they just want to know if you 1) lied to them, 2) have potentially suspicious foreign contacts, and 3) if you are susceptible to coercion primarily through bribery, i.e. due to having financial difficulties. While giving them a heads up is definitely worthwhile, I would only tell them to tell the truth. Commented May 9, 2018 at 19:51
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    It's also a good idea to contact your references to be sure the contact info you have for them is up to date. Commented May 9, 2018 at 20:01

As someone who has multiple friends working in Defense Contracting and has been contacted regarding their background checks, yes you should let them know. In my case, when my friends had told me prior, it gave me time to gather any notes or other details that the background inspector would want to know. These include things like where/when we first met or what classes we had together, stories that support how trust-worthy they are, etc. These are things that I wouldn't immediately remember off the top of my head while talking with the inspector on the phone out of the blue.


The forms for the process I went through are very thorough: Federal Investigation Forms, so I'll use that as an example. (The SF 86 is [7.61 MB], and it's the one that requires listing all your family, friends, employers, neighbors, etc.)

As someone who has gone through the Federal Investigation process, I would highly recommend telling all potential contacts ahead of time. This allows them to gather the necessary information ahead of time. For example: if someone is to corroborate the date range you worked for them, they can find your tax file(s).

They (the FBI) sent forms in the mail to the people I put down, so if they weren't prepared they might have thought it to be spam or junk mail. Depending on the investigation, that might have meant that an FBI agent has to give them a call or visit if they don't respond.


No, not unless you want to. I went through this process a while back for the Dept. of the Navy where I worked as a civilian engineer.

The questions they ask are really basic and unlikely to cause any confusion with the person answering the question. They dont need to be prepared ahead of time.

For questions like "did they live here", "how did you meet them", dont make your friends or family waste time preparing. Overcoaching will do more harm than good. If they are caught on the spot about basic questions, theyll give basic answers.

In short, if you feel like talking to them, do it. Just dont stress, them or you.

  • 7
    It's not a question of confusion. If I get a call from someone doing a background check, there is no way in hell I am confirming any iota of information about my friend unless I've received prior notice. This is just good security. For all I know, the person calling could be a scammer trying to impersonate my friend and any information I give that person could help that person open credit cards, set up accounts on his behalf, or simply help that person guess an answer to one of his security questions. Commented May 10, 2018 at 8:18
  • 1
    The OP asks about telling them "you may be contacted", not about "coaching" them.
    – AndyT
    Commented May 10, 2018 at 9:58
  • Stephan you are answering on your own behalf though. How many average folks would consider that? Telling them or not telling them you have a background check in progress would not stop a social engineering attack on them. At worst it delays the background check slightly. Commented May 11, 2018 at 17:10
  • There is a massive difference between delaying a bg check and exposing a person to a social engineering attack. My answer possibly does the former. It does expose anyone to any security risk. Commented May 11, 2018 at 17:22

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