I recently accepted an offer from a big company. The employment offer was contingent on a 10-year background check. I accepted the offer since nothing in the background check should be any problem.

The start date from the big company was 4 weeks after I received the offer, so I put in my notice (3 weeks) at my previous company and have already resigned. When the start date for the new job came up a week ago, they told me that the background check was still not finished, and I will not be allowed to start employment until it has been finished and reviewed internally.

I have been pushing for them to complete the review, but the only information they have given me is that one of my prior (unpaid) self-employment periods was not able to be verified. I have references for that period, but the company has not asked for them.

I was recently informed that my report has been sent to ER and what I really want to know is if a Division within HR of a company can clear me as an exception even if one of the items (eg: my self employment status) has been reported by the background check company as "unable to verify?" I am basically asking if anyone has had similar experience of something being treated as an exception on their report?

Note: I understand that it wasn't the smartest thing to resign my previous employment before the background check had been finished, but there isn't anything I can do about that now.

  • Also see this answer which seems to be a similar (but not identical) issue, as well as this answer.
    – jmac
    Jun 11, 2013 at 5:56
  • Usually, you agree in writing to the background check. Did it indicate looking into criminal or financial areas?
    – user8365
    Jun 11, 2013 at 13:18
  • 1
    The short answer is yes, they really can deny you employment based on your background check. That's the point of a background check. They're checking to see if you've been honest, and if you're going to be a good fit for the company.
    – acolyte
    Jun 11, 2013 at 14:05
  • Thanks for editing and for replying. I modified the Q to address my real concern. I kind of know what can be and can not be grounds for revocation. I am trying to figure if withing HR of the company, the have power to clear you as an exception. since I was informed my report is sent to ER. (i am guessing that is Employee relations division) Jun 11, 2013 at 14:45
  • Also I have not given any false information to employer. Just that part of my work ex was self employment (mostly probono) and even though I explained that to 3rd party doing my check.. they marked it as unable to verify. Jun 11, 2013 at 14:47

4 Answers 4


The lesson you should take away from this is "never resign my previous position until I have an unconditional start date for my new job".

Background checks can cover a wide variety of matter, depending on how thorough the company wants to be. They will probably call your previous employers to verify employment details and find out if there were any red flags relating to employment (if you were fired, for example). They may check with your college to see if you really graduated with the degree you said. They may do a police check for criminal activity (although you usually have to give permission for that).

But the important thing is that there are no guarantees about how long this will take. Several weeks is not unusual, and it can certainly be longer, I once had one that ran six weeks, and I had to go to the police station to get my own police record due to a dispute between the police and the background check company. And of course, it is entirely up to them to decide if the background check passes.

Of course this sometimes results in the bizarre situation where the company is simultaneously pressuring you to commit to a start date and not telling you when the background check will complete (usually because it's the hiring manager doing the first and HR doing the second). The only way to handle this is to say "I will start when the offer is unconditional, plus the notice period I have to give to my current employer". Don't let yourself be pressured out of that position.

  • 1
    I totally agree on the "Lesson to learn" bit. Had I known there could be a "hanging in limbo" situation. I would never have quit my stable job. Jun 11, 2013 at 14:49
  • 1
    In addition, what they look at might be job-dependent. For a software developer they don't care about your multiple moving violations, but for a schoolbus driver, that could be a deal-killer. Financial irregularities are red flags for bookkeepers and somewhat of a concern otherwise. Jun 11, 2013 at 15:41

Big companies usually act slowly. Based on the information you provided, the delay is normal.

The reason you were given is that prior(unpaid) self-employment periods was not able to be verified which is not a very big deal. If the reason was something like previous criminal record, then you need to worry.

I would give at least another week or two before taking further action if I were you. Just relax. Do something you always want to find time to do while you do have the time now.


During a background check, a hiring company takes a good look at your personal and professional history. They verify your education and past employment, check to see if there is criminal activity in your past, and talk to your references. Some companies may even look at your driving record, credit history or previous drug testing results. Any of these may either slow the process down if it is slow to get the required information or even be enough to revoke the offer.


A background check is not a grey area.Your background is either verified or it is not. Unfortunately, a background check isn't just about a criminal record or substance abuse. It also verifies all information you provided during your interview process. Most job offers are valid 'pending background verification'. The company reserves the right to revoke your offer letter if you don't clear the background check, since for them, you have falsified information.

  • It's not binary; there is a big difference between "investigation is inconclusive" and "contrary information discovered".
    – Ben Voigt
    May 27, 2019 at 0:04

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