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I had a job interview where the company wanted me to fill out an application and a background check form at the same time. I didn't really want them to do a background check until I was offered a position and accepted but they said they would need to do one before making an offer. I don't have any criminal record or anything like that, but I was wondering if too many unnecessary background checks can hurt me in any way? For example, when a background check is done I wasn't sure if a credit check was also done that could lower my credit.

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    This question by the OP asks about credit bureaus in the USA, so let's guess that he is there, until he actually tells us. @Rich, please read How to Ask Mar 3 '20 at 6:52
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    You are saying you want them to make you and offer which you accept before any checks are done? What if the checks then fail? Of course you believe they will pass, but no company is going to take everything that every job applicant tells them as the truth!
    – alephzero
    Mar 3 '20 at 11:17
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    @alephzero: Where I am you can certainly make an offer that is conditional on passing specific checks, and some checks are typically done only after one starts working. Mar 3 '20 at 13:09
  • @cbeleitesunhappywithSX The issue still remains that once you've made an offer to one person you need to get those checks done ASAP so that you don't keep other qualified applicants waiting too long.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Mar 3 '20 at 13:43
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I have never heard of anyone being harmed by background checks before, they're doing a read-only lookup of public records. As far as the credit check portion goes, a background check will be a "soft check", which doesn't impact your credit score like a "hard check".

See here for more details: https://www.creditkarma.com/advice/i/hard-credit-inquiries-and-soft-credit-inquiries/

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    For some government positions, you need to undergo a credit check. the only other industry I know that does as serious checks are banks. I am not sure if these are hard or soft, but I think depending on what you are applying for (IE a national security position) they might be hard.
    – sntrenter
    Mar 2 '20 at 22:26
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    @sntrenter - just to squash any doubts, credit checks for the purpose of background checks are always soft. The difference between "hard" and "soft" is that a hard inquiry must be tied to a decision to offer credit (i.e. a loan, credit card, etc.) There is no difference in the content or scope of information between the two, and there's no reason to abuse what the difference actually is (i.e. it would be stupid, wasteful, and a violation of your license with the credit bureau to do a hard pull in order to perform a background check).
    – dwizum
    Mar 3 '20 at 14:12
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    @qyt The reason for this is that, since a hard check is tied to providing a credit line, multiple sequential credit checks can indicate that a person is either being denied in one situation and is moving on to another in hopes of not being denied, or is trying to game the system by opening multiple lines of credit without the consequences of them affecting each other. Generally one hard check will not hurt your score in the long run, as any impact will quickly recover, but multiple in a short period of time can be a red flag and an impact on your score is exactly how that is communicated.
    – PunPun1000
    Mar 3 '20 at 16:08
  • @qyt each person doesn't really "have" a single 'credit score', as such, but there are a few different credit reference companies (Experian and Equifax are the two main ones in the UK) who use some algorithms to generate a 'score' based on payment history of credit cards etc... mostly companies running a credit check on you will use the underlying information (e.g. how many payments you have been late with in the last x years), not the 'number'. Mar 3 '20 at 18:54
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    @dwizum I should have been more specific, I was only thinking of Background checks.
    – Davidw
    Mar 4 '20 at 23:02
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Mileage can vary.

It's worth asking the company doing the checking what their process will be. But also, I'm fairly certain that both the nature of the checks and the impact of some of the stuff I am going to mention will vary from profession to profession, business to business and location to location.

In many ways it IS like your credit score in that the reasons for someone asking your credit score combined with the pattern of the requests is what lowers your score. It's not so much that a single ask is the equivalent of a single subtraction of points.

Stuff that almost certainly WON'T impact your business reputation:

  • Automated checks on employment history - many companies have a hotline/website set up for employment verification - info that is reasonably public and easy to verify - like dates of start/stop, titles, work locations, etc.
  • Checks on driving record, criminal record, right to work in the given location
  • Verification of your attendance and matriculation from schools

With a credit card, the reason for the penalty is that applying for numerous sources of credit at once implies an intent to make use of all of the approved forms of credit in the near future - people generally don't (shouldn't) randomly open a line of credit they don't intend to use.

Jobs don't quite work the same way - you may have more than 1 job at once or more than 1 reason to do these checks (they are not purely job related). And your ability to fulfill all of the commitments in this case is less directly tied to having applied for them than in the case of credit.

Stuff that COULD impact your business reputation:

The part to be aware of is when you are tapping a human resource that has to take time to answer/respond to the inquiry in support of you. Usually that's called "Checking your references" vs. "doing a background check" and most employers will agree to take a set of references from you and check them only AFTER making an offer. In fact, some offers are given contingent upon having suitable references and can be retracted if the references aren't positive.

In the case of personal and professional references you should always be prepared to:

  • Ask your reference for permission
  • Tell your reference when you are submitting them, and as much info about the nature of the inquiry they should expect (ie - "I'm giving you to XYZ company, I expect their reference check to be sometime in the next week, I applied for job as a such-and-such title, because the job looked like a good fit with my skillset. Is that OK? They'd like a mobile number and an email.")
  • Be cognizant of your reference's time. Asking your reference to give you 10 references in the next 3 days is a BIG ask, and something that only a seriously supportive person would do. 1 reference every week if your job hunting, for 6 weeks is still a lot, but probably doable. 1 reference a year is no big deal, but after a while, a reference can become irrelevant if you haven't seen each other in a long time.

Be double extra sure of a reference that is your current supervisor. Almost every company will respect that you won't even give your supervisor's name if you don't have an offer.

Job applications and credit checks

Credit checks, specifically - are special. It's worth asking why they need it. It's also worth verifying if it's a soft check or a hard one - as they aren't using it to open a line of credit for you, so it shouldn't count against your score.

Drug Tests

Another dicey area. Many people feel uncomfortable about this. Certainly it's something that should happen fairly late in the process if for no other reason than it's rather invasive and time consuming to complete these.

At least in the US, most drug testing companies are fairly well scrutinized and anything found should be kept very private and the company given only limited ability to question the data gathered from the test - for example, they should be able to test your urine for the presence of drugs, but not get information about the presence of other markers that would inform them of whether you have diabetes or cancer, as these health conditions should be something you don't have to disclose in the US. If you don't clarification about this at the time of testing - be wary.


For any of these cases, it's worth asking the company what their process is. If they can't describe it, it's OK to push politely for clarity. What they are looking for will tell you a bit about the nature of the company and the job.

For example, when I applied for a quasi-governmental organization for a job in one of their IT divisions, I was asked for the data needed to check on my driver's license. This was odd, as it was in downtown Boston and I knew I'd be taking the subway every day (traffic is nuts, I'd be crazy to do otherwise). And suburban (everyone drives!) companies don't do that... and IT people really don't drive cars for work all that often.

When I asked, I found out that they do have organizational vehicles, and anyone above a certain job class is expected to be able to drive one. The IT folks really don't use them ever... but since we had some of the nicer job grades, we were supposed to be qualified. There was a waiver process, but just checking with the DMV was easier than getting the waiver done. Since it did no harm, I gave my info.

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    That's a lot of good information. Thanks for sharing !
    – Rich
    Mar 3 '20 at 3:15
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    This is a wonderful, comprehensive answer, I've upvoted it. I would make the same comment here that I made above, though. A credit check for the purpose of a background check will never be a hard pull. Mentioning that people should check whether it's hard or soft just creates the impression that it might sometimes be hard, which isn't technically possible.
    – dwizum
    Mar 3 '20 at 14:14
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For example, when a background check is done I wasn't sure if a credit check was also done that could lower my credit.

Negative. The credit report the workplace gets is not the same one a lender would get. The credit report they get is a special one that lists out if you have any delinquent payments or if your debt-to-income ratio is way too high (living past ones means). As such it won't negatively affect your credit score because they are not checking your credit score for a loan.

Also keep in mind they probably won't be checking your credit unless you're working at a bank or attempting to get a security clearance or work at a nuclear factory. A basic office job they'll likely just check criminal and drug test.

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  • When I asked the curent employer this question, their explanation was that, due to the fact I would be working with confidential client information, including banking details, I would have to be checked to ensure I wasn't a risk. The checks were financial stability, criminal, personality, the works. Essentially like I said they wanted me to be trustworthy enough as to not sell the client details.
    – Francois
    Mar 3 '20 at 17:14
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    Sorry, this is factually wrong. No credit reports in the US include debt to income (in fact, they include no income data at all). Also, the credit report pulled for employment verification is essentially the same (it has the same content) as what's pulled when you apply for a loan, only it's pulled under a difference license (hard vs soft.)
    – dwizum
    Mar 3 '20 at 18:11
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Your question text is primarily focused on whether too many background checks harm your credit. However, there's an angle that other answers have not considered: a company requesting a background check too early on could harm you, because they would have less motivation to inform you or investigate if the information in the background check is erroneous.

This is not a hypothetical concern--I was once nearly denied a job because a background check firm could not confirm the employment dates stated on my resume. Fortunately, I had kept all my pay stubs and could prove that the employer in question was paying me at the time I claimed! (Thank goodness for being a pack-rat!) But if this check had been done before a job offer had been made, the hiring company could easily have just decided that I had lied, and silently proceeded with another candidate.

Moreover, at least in terms of credit reports, you are entitled to free copies of your credit report if adverse action is taken against you as a result of the report. In the scenario I describe above--an early background check comes back wrong and you're denied the job--the hiring company would likely not inform you that the decision was due to the credit/background check, meaning that it isn't clear whether you'd get the legally mandated right to challenge any incorrect information on the report (and even if you do have the right, you wouldn't be aware that you should exercise it).

In this sense, the proliferation of background checks, earlier and earlier in the hiring process and without strict safeguards and oversight or obvious business purpose, is harming you and every other working person.

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  • Just to clarify - in situations where adverse action regulation comes into play, the entity taking the action is required by law to inform you of your rights. In other words, if you don't receive an adverse action notice, you're not entitled to take any action.
    – dwizum
    Mar 3 '20 at 20:10
  • @dwizum It seems to me that the adverse action has been taken, whether or not you're given notice of it; I'd imagine that courts would have to decide whether it counts as adverse action if it's "one factor considered along with interview" vs "but-for the report you would've been hired." So I don't feel comfortable saying that receiving notice is the condition for a right of correction (the hiring company could just be derelict in their legal duty of notice). But I've edited to clarify that you wouldn't know in any case.
    – Tiercelet
    Mar 3 '20 at 22:26
  • It seems like you're basically implying that companies will ignore their legal responsibilities. I suppose that's possible, but I do think it's reasonable to clarify how the regulations actually work in the first place, so people don't assume that the decision is discretionary or made without repercussions.
    – dwizum
    Mar 4 '20 at 13:33
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If you have reason to think that the background check or company isn't legitimate, consider not doing it.

Scammers post fake job listings and will offer interviews upon completion of forms for background checks. Those forms often ask for a lot of personal information, which is enough for the scammer to open bank accounts and what not.

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One of the reasons background checks can always be harmful is the company doing them of course will do its best to present you in the most negative way they can. This way they will try to convince the company that the check is worth the money paid.

Even if exactly the same things are listed on your CV black and white, surely you placed them so that positive sides are more visible and emphasized. It may fully be that the HR department actually overlooked something not so good, even if you named it. Or maybe even was actually discussed during job interview, but now a different person is making a decision about you future possibilities in the company, without a chance for you to say a word for explanation. Really, it may be enough that your CV has been brought again onto the table while any critical comment from the side unlikely to help.

Once I asked a company who does background checks to do the check on myself. I simply wanted to know what kind of information do they provide. They say they do not offer this kind of service. Probably they have reason not to tell that kind of s..t they are ready to write about you to your boss when asked.

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  • This seems unfounded and in serious conflict with my personal interactions with background checks (both as a candidate and an employer). Can you back up the claims you're making, or provide any sort of reference or explanation?
    – dwizum
    Mar 9 '20 at 15:49
  • Once something unknown for me happened that have significantly dropped my status in the company. I was moved from seniors into juniors and eventually had to change the job. I do not understand what went wrong. I have never lied anything in my CV. I tied these events to the background check campaign the company was running right before.
    – eee
    Mar 9 '20 at 17:24
  • "One of the reasons background checks can always be harmful is the company doing them of course will do its best to present you in the most negative way they can." - I have issue a downvote for this obvious and false statement. As for the reason the statement is false, it's primarily due to the word "always", but it also make the incorrect impression, that the results of a background is anything except the facts of a person's background.
    – Donald
    Mar 9 '20 at 20:23

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