Does Getting Fired 20 years ago show up in a background check?
June 25, 2012 6:02 PM   Subscribe

I was fired from a retail job back in 1994. I worked there 6 months. The firing could have been argued but I left. I have a job interview tomorrow requiring a background check. I don't want to lie but I don't want to tell the truth as it is so damn long ago and a ridiculous thing....and that job is long long long gone from resume replaced with great work and academic history. Does a routine background check dig up that old dirt? Thanks for your time and have a good week.
posted by snap_dragon to Work & Money (20 answers total)
Highly unlikely. But you don't have much to lose by disclosing that it happened.
posted by kimdog at 6:06 PM on June 25, 2012

From a user who would prefer to remain anonymous:
I've been fired several times and have always brought these instances up as voluntary leaving. No background checks have ever uncovered anything like this. They were all "whoops, this isn't working out" firings not "you are terrible/thieving/disruptive" type things.

YMMV, but I really doubt this 1994 incident will hurt you.
posted by jessamyn at 6:09 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just finished the job application process for a position in a highly regulated industry, requiring fingerprinting, drug tests, and credit check. They asked for all the positions I've worked in the past 10 years, though for those positions they wanted information in minute detail. The "were you ever fired" question was tailored to the jobs in the last 10 years.

You should answer truthfully all questions they put to you. But it seems unlikely to me that they'll ask anything about jobs you held nearly 20 years ago. And if they don't ask for the information, the chance they'd discover on their own that you were dismissed in 1994 seems vanishingly small (unless, for instance, it was reported in the paper or involved a police record).

I wouldn't sweat it. Unlike kimdog, I would not disclose anything that is not directly responsive to the exact questions posed to you.

This is not legal advice, and I am not your lawyer; consult a competent employment lawyer in your jurisdiction.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:10 PM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Background checks are for criminal activity; sometimes credit history; occasionally civil court activity. No background check is going to turn up this job, anyone connected with it, anything. Don't worry about it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:11 PM on June 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

I HIGHLY doubt it will even come up. I think background checks mainly work on confirming you were at a place the dates you say you were.

If you have other work and academic history, next time I would just leave that job off. I try to give people maybe a five to ten-year overview, between work and school. 1994 is almost 20 years old - personally I would think that, considering it's retail, your direct supervisor might not even be there.

Relax and focus on the now. Tell the truth CONCISELY if it comes up ("it just wasn't the right fit" NOT bring up all the "I could have fought it!" issues) but it will probably not come up.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 6:12 PM on June 25, 2012

It might or might not, but I can't imagine them caring about it unless you lied about it on the form. I've had jobs that required background checks, and it was a totally separate process from the interview process. Really, HR just wanted to nix anyone with something like a fraud/embezzlement conviction (the company dealt with a lot of personal financial information), or who blatantly lied about the school they graduated from.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 6:12 PM on June 25, 2012

Datapoint: I was granted a federal SECRET clearance seven years after I was let go from a job (bad fit for a PA role for that particular exec, nothing to do with fraud/embezzlement). It never even came up. I think it's highly unlikely a general background check for a private company will even go back 20 years. (Heck, it's EXPENSIVE for checks to go back that far.)
posted by mochapickle at 6:21 PM on June 25, 2012

I wouldnt give it another thought. It's not relevant.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:26 PM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Nobody cares that you were fired from a retail job 18 years ago, nobody is going to ask you about it, and nobody is going to go looking. Don't worry about it.
posted by Scientist at 6:29 PM on June 25, 2012 [12 favorites]

Yeah honestly except for the jobs that require a full and complete work history, I don't even list all the jobs I've had at this point. And the ones that do require a complete work history only go back 10 years. Getting fired from a retail job in '94? Not relevant to anyone, I can't even imagine mentioning the job.
posted by kavasa at 6:37 PM on June 25, 2012

The standard is usually to check employment history back 7 years or 3 jobs. Most companies will then only verify dates and title anyway.
posted by magnetsphere at 6:58 PM on June 25, 2012

i think if you're concerned, and like to be honest, then laughing and saying "well not except for one retail job 20 years ago which wasn't a great fit" makes you come across as honest, and human, and still perfectly competent. I think it's good to admit to imperfections in your record that no one cares about anyway. but that's just my take.
posted by saraindc at 7:07 PM on June 25, 2012

nthing background checks do not entail jobs from which you were fired (even 18 years ago). i had a whole other work history before my current career. on my resume and applications, when giving my work history, i only refer to those which are relevant to my current career path, bc my industry isn't going to give a shit that i worked in retail 20 years ago, or even that i worked as a producer for a publishing company 15 years ago.
posted by violetk at 7:27 PM on June 25, 2012

Unless the old job was identical to your new job, or was the same employer, don't bother talking about more than ten years back.
posted by cmiller at 7:47 PM on June 25, 2012

It could come up, but that's not the purpose of a background check and it's fairly likely no1curr you got fired from a retail job so long ago one needs a calculator to figure out the gap... however, I think it might depend on why you got fired and what your reputation/job history looks like since then.
posted by sm1tten at 7:50 PM on June 25, 2012

To avoid problems most places big enough to have HR won't say anything except dates worked and title/position. I wouldn't even mention a 20-year old job.
posted by asciident at 8:15 PM on June 25, 2012

The kind of background check that they'd have to do for something like this would involve many agencies and may not even be discoverable outside of a subpoena for the company records of a company they don't know the name. OK, so they go for tax records going back...20 years? "LIST_OF_JOBS: Forever 21: 1/93-9/93". "Hmm, why only 8 months? Let's subpoena Forever 21 for this very important information." So on and so forth. Who's gonna pay for that? The kind of employer who cares why you left Applebee's 15 years ago? Even if it's a famous company that's still around, someone's gonna have to get around the typically terse HR checks (somehow, that's why I mention subpoenas). I don't think your old HR would be like "Oh, your from WTF Co.? What do you want to know?" I don't think there's a secret handshake, so unless you're applying at the NSA or a public school, they're not gonna spend the money on something like that.
posted by rhizome at 8:17 PM on June 25, 2012

You can't lie. You CAN clarify the question in case you are asked if you've ever been fired: "How far back do you want me to go?" But there's no reason to go into any amount of detail on something that happened in 1994. Unless you had a spectacular flame-out and your story was passed down through the generations, it is very doubtful that the company will have any record that you even existed.

If your interviewer is crazy enough to care about something like this, question whether you are going to stay sane in the job you're applying for.
posted by moammargaret at 6:07 AM on June 26, 2012

what have you been doing the last 18 years? i doubt that'd even be checked... it shouldn't be on your resume, especially if you've worked X number of places since...
posted by fozzie33 at 7:11 AM on June 26, 2012

I'm on a hiring committee right now. We seriously do not care about retail/food service industry type jobs that people have had going back more than a year...and even then, unless you can parlay some skill you use at that job, it doesn't mean anything to me except that it crowds your resume and draws attention away from the work experiences that actually matter. I feel like the job climate and economy are so different now that it's not so weird for people to be unemployed for blocks of time or to work 2-3 different menial PT jobs in between professional positions. I have picked up housekeeping and catering gigs to supplement my income or pick up the slack between jobs. No way am I going to put any of that on a resume or job application for a job in my actual field.

A hiring committee member who is going blind and crazy reading multi-page resumes
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:13 PM on June 26, 2012

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