[HR / background checks] What exactly is a "10-year background check" (for the US feds)?
April 15, 2008 3:50 PM   Subscribe

[HR / background checks] What exactly is a "10-year background check" (for the US feds)?

I've already read through Metafilter's extensive "background check" archive. Sounds like half the world has a suspicious background they're worried about! Me too!

I thought I'd try to make my questions as specific as possible, so here they are. This is in reference to the federal "10-year background check." What do they check, how do they check it, and how do they interpret the results? Here goes:

Prior Residences -

(1) Suppose you lived in 10 different states in the last 10 years. Would the federal agency consider you "unstable" somehow?

(2) Suppose you lived in a third world country for a while, and their police force, such as it is, never responds to requests. Especially from those bossy Americans! So when a US agency does a criminal records search, they can't get any information at all, positive or negative. What happens then? Is your background check delayed indefinitely?

Prior Bad Employers -

(3) What if one of your past employers has gone out of business? What happens when the background checker is unable to verify your dates of employment? Do you fail your background check?

(4) What if your past employer is really, really disorganized, so when the background checker calls them, they say they don't remember you, and hang up? Does the background checker assume you were lying?

Unverifiable Gaps in Employment History-

(5) What if you spent several years not working, because you were being the house -wife/husband? And your SO is now your insane ex-SO. Are they actually going to call up your insane ex-SO?

(6) What if you took a few months off to explore the wilderness? Do you have to find some park ranger's telephone number so they can verify it? Or how about two moose and a bear? Or do they just figure you're a total slacker?

And finally -

(7) If something bad turns up, do they ever tell you, so you can resolve it? Like someone stole your identity, and now you're wanted for bank robbery in seven different states. Will they tell you? Or do they just quietly send you letter thanking you for your interest, but they had many qualified candidates ....
posted by coffeefilter to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For my 7 year check:
Unverified employment was not accepted. I had to dig up phone numbers for side jobs I worked for one month 6 years past.
Gaps in employment didn't seem to bother them, so long as the end of the previous employment and the start of the next employment were verified.
When things didn't match, I was given the opportunity to correct it.

Remember, the employment check doesn't pass judgement, it just verifies fact. The person hiring is the one who uses that information to judge if you are/are not a slacker or unstable.
posted by madajb at 4:06 PM on April 15, 2008

As a "victim" of more than one of these background checks ...

(1) No. Well, unless the reason you kept changing jobs is because you kept taking money from the register!
(2) It depends on the country. Having lived in North Korea is more interesting to the Feds than having lived in Costa Rica.
(3) You don't fail your background check, but you must provide information. When I went through it, I provided the information that was correct at the time the employer was in business. The investigator never pestered me about the company no longer existing.
(4) The employer would likely have some record of you having worked there. However, these investigators are pretty resourceful, so they probably have some way of figuring out you were an employee.
(5) You are not the first person with an insane/vengeful/mean ex-SO. Even if they talk to him/her (and there's no guarantee they will), they'll talk to other people, too. You should only be worried if everyone you're associated with hates your guts.
(7) My most recent investigation turned up "loan consolidation" on my credit report. She came back to me and asked me if I had any additional financial information I wanted to come forward with. I did not and had not undergone a "loan consolidation". Coupled with my assets, income, and other credit history, she figured that one of my creditors had mischaracterized one of my accounts, but wanted to give me a chance to clarify. She gave me a copy of the credit reports she pulled and suggested that I get it changed.
posted by clearlynuts at 5:25 PM on April 15, 2008

Recently, like last Thursday, the Feds tried to get in touch with my brother because his "insane ex-SO," or in this case his ex-wife, is applying for a federal job. The investigator from the Office of Personnel Management actually came to the house to talk to him but because he wasn't there she left a card with her contact info. He called twice, left voice mail messages and he hasn't been called back. I know from my experience that they will probably send him a questionnaire because that is what they did with me.
Oh yeah, they are real strict about having everything line up time wise. If you were the house husband then you have to list all that, besides you can list that as a job and show your organization skills, etc.
Look on OPM's website for more information.
posted by govtdrone at 5:34 PM on April 15, 2008

They'll do a financial background from your credit reports.
They will verify employment and gaps must be accounted for, and call old employers, etc.
For places lived, they will do federal, state and county criminal records search for each place.
Outside the US they may try to get that too - not sure what they do in the case of not being able to get anything...

I don't think 1 crazy ex-SO will matter unless what they say is backed up by others they talk to that makes you out in a bad light.

Really it's just a hassle getting all the old phone numbers, addresses, etc and accounting for periods of time you haven't thought about for 10 years.
Be sure to keep a copy too! The next time you have to do a background check - it will be easier and it's very important the next one matches this one as closely as possible with the exception of the 10 year period of time will shift forward.

It's not that bad, I've had to do them for employers plus fingerprinting etc.
They'll ask you if anything comes up and you can correct or provide more info then, but be thorough the first time.
posted by clanger at 11:00 PM on April 15, 2008

A lot (if not all) of the things you mention will not be held against you. One of the things the background check is looking for is the potential for trouble. For example, they won't condemn you for your crazy ex-spouse. So you lived in the woods for three months - as long as you're up fornt about it, it shouldn't matter.

I had a couple "open items" on a background check (couldn't remember one address exactly from 10 years ago), and that came up in the interview. The investigator asked me a couple questions, made some notes, and that was it.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:11 AM on April 16, 2008

Thanks very much for your responses, so far.

It's good to know that if there are irregularities, they seem to try to resolve them, rather than simply round filing everything.
posted by coffeefilter at 10:35 AM on April 16, 2008

It's an honesty test, pure and simple. The goal is to catch you in a lie. If you fail, you're out. If you pass, they'll still weigh your work and life history when they decide whether to hire you.

The only thing you have to worry about is being scrupulously honest about the information you supply. The people who do federal background investigations are professionals, and they have seen it all. If they have trouble verifying a claim, or if someone contradicts you, they'll get back to you.
posted by gum at 11:21 AM on April 16, 2008

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