Background Check Disqualifiers for Federal Employment


Federal jobs offer stability and security. And they often pay well. What, then, keeps you from seeking employment in government? One concern might be the government’s federal background check. Before applying for such a job, you need to be cognizant of the vetting process, which includes federal employment background check disqualifiers.

What Is a Federal Employment Background Check?

Federal employment background checks are quite different from regular employment checks. The main purpose of these background checks is to ensure that those considered for government employees are trustworthy and reliable. The extent of the check often depends on the position and clearance level. To determine if a person possesses these qualities, the government employs certain strategies to vet the applicant, including:

Federal Database

State and local databases might not contain all the information about a person’s past and conduct a federal criminal background check since state and local laws can often differ in the US. The only reliable information can be provided by a national database covering all states.

Specific Information

Citizenship, a history of a criminal offense, financial information, and illegal substance abuse are just some of the information the government analyzes.


The interview process often includes a list of questions that the applicant needs to answer, from which the government determines if the applicant has given honest answers or has tried to conceal something.

NOTE: Many consider applying for a government job. But what prevents them is uncertainty as to the question: what is a federal background check and how does it work? If you’re in line with these individuals, you can perform a background check on yourself on one of the sites for background checks or on Truthfinder but do note that these may charge. If you want to conduct a background check without paying then a free Truthfinder alternative may be a better option for you.

Federal Employment, Security Clearance, Public Trust

An open federal job position means that you’ll need to go through a certain level of background checks, depending on the position you’re applying for. If you don’t pass the background check, this automatically disqualifies you from the position you’re applying for.

There are three basic types of background checks (based on the position):

Federal Employment

The most basic background check is required for a low-risk position, usually for public-sector employees. You need to pass a NACI background check (National Agency Check and Inquiries), which includes a law enforcement check, arrest records search, and a credit check. They will also check your education level, residence, and references, such as written recommendations from previous employers. Law enforcement officers are subjected to these checks, as well.

Security Clearance

There are several levels of security clearance, depending on the type of access to sensitive data the job offers. These checks are quite thorough, delving into a person’s past to ensure that they would not misuse or exploit the data they have access to. Secret Security Clearance disqualifiers include foreign partialities, personal misconduct, drug and alcohol abuse, and mental disorders. FBI, DEA, and CIA agents are also required to undergo security clearance checks. If you’re thinking of a career as a government agent, beware of the 5 automatic disqualifiers for security clearances.

Public Trust

This is considered to be a background check, but it’s not a security clearance. The Public Trust clearance requirements (or Moderate Background Investigation, MBI) are realized when submitting an SF 85P Questionnaire for Public Trust Positions. Prospective employees are required to be subjected to a National Agency Check, which is more extensive than the federal employment background check. Some of the positions that require this type of background check include Immigration agents, Customs And Border Protection agents, port officials, comptrollers, federal police officers, and health workers.

NOTE: Credit scores play an important role in government employment. But many wonder: What’s a bad credit score? It’s easy to find out with this link.

Federal Employment Background Check Process

The background check process might be stressful for federal job candidates, but it’s a routine process for the government. Note seven questions that most often concern candidates:

How long does a government background check take?

Most background checks are done in 2 to 5 business days. But for some higher-level positions, the process can take up to 30 days.

How long does a Public Trust clearance take?

A Public Trust clearance doesn’t require a security clearance (which can take up to 90 days). Those that are required to undergo this background check should expect their results within a month.

How long does a military background check take?

The military background check is more complicated, as it requires candidates to pass a thorough medical examination. The whole process can take about 6 to 9 months.

How long does an FBI background check take?

A typical FBI background check takes about one month. Even though instant background checks can be done in a few minutes, these are not as reliable as the thorough checks conducted for potential agents.

How to get a federal background check on yourself?

Running a background check on yourself has been simplified, as there are established background check services you can use and gain access to your personal records for a small fee.

How do you know if you failed an employer background check?

The employer is bound by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to notify you in writing regarding the outcome of your background check.

How long does a background check take for a government job?

It depends on the position you’re applying for. A background check can take about 3 days to 9 months. The higher the position you’re applying for and the levels of security clearance (if needed) are the deciding factors on the length of the process. A Homeland Security background check might be the lengthiest government background check.

NOTE: Credit card debt is widespread among Americans and is a concern for those wanting government employment. For this purpose, there are loans for credit card debt consolidation available if you want to take steps to get rid of your debt.

Key Takeaways

Federal employment background checks are done for all government employees.
The extent of the background check depends on the position you’re applying for.
Certain conditions automatically disqualify you from working in government jobs.
Your chances of getting a government job can be improved.

Federal Employment Background Check Disqualifiers

Before beginning your search for a job in the government, you should do some research and find out exactly what can disqualify you on a background check. Listed below are eight of the most common disqualifiers.

  • Citizenship

The applicant has to be a US citizen (naturalized citizens qualify), but illegal immigrants and green card holders are not considered for government jobs. If non-citizens lie on their applications about their citizenship status, they are automatically disqualified.

  • Criminal History

In most cases, individuals tried in federal criminal courts are disqualified from government jobs. Crimes, such as fraud, embezzlement, and tax evasion, and similar white-collar offenses, are highly frowned upon.

Can you get a government job with a misdemeanor? Some US states allow people with criminal records to work for the government if they had been convicted of a misdemeanor, such as theft, unarmed robbery, disorderly conduct, and other infractions that aren’t considered federal crimes.

  • Bankruptcy or Debt

Your credit history is assessed by banking professionals working for the government. Although there isn’t a minimum credit score to obtain employment in government, it isn’t favorable if you have accumulated debt or have filed for bankruptcy. For the government, this means that you’re unable to comply with financial obligations and are considered grounds for disqualification.

  • Substance Abuse

Admitting drug use on security clearance automatically disqualifies a candidate from the job. If the candidate is using illegal substances or is addicted to prescription medication, the government finds them unreliable and denies them clearance. If the candidate is a former addict and can show proof of recovery, they could be allowed to apply for a government job.

Does a failed pre-employment drug test show up on a background check? A failed pre-employment drug test should not show up on a background check, since the employer that ordered the test is not permitted to share such information with your prospective future employers. A failed drug test can be reported if the test was required for court, parole, or probation—these results can be added to the individual’s public criminal record.

  • Inconsistencies

Irregularities on your application or during your interview are one of the 5 automatic disqualifiers for security clearances. The government can discover all inconsistencies against what they already know. Reasons for concealing any aspect of your life raise even more suspicion.

  • Conflicts of Interest

Other occupations or familial relations might be considered a conflict of interest on a federal level. The best course of action is to disclose any such information during the interview process.

  • SF 85 Disqualification

The Questionnaire for Public Trust Positions is the most commonly used questionnaire when conducting background checks for all government positions. If you provide false information on this questionnaire, i.e., intentionally lie or withhold relevant information, you will be disqualified.

  • Bad Credit

If you’re applying for a Public Trust clearance, bad credit might be the determining factor on whether you secure it or not, depending on whether the position you’re applying for is Low Risk, Moderate Risk, or High Risk. For Low-Risk positions, bad credit is not an issue, but for the higher-level positions, it might influence the final decision.

These are some of the background check disqualifiers that can prevent you from being employed in government. Most of these may not be set in stone; different states might have different criteria when it comes to government employees, and US district courts rule differently for different offenses. And if your past is a concern to you, it’s important to show that you’ve forsaken your bad habits and questionable behavior and are ready to commit to a career in government.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is a human resources manager for the federal government. The OPM background check unfavorable outcome decreases your chances of government employment, since passing their background check is a crucial part of the interview process.

NOTE: The government meticulously checks your finances before hiring you. You can learn how to increase your credit before applying for a government position.

Improving Chances of Obtaining a Government Position

Becoming permanently employed in government might not be an easy feat. But even if you think you might not be the best candidate for any position with the government, there are some strategies you can employ to improve your chances.

Become a US Citizen

The first matter verified in a federal criminal background check is citizenship. If you lie about your status as a citizen, you will be disqualified. It’s wise, then, to first work at becoming a citizen before applying for a job.


Don’t waste your time and energy on a position that requires different qualifications from what you show. During the federal suitability determination process, they can realize that you lack suitability for the position. Your talents might be better utilized elsewhere. Choose the job that is best suited to your skillset.

Complete Application

A complete application is one of the federal background check requirements. Government recruiters don’t review incomplete applications. Be sure to fill out each required field and answer all the questions required of you.

Pay off Debts

If you have any debt, pay them off before applying for the job you want. Being debt-free will show the government that you are responsible and reliable.

Rehabilitated Behavior

Past criminal offenses on your permanent record or any drug abuse can be overlooked if you can show that you’ve overcome your problems and that you’re fully rehabilitated. Drug abuse, however, is one of the CIA employment disqualifiers.

NOTE: Most people wait 6 to 18 months to secure federal employment. If you want to enhance your chances and show a better financial picture of yourself, perhaps you can turn for help to some of the companies that offer credit repair.


A background check for federal employment is unavoidable. Certain past actions will disqualify you from any job in the government, while other behavior might ban you only from certain positions. On the bright side, you can learn how to avoid the common background check disqualifiers by employing some strategies that will help you boost your image in the eyes of the government.


What do federal government background checks look for?

A government background check (depending on the position you’re applying for) can check for anything—from basic identity checks to financial situations to criminal records. The government is required to check even for trivial details if they believe it would affect your job performance.

What does it take to pass a federal background check?

The best way to pass the federal background check is to be honest. If you have no criminal history, outstanding debt, conflict of interests, or a history of bad behavior you should be able to pass the background check.

How long is a federal background check good for?

There are no federal laws that state how often government employees should be re-screened, but government employment screenings are repeated every 2 to 5 years, depending on the employee’s position and their clearance level.

How long does a federal background investigation take?

The average federal background investigation takes 2 or 3 months; although, in some more complex cases, it might take more than one year to ensure that there aren’t any federal employment background check disqualifiers.

Can I apply for a federal job after being fired from another one?

Fired federal employees are allowed to apply for other jobs within the government, depending on the circumstances, i.e., reasons for termination of a previous position and the position the employee is applying for.

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