Federal Employment Background Check: A Short Guide in 2023

When you apply for federal jobs, one of the most daunting parts can be knowing what to expect in terms of background checks. In this guide, we’ll take a look at the key aspects of federal employment background checks in 2023 and talk about how those with criminal records (if any) should approach the process.

Different Kinds Of Background Checks For Federal Employees

As employment laws and privacy concerns evolve, so do procedures related to background checks. The need to stay up-to-date on what employers are allowed—and not allowed—to ask or investigate is becoming increasingly important. Whether you’re looking for your first job with Uncle Sam or just trying to understand your rights better, reading this guide will help clear things up and empower you during your hunt for a position within the federal government.

All permanent federal employees undergo a background check. Jobs in the federal government range widely. It goes without saying that an Iowa dairy inspector would not need to be subjected to the same level of scrutiny as a person with access to classified military information.

Depending on the job role, prospective government employees must pass a series of background checks at increasing levels of scrutiny. A regular criminal record check is required of all employees. For the government-savvy, this form is also known as an SF-85 or an OPM-SF-85.

The need for a security clearance extends to include certain federal jobs dealing with U.S. national security. There are three levels of secrecy for these documents: confidential, secret, and top secret. The government uses the SF-86 form to commence the security clearance procedure and collect information from applicants.

Different types of background checks that are usually done are-

1. Criminal History Check

A criminal record check might reveal whether or not a candidate is a potential danger or an unhealthy addition to the workplace. The following inquiries are typical for a background check pertaining to criminal history:

  • Large-scale crime database systems
  • The county’s judicial system
  • Records of criminal activity at the federal levels and state levels
  • Lists of sexually violent offenders
  • Domestic and international terror watch lists

2. Previous Jobs Verification

An employment verification is a great tool for both current and prospective employers to learn more about a candidate’s integrity, honesty, and commitment to their previous workplaces.

3. Educational Background checks

The primary purpose of academic verification is to validate or refute an applicant’s claimed educational attainment and history. Employers typically do some sort of degree verification process.

4. Reference Verification

Reference checks are a common part of the hiring process for any industry. By talking to former employers, you can get an idea of how a candidate would mesh with the work culture.

It’s a great chance for recruiters to ask candidates about their past successes and experiences, as well as to double-check any claims they made throughout the interview or on the application.

When Do Federal Employees Go Through Background Checks?

Understanding the background of those who you hire is incredibly important in any company, especially in a federal capacity. That’s why it’s essential that federal employees must undergo rigorous background checks when they are being considered for hire.

However, this isn’t just something that takes place during one check-up before employment begins. The nature of federal work requires ongoing background checks every few years to ensure ongoing suitability and fairness in the workplace.

This may include criminal record reviews, reference checks, social media reviews, and other methods. All this is done to guarantee a continued effective workforce for government positions is attained.

Why Does The Federal Government Check Employees’ Backgrounds?

You may be familiar with background checks for jobs and other positions, but the government uses them for much more than just verifying an individual’s employment. Many different agencies take extra precautions to protect their secrets and interests in the form of conducting meticulous background screenings.

These staff verifications are intended to measure public trust, as people are likely to be skeptical of a government filled with questionable actors. The second motivation associated with government-mandated background checks is to identify any potential insider threats — a government worker whose loyalty or morality might come into question and lead them to take action that harms the country or those employed by it.

Overall, background checks enable governments to operate with greater security and reliability.

What Is The Government Background Check Looking For?


When filling out the SF-85, it’s important to be honest about your employment history and where you’ve lived over the last five years. This is because the federal government only wants to make sure you won’t become an insider threat.

That’s why honesty is always key—if there are any blemishes in your past, disclose them as well. It may seem intimidating at first, but by being open and truthful from the start, it shows that you have nothing to hide, which will go a long way with the government.

So even if you have faced issues like drug convictions, it’s better to tell the truth in order to prove your good intentions and trustworthiness.

Also, you might feel a little worried when it comes to disclosing any periods of unemployment you’ve had. But rest assured, the government isn’t looking for perfect people. All they want is to make sure that you won’t be an inside threat-after all, they already gave you a tentative offer and are very interested in hiring you.

To make this easier on yourself, don’t exaggerate or make up stories, and try to be as honest as possible. If you were out of the workforce because you were divorced or needed some time to relax in your parent’s basement, there’s no need to hide this from the government.

They won’t take it into consideration during the hiring process, and neither will your supervisor or future coworkers, so there’s no need to worry about being judged for it.


These are the general trends and changes in 2023 that you can expect to see with federal employment background checks.

As always, it’s important to stay on top of the latest updates and requirements so that you can protect your organization and yourself. If you need help keeping up with the latest changes or understanding how they apply to your specific situation, don’t hesitate to reach out to government background check companies for guidance.

Stay informed and stay safe!