JOBS: Background Investigation FAQs


A background check or background investigation is the process of looking up and compiling criminal records, commercial records and financial records (in certain instances such as employment screening) of an individual.

Background checks are often requested by employers on job candidates, especially on candidates seeking a position that requires high security or a position of trust, such as in a school, hospital, financial institution, airport, and government.

These checks are traditionally administered by a government agency for a nominal fee, but can also be administered by private companies. Results of a background check typically include past employment verification, credit score, and criminal history.  When it comes to getting a U.S. Security Clearance these checks are conducted by the specific agencies within the U.S. goverment that are responsible for law enforcement and security.

These checks are often used by employers as a means of objectively evaluating a job candidate’s qualifications, character, fitness, and to identify potential hiring risks for safety and security reasons. Background check is also used to thoroughly investigate potential government employees in order to be given a security clearance. However, these checks may sometimes be used for illegal purposes, such as unlawful discrimination (or employment discrimination), identity theft, and violation of privacy.


Q: Why do Employers investigate if I’m only applying for an entry level job and I don’t need a security clearance.

A: The interests of national security require that all persons privileged to be employed in the departments and agencies of the government shall be reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and of complete and unswerving loyalty to the United States. This means that the appointment of each civilian employee in any department or agency of the government is subject to investigation. The scope of the investigation will vary, depending on the nature of the position and the degree of harm that an individual in that position could cause.

The requirement to be investigated applies whether or not the position requires a security clearance (in order to have access to classified national security information).

Q: Do I have to answer all the questions on the form even though the majority of the info is on my resume?

A: Yes. The resume is part of the application process. The Security Questionnaire is part of the investigation process. All of the questions should be answered fully, accurately, and honestly.

Q: What will happen if I refuse to give personal information?

A: The investigation is a job requirement. Providing the information is voluntary, but if you choose not to provide the required information, you will not meet the requirements of the job and will therefore not be considered further. If you are already employed by the Federal government, your appointment will be terminated. The courts have upheld this principle.

Q: What should I do if, later, I remember something relevant after I’ve turned in the form?

A: Immediately notify the security officials to whom you submitted the questionnaire.

Q: Why do you want my fingerprints?

A: Fingerprints are required so that we can verify your claim that you’re not a criminal by checking the FBI’s fingerprint files. And, Executive Orders require that all Federal employees be fingerprinted.

Q: My father works for one of the largest companies in the world but he didn’t have to go through all this checking; why should I?

A: The rules, regulations, laws, and orders governing the hiring and retention of Federal employees are specific. There is no requirement for private employers to use the same guidelines as public employers. Of course, if your father’s job with the private employer required him to have access to classified national security information as a contractor to the Federal government, even your father would have to be investigated.

Q: Will I get a chance to explain some of the answers?

A: Yes. Many types of background investigation involve a personal interview. Moreover, you may submit information on extra pages with your questionnaire if you feel you need to more fully explain details or circumstances of the answers you put on the form.

Q: Who gets to see the report prepared about me?

A: The only persons authorized to see this information are Personnel Security, Suitability, and Investigations professionals who have been investigated and have a demonstrated need to review the information. You may request a copy of your investigation file under provisions of the Privacy Act. For an OPM investigation request, write to OPM-IS, FOIP, Post Office Box 618, Boyers, PA 16018-0618. You must include your full name, Social Security Number, date and place of birth, and you must sign your request.

Q: I’m physically handicapped; will that hurt my chances for a job?

A: No. It is against Federal law to discriminate based on a handicapping condition.

Q: Who decides if I get the job or a security clearance?

A: Adjudications officials at the agency requiring the investigation will evaluate your case and communicate their recommendation to the appropriate personnel or security office.

Q: Are you going to tell my boss that I’m looking for a job?

A: It is a requirement of a background investigation that your current employer be contacted. We must verify your employment data and make other inquiries concerning your background. If you are a Federal employee or contractor, it may be that your current employer needs you to have a security clearance for the work you do. In other instances, generally you are asked to complete the investigative form for an investigation and clearance only after a conditional offer of employ-ment has been made for a position requiring a security clearance.

Q: Doesn’t the FBI conduct all Federal background investigations?

A: Actually, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the Department of Defense, and a few other agencies share this responsibility. The FBI mostly conducts investigations of high level Presidential appointees (Cabinet Officers and agency heads) and staff who may work at the White House directly for the President.

Q: A lot of contractors say that you need a security clearance to apply for their jobs. How can I get a clearance in advance so I can apply for these jobs? Can I pay for it myself?

A: The Office of Personnel Management has no procedure for an individual to independently apply for an investigation or security clearance. Clearances are based on investigations requested by Federal agencies, appropriate to specific positions and their duties. Until a person is offered such a position, the government will not request or pay for an investigation for a clearance. Once a person has been offered a job (contingent upon satisfactory completion of an investigation), the government will require the person to complete a Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, initiate the investigation, adjudicate the results, and issue the appropriate clearance.

We know that some Defense Department contractors require applicants to already have a clear-ance, and they have the right to administer their personnel hiring procedures the way they want as long as they don’t discriminate based on prohibited factors (such as race or religion). Persons who already have clearances are those who are already employed by a government contractor (or by the government itself) and are looking for other job opportunities.

Q: How long does a background investigation take?

A: Because of the number of variable factors involved, there is no definitive answer to this question.

The kind of investigation to be conducted (which, for example, can be based on the level of a security clearance needed) will depend on the reason for the investigation. Different kinds of background investigations have different requirements for the scope of the investigative coverage to be obtained.

Some persons have more complex backgrounds than other persons and, consequently, more time is required to conduct a complete investigation.

Sometimes, the investigative workload of the investigating agency is such that Investigators cannot work at their ordinary levels of efficiency and timeliness.

Background Investigation Resources

For additional information about your OPM Investigation, contact:

US Office of Personnel Management
Federal Investigations Processing Center
PO BOX 618
Boyers, Pennsylvania 16018-0618
(724) 794-5612

A Guide to Security Clearance


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