If you have applied for federal employment, you may be concerned about the background check. Your first thought may be how long does a federal background investigation take and your next concern may be whether you have any factors in your background that could disqualify you from the job.

A federal employment background check process is understandably more thorough and stringent than most. Certain disqualifiers could prevent you from obtaining the job because there may be concern about your general suitability for the position and your ability to obtain necessary security clearances.

Learn more about the background check process, the security clearance background investigation, the most common background check disqualifiers, and how these components may affect employment:


One of the important questions you will be asked during the federal employment application process is whether you have U.S. citizenship. This question is asked because you will need citizenship to obtain certain security clearances. You can be a naturalized citizen to qualify for this. This means that illegal immigrants and green card holders will not be able to pass this question. If you give a false answer to this question, it will have repercussions for your application process and disqualify you from the job.

Substance Use

Another factor that will automatically disqualify you from being able to pass a federal employment background check is the current use of an illegal substance. This is in part because that substance use would ultimately prevent you from gaining federal security clearance.

This rule is set forth by the Bond Amendment, which states individuals who are addicted to a controlled substance (using illegal drugs or abusing prescription drugs) cannot have access to restricted data. This is because the government wants to protect information from people who may not be thinking clearly.

Criminal History

Individuals with a history of criminal offense and time in prison may assume that these factors would prevent you from passing a federal employment background check. However, that may not necessarily be the case. It all depends on your specific history, how long ago it occurred, and whether you show proof of rehabilitation. You should be completely honest about your criminal history in your application because it will show up during the check. Certain crimes may disqualify you from some types of work.


Another factor that will likely be considered for federal employment is your credit history. Contrary to popular belief there is not necessarily a minimum credit score for federal jobs. Instead, there is concern for whether you have generally been able to comply with financial obligations.

This is important in jobs where you would be handling money. It is also considered to reveal something about your character. If you have a history of unpaid debts and even bankruptcy, it could disqualify you from some federal employment positions. The exact outcome is determined on a case by case basis.


If your application process reveals inconsistencies, this could disqualifier from federal employment. This means that honesty is the best policy. Do not alter, oversell, or omit information. In some cases, the fact that you attempted to be misleading may be more problematic than the information would be.

Dishonesty might be considered as part of the character assessment. As with other disqualifying factors, there is concern about protecting the public from employees who may have a dishonest character.

Conflicts of Interest

For some positions, you might be disqualified from a position if the federal employment background check reveals some conflict of interest. You should reveal any potential conflicts of interest yourself, during the application process. If you attempt to hide them, it will again be viewed as a flaw in character that could cause bigger concerns and disqualify you from being hired. In some cases, conflicts of interest may be a barrier to security clearance because there is concern about how you will use the information.

Final Notes

Ultimately, federal employment background checks are intended to ensure that federal employees are adequately trustworthy and reliable, with good character. A degree of loyalty and a sense of responsibility to the United States is also sought after. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management conducts thorough checks to determine security clearance allowances and hiring eligibility. Depending on the nature of the job you seek, your potential security clearance allowance will need to match.

If you have concerns about any elements of your background and fear they may prevent your ability to be hired, you can always review your own background check information to see what may show up. Then, it is best to discuss any potential concerns directly with hiring managers during the hiring process.

Your honesty will itself be viewed positively. This will also prevent you from getting too far into the process and then being disappointed if it does not work out. That being said, do not let your past prevent you from applying. You can apply and see how your unique circumstances may work out.