Criminal Background Checks for Employment: The Four Types

Tammy Cohen, PHR, SHRM-CP
May 31 2016
Pre-employment criminal background checks benefit organizations in several ways. They help companies meet federal and state hiring requirements, identify potential organizational risk, and make the best hire for their particular business. Pre-employment background screening can improve your company’s success by helping you build a proficient and profitable workforce.

However, the multitude of background screening options may be overwhelming. Collecting candidate data on your own can be time-consuming and legally risky. Online background checks are convenient, but the results may not be accurate or legally useable. Third-party screeners are often better-versed in legal compliance, but can vary widely in capability and experience.

Criminal searches also vary widely by level of government searched and the information reported. For example, supposedly all-encompassing criminal searches, sometimes called national or nationwide criminal searches, may claim to collect criminal records at every level of government, but actually pull from databases that are missing records and aren’t updated regularly.

Knowing the difference between the types of criminal record searches available can assist your organization in creating background screening programs that are comprehensive, accurate, and compliant. Additionally, you can mitigate organizational risks by cultivating a working knowledge of the records you can use to make hiring decisions.


4 Types of Criminal Record Searches for Pre-Employment Background Checks

County-level background checks search local jurisdictions where an applicant or employee lives. County criminal history searches should date back a minimum of 7 years, but are capable of returning information from 10- or 15-years ago or more, often for an additional fee. Searches should include checks for felony and misdemeanor arrests and/or convictions of any applicant.
County criminal record searches should inspect records onsite at county courthouses and online through a direct connection with state repositories. A compliant county-level check should also search all available criminal records and filter out those that are not reportable based on state/federal law.

background checks search state repositories for felony and misdemeanor records. However, states do not always allow the dissemination of both felony and misdemeanor records; some states report felonies only, while other states will report both. Also, there are states in which one or multiple counties lag behind in their reporting to the state repository.

Experienced pre-employment background screening companies will conduct routine audits of each state’s record repository and review the accuracy of county reporting, special form requirements, and turnaround time. If a repository is not deemed a reliable statewide search, professional screeners should suggest you conduct county-wide searches to ensure accurate information reporting.

Federal background checks search federal district court records and allow you to review cases prosecuted by the United States government. Such crimes are not found in statewide or county-level searches, though they may be important to determining a candidate’s employment eligibility. Federal record searches are conducted at the district level.

National, nationwide, or multi-state background searches typically search state-run databases to which the local jurisdictions are supposed to report. While not as accurate or reliable as searching the courts of origin for information, national criminal database searches can assist companies in identifying additional jurisdictions where a candidate or employee has previously lived or worked.

National and multi-state searches provide an effective “pre-screen” tool that, when combined with jurisdictional criminal history searches, identifies criminal history records that otherwise might never be discovered. However, these database search results should not be used in employment decisions unless verified with originating courts and allowed by applicable laws.


Criminal Packages: Basic vs Expanded

Experienced pre-employment background check providers are easily able to create customized screening packages based on the needs of your organization. Packages can be customized based on your industry, the different positions for which you screen, applicable federal and state regulations, your company size and screening volume, and more.

For example, a basic criminal history search package for entry-level retail worker might include:

  • SSN Trace to verify name, alias(es), and current and previous addresses
  • 1 county or statewide criminal court search, depending on record reliability
  • National Criminal History Search
  • National Sex Offender Search
  • OFAC search
  • Patriot Act Database Search

An expanded criminal history search package for sensitive positions might include all of the above plus:

  • 2-3 County or statewide criminal court searches
  • Federal criminal history search

What’s the best option for my organization?

When building a pre-employment background check program for your organization, several factors will impact what kinds of searches you’ll need or want to conduct. Several industries and positions are regulated by federal and state governments, and those screening programs will need to meet legal requirements. Other organizations should assess potential risk and build programs designed to mitigate that risk.

Online background checks generally search publicly available databases that may not be updated consistently, so they’re not the most reliable source for information. Professional and accredited third-party background screeners like InfoMart have technologically-advanced processes to ensure accurate information collection and delivery that complies with federal, state, and local reporting laws.

Find out where to get a criminal background check here.

About Tammy Cohen

Tammy Cohen, an industry pioneer and expert in identity and employment screening, founded InfoMart 30 years ago. Deemed the “Queen of Screen,” she’s been a force behind industry-leading innovations. She was most recently the first-to-market with a fully compliant sanctions search, as well as a suite of identity services that modernizes talent onboarding. Tammy revolutionized the screening industry when she stepped into the field, developing the first client-facing application and a due diligence criminal search that has since become standard for all background screening companies. Cohen has received national awards and honors for her business and civic involvement, including Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Top 25 Women-Owned Firms in Atlanta, Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year award, the YWCA of Northwest Georgia’s Kathryn Woods Racial Justice Award, and a commendation in the 152nd Congressional Record. To learn more about Tammy, visit

About InfoMart

InfoMart has been revolutionizing the global background and identity screening industry for 30 years, providing businesses the information they need to make informed hiring decisions. They develop innovative technology that modernizes talent onboarding, including a first-to-market biometric identity authentication application and a verified sanctions search. The WBENC-certified company is a founding member of the Professional Background Screening Association, and they have achieved PBSA accreditation in recognition of their consistent business practices and commitment to compliance with the FCRA. The company is dedicated to customer service, speed, and accuracy, and it has been recognized for its success, workplace culture, and corporate citizenship with over 45 industry awards. To Get the Whole Story on InfoMart, please visit, follow @InfoMartUSA, or call (770) 984-2727.

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