Job Search & Interview

Unpaid Work Experience On My Background Check: Should I Be Worried?  

Background checks have become a part of modern life. They are necessary for many employers, schools, and property rentals. They can cover employment history, criminal history, even your credit history. Whether or not you should be worried that unpaid work experience is in a background check depends on different factors.

What Is a Background Check?

A background check is an investigation performed into someone’s history for the purposes of confirming items such as employment, licensing, moving violations, or whatever else the agency finds relevant. An applicant is able to inquire about the searches and information sought.

A survey taken by the Society for Human Resource Management revealed that 92% of employers conduct background checks of prospects. Of those, 15% perform checks annually.

Should I Be Worried About My Background Check?

This is a loaded question. If you have never committed a crime and have been on time with bills, then you have little reason to worry.

There are times that the type of check matters most. If it is just a criminal background check that is being performed, credit issues may be overlooked.

Read More: What to Do With a Background Check Job Title Discrepancy? All You Need to Know

What Can Cause a Background Check To Disqualify Me?

Most of this is determined by what information was provided compared to what is discovered. It is also up to what the company is seeking and what they find.

Generally, employers check for one or more of the following:

  • Employment history.
  • Academic and/or professional qualifications.
  • Criminal records.
  • Credit history.
  • Social media activity.
  • Driving records.
  • Substance use.

Things that can impact your chances of passing have a lot to do with specifics of the job and your level of honesty when applying.

Criminal Charges Related to the Job

Workplaces don’t often discriminate based on petty crimes because it can potentially be illegal in some cases. However, they have reasonable concern if the crime is directly related to the performance of the job.

For example, sexual crimes can disqualify someone from working with children or other vulnerable people (such as the elderly). Theft of cash or property can impact applying for jobs involving money or expensive goods.

Even petty crimes can lead to being disqualified if you are applying for a job that is requiring a high level of security clearance.

Credit History and Jobs with Money

Employers require complete trust of people who are going to have access to the company’s money – especially cash. If your credit history suggests that you are struggling with finances, it may make them concerned that you are tempted for quick cash.

Employers also understand that credit can be affected by hard times beyond your choosing, such as through divorce, unexpected health expenses, or education debt. It is possible to disclose this with your interviewer and gain some leniency if they find the situation appropriate.

Falsified Credentials or Experience

It is assumed that many people will punch up their resume a little bit. However, lying about jobs and educational accomplishments that can be verified suggests you are not fond of the truth. This poses a large liability to any company.

Dishonorable Discharge

This is at the preference of individual employers, but having a dishonorable discharge from the United States military can be considered high risk if the job deals with compliance matters.

Does Volunteer Work Show Up on a Background Check?

It is seldom that volunteer work shows up on a background check. This will largely depend on the organizations where you volunteered. Most agencies may keep records of volunteers, but seldom is there any reporting on those.

This largely depends on the extensiveness of the background check and if the employer finds it relevant. For example, law firms may request confirmation of volunteer work that was claimed to have been done at a legal aid society.

Should I Put Unpaid Internships in My Employment History?

If the experience is in any way relevant, yes. Experience is a plus when job hunting, and internships generally look good to employers (especially corporate businesses).

Unpaid internships don’t always show on a general background check. Employers are seldom concerned with internships outside of the industry unless there was an incident concerning your performance that is relevant (i.e. let go for stealing from the petty cash).

If you were let go from an internship for such a reason, the largest risk of this being discovered comes from an educational background check.

What if There Is a Minor Discrepancy in a Background Check?

A discrepancy in a background check means that they discovered something in the course of the check that conflicts with what was reported to the employer to expect. There are some things that are flagged pretty often compared to others.

Address Verification

This usually occurs if it is determined that an address given has verified that you did not live there during the dates you said or if the address that was given doesn’t exist.

Education Verification

Of the several reasons for a discrepancy, the most common has to do with whether the diploma or educational institution was determined to be fake. Another common issue is misstating the degree, such as the name (claiming “Political Science” when getting “Political Administration”).

Employment Verification

The most common discrepancies for this include misstating job titles and duties, inaccurate begin and end dates, and negative feedback.

Reference Verification

Discrepancies from references usually center around references not knowing the applicant. Many references refuse to give any statement. It doesn’t look good when an applicant can not come up with a name of someone who will say good things about them.

If you are alerted of a discrepancy by the employer, feel free to inquire about it. Many employers understand that a blip may occur and can be explained away. If a reference didn’t respond, it may be possible to replace that with another reference; or an address coming back as not existing could be a result of a typo.

An unpaid work experience on a background check may not even show if it is not a part of your educational curriculum or if the employer is not searching for education. The only real reason to worry about it showing is if your performance doesn’t put you in the best light. If the internship was years ago, however, that may be no issue at all.

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About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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