If you plan to work for the Federal Government or join the military, chances are you will be asked to fill out forms for a background check. Whether you are applying for a position of trust or access to classified information, there is a lot of information that will be requested of you. Until the check is complete, you're employment activities will be very limited. So it's best to fill out the background information as accurately as possible the first time around. I review these forms for a living, and I have some helpful tips as to how you can speed along the process.
Credit Reports. Credit reports are a great source of information that you'll need for your background check. There will be places where you will have to include places you've lived in the last seven or 10 years. That may be hard to remember for some people who've moved around a lot, but a credit report will most likely have that information for you. You are entitled a free credit report once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com.
It's also good to read your credit report before filling out the background forms just in case you run into a few surprises that could make you look suspicious. For example, I've seen many cases where a divorced person listed that he didn't have any debts over 90 days because the form asks you that question. But it turned out he had two repossessions and several credit card bills that weren't paid because his ex-wife didn't satisfy her financial obligations per the decree and his name was still on them. It took him 6 months to clear everything up with his employer and get his access back. If he had run a credit check prior to filling out the form, he may not have lost his access at all simply by telling the truth.
References. You may also be asked to provide references from people who've known you (that aren't related to you) for a combined 10 years. The best references are those who you still keep in touch with and can be easily reached. You'll need to know their addresses and phone numbers. Expect to have a reference for each place you've lived and at least three people who know you well. It's best to give them a heads up before the government calls, that way they don't seem shocked and won't think you are in legal trouble.
Citizenship. If you are applying for a position with access to classified information and you have relatives that are not US citizens, you may be asked to provide their citizenship information. That can be hard to find for some relatives, so get started early.
Work. You may have worked a dozen or so odd jobs in the last ten years before landing your current Federal job. The government wants to not only know where you've worked, but who you've worked for. You'll need names, addresses and phone numbers of your old work places and supervisors from the last seven to 10 years.
Jail Time. If you ever had a criminal past as a teenager and the judge told you the records were sealed, be careful how you answer the questions on some of the background checks. If the question asks "have you ever been convicted of a crime..." your best bet is to answer "yes" and explain yourself. Otherwise it could look like you are hiding something.
Unknown Info. Sometimes you just don't have the information readily available or can't locate your old supervisor. That's o.k., so long as you can provide an explanation as to why that information is unknown. This is especially important for people who need access to classified information. Again, you don't want to look like you are hiding something from the investigators.