You know that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) requires a background check of its job applicants. There’s a good chance you don’t know where the background investigation fits into the hiring process or what aspects of your life and background are examined in this investigation. The FBI background check includes numerous types of screening, from interviews and records reviews to drug screenings and physical fitness exams.

What Is Involved in the Background Check to Join the FBI?

The background investigation comes at a precise point in the application process for a job role with the FBI. First, candidates find and apply for the position of their choosing, whether FBI Special Agent, Intelligence Analyst, forensic accountant or one of a variety of specialized career paths in fields ranging from science to business and from art to legal and medical. The FBI does complete a screening upon the submission of a job application. However, this screening is much less extensive than the full background check and focuses primarily on determining whether the candidate meets employment eligibility requirements.

Depending on your intended position, the application process may include written and physical fitness tests. Aspiring FBI Special Agents, for example, must complete two phases of testing during the application process which are not required for other specialized career paths and pass an Official Physical Fitness Test. After a potentially lengthy process that includes in-person interviews, the submission of required documents and any required testing, the FBI may extend a conditional offer of employment to a candidate. The primary condition that must be met is passing the background investigation and other relevant screenings. The FBI conducts a full background check only after a candidate has been offered conditional employment.

Joining the FBI is a lengthy endeavor, in large part because of the time needed to conduct an extensive background check. FBI background checks take 6 months on average but may take up to 18 months if necessary.

What’s Checked in an FBI Background Check

You can expect the background check for employment with the FBI to be thorough. After all, the background check is being conducted by the federal agency that’s responsible for investigating major matters of terrorism, violent crime, organized crime, cybercrime and many other high-level criminal offenses. The FBI has a great deal more resources and specialized skills when it comes to investigating the history of job candidates than your average prospective employer. Additionally, you’re not just applying for a job, but rather for a Top Secret security clearance that permits you to work for the agency – even in roles outside of the FBI Special Agent position.

As part of the background check, you will undergo in-person interviews and a polygraph examination, widely referred to as a “lie detector” test. The FBI will examine your credit history, including late payments and bills or loan repayments that are delinquent. Naturally, the agency will look at your record for any past criminal offenses. Part of what takes so long is the agency’s numerous interviews with people you know – ranging from your friends and neighbors to your college professors – even if you have been out of school for some time already – and your current or former colleagues.

To work for the FBI, you will also need to pass a drug test. The FBI has a strict drug policy. Although you won’t necessarily be disqualified from FBI employment solely based on having ever used illegal drugs (or legal ones in an unlawful manner) in the past, you must have been drug-free for quite some time – 10 years for most illegal drugs and 3 years for marijuana. A history of selling, making or distributing drugs may bar you from eligibility for FBI employment.

Marijuana use within the last three years counts against applicants for FBI employment even if the drug use occurred in a state that has legalized marijuana and if the drug was legally prescribed by an authorized medical professional.

Disqualifiers for FBI Employment

It doesn’t always take a full, months-long background check process for the FBI to rule out candidates whose applications are otherwise strong. A number of automatic disqualifiers exist that could eliminate consideration of your application, potentially early on in the process.

Because only legal citizens of the United States may work for the FBI, non-citizenship is a disqualifier – but it is one that, theoretically, could be addressed if the candidate applies for and completes the lengthy process of securing citizenship. Many of the other automatic disqualifiers, based on past offenses or violations, cannot be resolved to allow for future FBI employment. If you have a history of felony criminal conviction or if you previously were involved in any activities with the intention of overthrowing the federal government, for example, you may not join the FBI.

Other disqualifiers are financial in nature, such as failing to file your income tax returns, make court-ordered child support payments or maintain federal student loans in non-delinquent status.

Additional Resources

How Do I Apply to the FBI?

What Are the Positives and Negatives of Working for the FBI?

Will a Master’s Degree Make Me Look More Attractive to the FBI?