Career Advice

Background Checks: What Employers Will Discover

During your job search process, you may get tied up in the process of submitting resumes, acing networking events, and perfecting your interview skills. What many job seekers forget is another hurdle to employment: background checks.

There are a number of reasons employers run background checks. For instance, if they see you have many late payments or are otherwise irresponsible with money, they may see that as a liability. Additionally, criminal records can indicate a candidate may be prone to violence. Most employers run these checks to protect themselves from negligent hiring lawsuits if anything should happen.

What kind of information can an employer obtain during a background check?

Employers can look into a number of facts about you, including your credit history, employment history, driving records, and criminal records. If an employer uses a third party to conduct a background check, The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) ensures it’s lawful. A potential employer must notify you in writing if they intend to obtain a report, and they must get your written consent as well. If anything in your report causes an employer not to hire you, they must give you a copy of the report and a copy of your rights.

Employment Verification

Potential employers may want to verify your employment history to ensure all the information on your resume is accurate, including where you’ve worked, when you worked there, job title, and salary. Provide contact information for a previous employer to comply, and remember—never lie on your resume!

Credit Checks

Credit checks are reports that include personal information like your address, previous addresses, social security number, and finances, including credit card and student loan debt, mortgages, car payments, defaulted loans, and late payments. You can obtain a free copy of your report once every 12 months. Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are the three major bureaus that provide employers with credit reports.

Criminal Record

Exactly what information an employer can obtain about your criminal history varies from state to state. Some states don’t allow questions to be asked about incidents that happened at a certain point in the past. Check with your State Department of Labor to review what an employer can check. Know that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says you can’t be denied employment only based on your criminal record. The employer must take into consideration the nature of the offense, when it occurred, and how it relates to the job you’re seeking.

What can I do to prepare myself?

There are a number of steps you can take if you think a potential employer may run a background check on you:

Get copies of your records prior to interviewing. Order a free report from a national consumer reporting company by visiting Request a copy of your driving record from your state Department of Motor Vehicles, particularly if the job you’re applying for involves driving. If you were involved in a civil lawsuit, contact the courthouse that handled the case.

Be honest. Don’t try to hide anything from an employer—chances are, they’ll find out anyway. If you know something will come up in your background check that may be a concern, address this with your employer as soon as you can.

Keep your finances in order. Pay your bills on time, all the time. Consistency shows you’re financially responsible, and will improve your credit score overall.

Remember, you may be Googled! This is one aspect of background checks that is often overlooked. Hiring managers are increasingly running simple Google searches of candidates, so it’s important to take control of your personal search results. Make sure all your social media accounts, blogs, and personal websites are up to date and clean of anything that could cast you in a negative light.

Let your friends know they may be asked about you. Let past colleagues and friends know they may be approached to answer questions about you, either from the past or the present.

If you’re a job seeker, it’s important to educate yourself about your rights involving background checks, and to properly prepare yourself to answer questions about the information that may turn up. Remember, background checks are as much a part of the hiring process as resumes and cover letters—it’s best to prepare yourself before a problem arises. Good luck!

Has a background check ever compromised your ability to land a job? Share your thoughts and tips below.

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