First of all, if you are applying for a job, and the employer asks to do a background check on you, it is actually a good thing. This means you are more than likely being seriously considered for the position. Background checks, especially legit ones, can take money and time, and a company would not squander either on you unless you were a serious candidate. These days, it is estimated that 78% of companies will conduct a background check on every single new employee.
So take a deep breath, realize you are nearing the end of the race, and take a look at the main things employers will be looking for when they check your background.
1. Criminal Record
Far and away, the main thing employers will be looking for in a background check is evidence of a criminal record. Although the EEOC has mandated an applicant cannot be turned down because of a criminal record alone, an employer could potentially turn you down if the offense is related to the job's duties, meaning the specific nature of the crime could make you a liability to the company. A classic example of this would be if you were convicted for theft and are applying to be a bank teller.
A criminal record background check will cover the last 10 years and could search the following items:
- County court records: Produces felony criminal history and maybe some misdemeanor infractions depending on the location.
- Federal records: Will show federal crimes/crimes committed on federal property
- Sex offender registry check
- Global homeland security
- International criminal history
If you do have a criminal history, it is always best to be up front about it during the application process. Most employers won’t require a completely clean record, and it is best to explain your version of events and what you’ve learned or taken away from the experience. If you neglect to mention your record on the application form and it turns up in your background check, it’s overwhelmingly likely you will not get the job because it suggests you are untrustworthy. Which leads us to the second thing employers will be looking at in a background check.
2. Confirm Identity, Employment, and Education
Put simply, an employer needs to know if you have been telling the truth about your life, qualifications, and work history. It is estimated that 40% of resumes contain embellished or outright false information. Changing “Production Assistant” to “Production Supervisor” may seem like a minor one-word tweak, but it can also indicate an applicant has nowhere near the experience or knowledge needed to carry out the new job’s duties. On-boarding the wrong hire, realizing they are a wrong hire, and then off-boarding that person is an ordeal that can cost the company tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention a whole lot of wasted time and lost productivity.
Embellished or false credentials also call into question a candidate’s integrity and honesty. Basically, if someone is willing to lie about his or her education and work experience, it could suggest a larger pattern of dishonesty that is never welcome in the workplace. Potential employers will also be looking into reasons why you may have been terminated or laid off, as well as past attendance and performance, all of which can appear on a thorough background check.
3. Credit Check
A credit report from one of the Big 3 credit bureaus is usually included in background checks as well. As debt and bad credit scores have become so ubiquitous among Americans, this typically isn’t seen as the indication of character and responsibility that it once was. However, if you are applying for a position where you will be managing money or generating financial plans, your credit history will definitely be a consideration.
4. Drug Test
The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 allowed private employers the right to test an applicant for drug use. Any potential employer is within their rights to ask that you undergo a drug test should they deem it necessary. However, there are certain industries more likely to drug test you than others. Healthcare is the big one, but also any job requiring you to operate heavy machinery, or a job where you will be directly responsible for the safety of other employees.
5. Social Media
Know that any prospective employer will be trawling your social media presence to some degree. While everyone posts controversial things from time to time, employers will be looking for patterns of abuse, trolling, or other antisocial behavior. Plus, while there’s no problem posting photos of the occasional night out with friends, a profile page of nothing but drunken debauchery could indicate an immature or unserious person. Additionally, if the applicant is currently employed, consistent and unrelenting posts during the workday show the person isn’t... well, working.
Background Checks—The Takeaway
Just be honest. A background check is mainly used to see if there is any inconsistency or sketchiness in the way you are presenting yourself. If, after reading this, you recognize potential red flags, it is always the best policy to be proactive and get them out in the open. Plus, showing you are willing to talk frankly about a bad former work experience or past criminal activity shows you are the type of person who has nothing to hide. It also displays an honest ability to learn from your mistakes. Just remember, nobody’s perfect, and most employers aren’t expecting a squeaky-clean background check in the first place.