How To Perform a Background Check on Yourself
Updated June 7, 2023
An illustration of a person with a pen in hand looking over documents.
Background checks serve as an essential step for employers during the hiring process, and you can use them for your own job search advantages. Performing a background check on yourself can help you to identify what information is available about you, allowing you to ensure it represents you accurately and positively. When you know what information is included in these checks, you can learn how to navigate this process as well.
In this article, we discuss background checks and provide steps you can take to perform this process yourself.
Background checks are typically one of the final steps before hiring.
By checking your own background, you can better prepare for questions or identify any mistakes in your information.
Check the most likely parts of a background check report, including credit history, work history, work authorization and educational background.
What is a background check?
A background check represents a pre-employment screening process used by employers. They can perform background checks themselves or use a third-party screening service. This process inspects candidates' background information using public records and other resources to verify their identity and the information they provided to the employer. They want to ensure that the individuals they plan on hiring provide accurate information and align with company policies or values.
A background check often represents one of the final steps in the hiring process, assuring employers that they have made the right decision.
Before starting your next job search, consider reviewing your background. This is an important preparatory activity so you know what information potential employers may come across. You can prepare responses in advance for any concerning information and reach out to entities if there's inaccurate information on your credit report or in a criminal background check.
—Genevieve Northup, MBA, SHRM-CP, HCI-SPTD
What are the benefits of checking my background?
A background check represents an often necessary process completed by employers during the hiring process. Performing this process yourself can provide you several benefits during your job search. Some of these benefits include:
Understand your record: By running a background check on yourself, you can identify what information is available about you. Having this knowledge enables you to discuss or respond to any details found by the employer in their search during the hiring process. If there is something that you worry may affect your eligibility as a candidate, you can develop an explanation that provides more context or helps the employer understand the situation better.
Correct any mistakes: When reviewing your records during a background search, you may find mistakes or other issues. For example, you may learn that someone has taken your information or that you share a name or other details with an individual who could negatively affect your search results. Depending on the errors, you can take action to correct them with the proper departments, websites or organizations. You can also warn the employer about issues and inform them about your steps taken.
Verify details on your resume: Some of the information provided in a background report aligns with your resume, such as your education and employment history. Running a background check yourself can help you ensure that this information matches, which helps establish trust with your potential employer. For example, you may not realize that your resume start date and the actual start date stated by your previous employer differ until you check this information.
What does a background check include?
As mentioned, employers often use background checks to verify information about job candidates. There is no standard background check, and this process can vary based on the employer or position. Typically, employers seek and review information related to the job, such as driving records for candidates whose roles will require driving company vehicles. Similarly, the process's thoroughness can vary—for example, individuals applying for government jobs must undergo very comprehensive background checks. Examples of the information in background checks include:
Social Security Number verification
Criminal records (state, county and city)
Social media profiles
How to run your own background check
When applying for jobs, you give employers permission to perform a background check on you. Once they complete this process, you may consider asking the employer or screening agency for the results to help you understand and review the information provided. However, if you are interested in running a background check on yourself, you can use the following steps to conduct this process effectively:
1. Verify your Social Security information
To aid employers in their background check, you need to provide your Social Security Number. This information helps employers verify your identity, as it reports the name associated with that number along with any legal name changes. You can conduct this process yourself by going to the Social Security Administration's website and creating an account. This step can help you ensure that the information provided by the administration about you is accurate.
2. Obtain a credit report
Your credit history may come up in an employer's background check. However, they must receive written permission from you to run a credit report. View this information yourself by running a credit report, and you can request one free credit report annually from the national credit bureaus. The employer credit report will differ from your personal credit report. They cannot see some personal information, such as your date of birth or marital status, nor your credit score or account numbers. The information employers see in these reports include:
The types of accounts you have applied for/opened
The dates you opened those accounts
How long you held accounts
Outstanding account balances
Employers look at your credit information for various purposes, including verifying your identity or background. Some employers use this information to assess candidates' sense of responsibility, financial or otherwise. This process can take them significant time and money, so employers often seek credit reports on candidates right before or after making a job offer.
3. Check your criminal record
If you have a criminal record, this information appears when employers perform background checks. The information included in these reports include:
Criminal convictions (felony and misdemeanor)
Pending criminal cases
These reports sometimes include arrests within the last seven years, even if they did not lead to convictions. If these details apply to you, you can review your criminal history by requesting records from the applicable courts or corrections departments. You may encounter some fees when conducting this process, depending on where you request information.
4. Get your driving record
Your driving record may appear in your pre-employment background check, though not all employers review this information. Typically, they seek this information when driving is part of the job. Companies want to ensure they hire reliable, responsible and safe drivers. Like credit checks, the employer must gain your permission to run this report. Your driving record includes information such as:
Status of your driver's license
License classifications and endorsements
Fees and citations owed
Convictions and fines
You can obtain your driving record through your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for a fee. The DMV often enables you to view this information online, though you can also visit one of their office locations or request a copy through the mail. The costs associated with getting a copy of your driving record can vary. If you have held a driver's license in another state within the past two decades, you may consider seeking your records from there as well.
5. Review your education and employment history
When applying for jobs, employers typically ask you to provide information about your educational background and work history. In terms of education, this information includes the schools you attended and the degrees you earned. Your work history may include:
Names of organizations
Locations of organizations
Dates of employment
Names of supervisors
Contact information for supervisors
Your job title
Potential employers sometimes seek transcripts from educational institutions. You can contact your school directly to ensure they have your records and request a transcript to review its accuracy. Similarly, you can reach out to your prior employers to ensure they have accurate records of your employment. You may also pursue other methods of obtaining your work history. For example, you can sometimes find this information by obtaining your Social Security records, IRS records and credit reports.
6. Review your address history
Employer's background checks may also include information about your address history. This information can help verify your identity, and the addresses' locations can support driving and criminal records. For these reasons, you want to ensure that the address information available about you is accurate.
Some of the previous reports can help you verify this information, such as your credit report, or tax records and public records available to you. You can also find websites that allow you to perform an address history search using your name and location. Be mindful that these services may not always have the most reliable information.
7. Review your social media presence
Today's employers may also spend time reviewing candidates' public social media profiles. They want to ensure that their employees project a positive and professional representation of themselves online, protecting their reputation. As a result, your profile should not contain mentions or evidence of illegal activities, violence, bullying or harassment and offensive or inflammatory messages. These rules apply to written and visual content displayed on your profiles.
You can review your current social media profiles and make updates or changes as needed. If your profiles are public, continue monitoring them to ensure that they uphold your positive reputation. You may also consider performing searches for your name or commonly used usernames to identify any old profiles you may have forgotten. When you find old profiles you no longer need or want public, you can try deleting them or making them private when possible.
When considering your background, don't forget your online presence. Some companies review candidates' profiles on social media. Consider what your behavior on social media might indicate to a potential employer. Try to ensure your profiles reflect a positive and professional image to potential employers, and refrain from speaking negatively about a current or previous employer. Conversely, posting frequently about the great things you are doing in your current role is seen favorably.
—Genevieve Northup, MBA, SHRM-CP, HCI-SPTD
8. Use a screening company
Rather than perform these steps yourself, you can pay a commercial service to run a personal background check. Try to identify services used by employers to ensure that you find similar information. Companies that only provide services for consumers may not have access to all the databases and resources used by employer-serving companies. Employment screenings must comply with the U.S. Fair Credit Reporting Act, so you can also identify services based on their compliance with that law.
As you assess providers, you may find that they offer different packages. Review your options to assess which packages provide the information you seek, along with the pricing that suits your budget. When using background search services, you need to provide information about yourself to aid their search. This information typically includes your:
Social Security Number
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