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Q&A: What's Included in an Employment Background Check?

March 6, 2020

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Background checks are a standard part of the hiring process for many employers. Here is a guide to what’s included in an employment background check, with tips on how you can prepare.

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What is a background check?

A background check is the collection and inspection of public and private records by individuals or organizations. Specific examples include verifying:

  • Criminal records (state, county, and city)
  • Credit history
  • Employment history
  • Work authorization
  • Education history (high school, university, etc.)
  • Social media profiles
  • Driving record
  • Medical records (restrictions apply)

There are many types of background checks available, and states and cities may have different laws regarding background checks. Employers may select different reports depending on their needs, the nature of the job you’re applying for and where it is located.

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What you can expect from an employee background check

Employment background checks are used by all kinds of organizations for all kinds of jobs. In particular, if you are applying for a job that includes handling finances, property or sensitive information, you can expect employers to run a background check before formally offering you the position.

Background checks for employment are most commonly performed to verify criminal records (84%), employment history (72%), and identity (67%), according to a recent report by HireRight, a background report provider.

Less common reasons for conducting background checks are:

  • Education verification (49%)
  • Driving records (49%)
  • Professional qualification verification (42%)
  • Credit history (28%)

Employer background checks can occur at any time. In many industries, it is common to request a background report once a conditional job offer is made.

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How to prepare for a background check

Knowing that many employers will likely look into your history before formally offering you a job, there are several steps you may want to take:

1. Clean up your social media profiles and check your privacy settings

Today, it is common for hiring managers and recruiters to look at the social media profiles of job candidates. If there is information you do not want potential employers to access, make your accounts private and curate your content (by deleting or hiding) to manage what they will be able to see.

2. Keep good records of your academic history and past employment

Retain paper and/or secure digital copies of your academic transcripts and diplomas. Hold on to pay stubs and other records that can show where you’ve worked. Have the contact information of past employers and references at hand so you can accurately fill out employment applications.

3. Get copies of your records

It may be helpful for you to know what a potential employer can learn from your records. To do this, you may request information from various sources yourself. For example, many financial services companies can provide you with your credit score free of charge. You can get a copy of your driving record from your state’s Motor Vehicle Department. Consult with your state’s Department of Public Safety for access to your criminal record, if you have one.

If you like, before you begin a job search, you can run a complete background check on yourself. This gives you the chance to spot and correct errors if there are any. Note: there is a charge for these reports.

4. Be honest

If you know of something that may come up in your background check that could be a concern, discuss it with your potential employer. If you are specifically asked about your past in an employment application, be honest. While policies vary from company to company, an employer is more likely to hear you out if you address parts of your history while also explaining how you could fulfill your job duties.

5. Let your professional references know they may be contacted

Contact your professional references and let them know they may be contacted as part of the screening process, most likely to verify your work history. Review our tips on how to ask someone to be your reference, and how to alert them that they’ll be contacted.

Learn more:

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