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

Updated March 18, 2023

A person holds pieces of paper while sitting in front of a laptop computer

Background checks are a standard part of the hiring process for many employers. These tools involve collecting and inspecting private and public records to determine a candidate's employability. Understanding what a background check includes can improve your chances of employment and help you know what to expect during the hiring process.

In this article, we discuss what's included in a background check and explain how to prepare for one.

What's included in a background check?

The scope of a background check can depend on the information the employer requests. Many types of background checks are available, and states and cities may have different laws regarding these tools.

Employers may select different reports depending on their needs, the nature of the job for which the candidate is applying and the job's location.

Sometimes, an employer may only want information on a candidate's criminal records in the various cities, counties and states where they've lived. This way, the employer can determine if the candidate has a clean criminal record and can work around children, manage private information or complete other potentially sensitive tasks.

Other employers may want to conduct an employee background check to learn information about a candidate that relates to their:

  • Credit history

  • Social media profiles

  • Employment history

  • Work authorization

  • Education history (high school, university, etc.)

  • Driving record

  • Medical records (restrictions apply)

Related: What Is an Employment History or Work History? (With FAQs)

What can you expect from an employee background check?

Organizations in all industries may use background checks to verify candidates' qualifications and identities. An employee at any level, whether they are an entry-level or senior-level employee, may be subject to a background check. 

In particular, if you're 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. Employer background checks can occur at any time. In many industries, it's common for an employer to request a background report once they make a conditional job offer.

Related: FAQ: Does a Background Check Mean I Will Be Hired?

 How to prepare for a background check

 Here are some steps you can follow before a potential employer conducts a background check:1. Review your social media profiles

As part of a background check, an employer may check your social media accounts. If there's information you don't want potential employers to access, you can make your accounts private.

Alternatively, you may curate your content to manage what they can see. For example, you may want to upload professional profile pictures rather than images of you with your friends on vacation.

Related: Professionalism Skills: Definition and Examples

2. Maintain accurate records of your educational background and previous employment

Retain paper copies of your academic transcripts and diplomas. You may also request digital copies from the institution you attended. You may also keep pay stubs and other records to show where you've worked. Have the contact information of past employers and references available so you can accurately fill out employment applications.

Related: How Do Employers Verify College Degrees?

 3. Obtain copies of your records

By obtaining copies yourself, you can understand what information a potential employer can learn from your records. You can request a credit score from financial services companies, obtain a copy of your driving record from your state's Motor Vehicle Department and check with your state's Department of Public Safety for access to your criminal record.

Consider running a complete background check on yourself before beginning a job search to spot and correct any errors. Note that there may be a charge for a comprehensive report.

Related: How To Perform a Background Check on Yourself

4. Be honest during the job application process

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 a question about your past arises on a job application or during an interview, be honest and provide the requested information.

While policies vary from company to company, an employer is more likely to consider you a potential candidate if you address parts of your history while explaining how you could fulfill your job duties.

Related: Integrity in the Workplace: Definition and Examples

5. Tell your professional references that you've listed them as references

Contact your professional references and inform them that your potential employer may contact them during the screening process. Ask them if they'd be willing to verify your work history. You may choose references with whom you've worked closely so they can share information about your character and work ethic.

Related: How To Ask Someone To Be Your Reference (Plus Email Examples)

6. Submit your personal information correctly

When an employer offers a conditional job offer, ensure you submit your personal information accurately. This way, they can complete the background check accurately and efficiently. You may submit supporting documents like a birth certificate, passport or driver's license.

Ensure that the information you provide reflects your current legal name, which might've changed recently due to a marriage or another life event. If you have ever worked or lived outside the country, you can provide information about your international background and supply the necessary documents. Additionally, you may need to provide an I-9 form to prove your eligibility to work in the country.

7. Know how to discuss employment or education gaps

If you have any employment or education gaps and a potential employer asks about them, prepare responses to their questions so you can present yourself as a suitable candidate. You can explain that you took longer than normal to complete a university degree because you spent some time volunteering and gaining work experience.

You may also describe a gap in employment by describing a career change that you recently experienced.

Related: Tips to Remember When Filling Out a Job Application

8. Review your licenses

If you have any professional licenses or certifications, review them so you're aware of their details. This way, you can fill out a job application accurately and avoid inconsistencies when an employer conducts a background check. You can check for details about the locations where the license is valid and for how long it's valid.

Related: 10 In-Demand Career Certifications (And How To Achieve Them)

9. Understand your rights

When you apply for a position where the employer may conduct a background check, you can first learn your rights. For the most part, employers can't request medical information about you except in special circumstances. You can also learn how to dispute errors that an employer finds within your background report.

Related: What Is Employment Law? (With Key Terms and Examples)

10. Prepare for drug testing

Some job roles may require an employee to undergo a drug or banned substance test. Knowing the type, whether a urine, hair follicle or saliva test, can help you better prepare for it. You can follow instructions to prepare for the test beforehand and understand if any medical exemptions apply to you.


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