A Comprehensive Guide to Background Checks

Updated November 21, 2022

Some interview and hiring processes require multiple steps before a company actually offers you a job. Filing a background check is a common practice that can lengthen the hiring process overall. Many employers require you to submit relevant personal information for a background check before they can offer you a position, so it is important to understand this process.

In this article, we explain what background checks are used for, discuss what happens after a background check and list tips for what to do while you wait for your background check to clear.

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What is a background check?

A background check is a screening process through which an individual or company can verify your identity. Prospective employers commonly request background checks during the job interview process to ensure you aren't a liability to their organization. Both police departments and private companies perform background checks.

Most background checks provide information on an individual's education, employment history, criminal record and other past activities. While there are several types of specific background checks, like criminal and credit checks, employment background checks are the most routine. There's a high chance you'll undergo one during your career.

Related: What Can Be Revealed in a Background Check?

When do you get a background check?

An employment background check usually occurs when you apply for a job or during the interview process, though employers can file for background checks at any point in an employee's career. Often, background checks take place at the end of the hiring process. Some employers will offer you a position that is contingent on passing a background check or ask you to submit a background check as the last step in your onboarding procedures. This is why it's vital to be truthful about your background when completing a job application or interviewing for a role.

Some positions require background checks regardless of who you are. Those who work with vulnerable populations like children, such as teachers, and other professionals who have higher security clearance must pass industry-standard background checks before beginning their roles.

What do they look at during the background check?

Through a background check, employers can request to see any of the following:

  • Work history

  • Educational credentials

  • Credit history

  • Motor vehicle reports

  • Criminal record

  • Medical history

  • Social media use

  • Drug screenings

Anything questionable found in the background check can serve as a red flag for employers. However, it is important to note that employers cannot usually request information that is more than 10 years old. Some careers that require specialized clearance might include further information. For example, if you're applying for a role in the finance industry, your potential employer might request information to verify your relevant certifications or analyze your personal financial history.

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

What happens after a background check for a job?

After a background check is complete, employers use the information they find through the process to make informed decisions about whether they would like to invite you to be a part of their organization. They will analyze the information, looking for any potentially concerning facts or inconsistencies by comparing it to the information listed on your resume.

Typically, if you're undergoing a background check in the pre-employment process, that can mean an employer has some level of interest in you as a candidate. They want to verify that you are telling the truth about your impressive credentials, experience and certifications in order to ensure that you'll be a great fit for the role. If your background check comes back clean and you pass the employer's inspection, you may become eligible to receive a job offer.

How long after a background check can you expect an offer?

Companies all use different background check processes. This means that the time you may wait between submitting your information and getting a response can vary depending on the company, their hiring procedures and the position you've applied for. Some specialized positions require lengthier and more intensive background checks, while others may require more basic checks. If a background check process includes other verification procedures, such as drug screenings, it can lengthen your timeline as well.

It can take anywhere from two to five days to conduct a background check, and after that, a hiring manager might take a few days to analyze the information and make a final decision on your candidacy. In addition, putting together offer letters can be a time-consuming task that may add a few days to the hiring schedule. This means the entire background check process typically takes anywhere between one to two weeks.

Related: What to Expect from a Pre-Employment Screening

Does getting a background check mean you're hired?

Getting a request for a background check is not a guarantee that you have secured the position you applied for. While a background check is a strong indication that you're nearing the end of the interview process, hiring managers may file checks on several potential candidates at once.

Many hiring managers also use the information they find during the background check process to make a final decision about who to hire. It's typically impossible for you to know how many other candidates a company is considering for the same role, so it's best not to assume that a request for a background check means you've gotten the job.

Additionally, as mentioned above, many offers are actually contingent on passing background checks. Therefore, even if you do receive an offer before the background check is filed, you have to pass in order to actually get hired. This means that you can't be 100% sure that you'll be hired until after the background check is completed and analyzed.

Related: What Is a Contingent Job Offer?

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Tips for waiting on your background check

Here are a few things you can do to ease your nerves and remain proactive while you wait for the results of a background check:

1. Be patient

It's important to remember that background checks are a standard part of the hiring process. Any reputable organization will want to verify a candidate's identity to ensure workplace safety and security. Many steps in the hiring process may not be visible to you, so it's important to be patient with the process.

2. Do your own research

While hiring managers look into the intricate details of your background, you can take time to do your own research about the company. For instance, you can research reviews and testimonies from former and current employees to better understand what working there would be like on a day-to-day basis. This way, you may feel more confident in your decision to work there if they offer you the job.

3. Clean up your social media

Social media can be an important deciding factor in the hiring process. While most hiring managers understand that social media accounts aren't a fully accurate representation of who you are as a person, you'll still want to make your profiles private, professional and employer-friendly. If you wouldn't want a hiring manager to see something you post, consider taking the post down.

4. Remain in contact

Don't be afraid to check in with the hiring manager or recruiter you've been in touch with throughout the background check process. If you want to be helpful, you might even consider offering them contact information for references or former employers. Additionally, checking in on a hiring manager's progress with your background check is a great way to remain proactive and show your enthusiasm for the opportunity.

5. Reassure yourself

Though waiting on a background check can be challenging, if you told the truth on your resume and during the interview process, you likely have nothing to worry about. While you wait, reassure yourself periodically that your background check is most likely just a formality.

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