What is an Employment Background Check?

You’re itching to hear back from that job you applied to, but then you remember you haven’t yet gone through the interview sessions, nor have you undergone an employment background check. What is an employment background check, anyway, and why is it essential for hiring?

An employment background check is a standard procedure that companies undertake to verify the background information of new hires and ensure that it is complete, accurate, and not misleading. It is an integral part of a hiring process that helps potential employers find the right candidate for the job and verify that the applicant is a trustworthy and reliable fit for the company.

Why Do Employers Use Background Checks?

In 2020, the average cost of a bad hire was $17,000 per individual, according to Human Resource Today. Companies want to minimize the likelihood of making such costly hiring mistakes and use background checks to get a better understanding of an applicant's past behavior and potential warning signs.

Employment background checks typically include verifying the candidate's educational background, employment history, credit scores, criminal records, and other personal data. These checks are classified into three categories: basic, standard, and advanced screening.

Basic Screening

A basic screening process, also known as a level-one check, is the most straightforward form of a background check. It involves verifying an applicant’s basic information, such as their social security number, address, and any historical names used. Basic screenings may also include checks for bankruptcy, liens, motor vehicle records, and a domestic database search. These checks usually cost between $20-$50.

Standard Screening

A standard screening process, or level-two check, is more in-depth than a basic check and may include the applicant’s educational history, job history, driving record, and any credential verifications. These checks are necessary for higher-profile jobs in sectors like education, health care, and finance. They may also include criminal history checks, government watch-list checks, and drug tests. These checks typically cost $50-$150.

Advanced Screening

An advanced screening process, known as a level-three check, is the most comprehensive background check option. It includes everything from the basic and standard checks and may include more in-depth reviews, such as credit checks, education verification, professional license checks, global watch-list checks, and more. Advanced screenings are recommended for applicants who need a Top Secret or Secret Security Clearance. These checks typically cost $200-$400.

What do Employers Look for During the Background Check?

Employers want to learn as much as possible about potential employees, primarily their employment and educational history, criminal records, credit history, and professional licenses. They also look for red flags that might indicate the applicant may not be a suitable fit for the job, including bankruptcy, fraud, substance abuse, and negative social media exposure.

Employers must be compliant with federal, state, and local laws during the background check process. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) outlines guidelines and requirements that employers must follow, such as providing applicants with written consent to conduct a background check and giving them a copy of the report.

How Can Applicants Prepare for a Background Check?

It can be daunting to realize your potential employer will check every aspect of your past, documents, and work history. However, there are steps you can take to prepare for an employment background check, including:

1. Verify your identity. Double-check your name, social security number, and date of birth on all applications and documents you submit to ensure everything is correct.

2. Gather the necessary documents. Collect and compile all your necessary documents like college transcripts, diplomas, and certificates to ensure accuracy.

3. Be honest. Don’t risk lying on your application. It’s better to be transparent about past issues than to get caught in a dishonest web of lies.

4. Clean up your digital footprint. Google yourself and take down any compromising pictures, controversial posts, or any other material that could raise questions from a potential employer.

5. Be proactively communicative. If there are skeletons in your closet, disclose them to your potential employer before they show up in the background check results.

Are Background Checks Flawless?

While background checks can raise red flags in the hiring process, they’re not entirely mistake-proof. Sometimes, errors occur in the process, leading to applicants being labeled as high-risk candidates when they’re not. For example, a wrongly reported criminal background check or a mismatched identity can be common errors. It’s important to stay vigilant and appeal these errors if they ever occur.

In conclusion, employment background checks are critical in the hiring process as they reduce the risk of hiring a candidate who falsified their work history, education, or any other critical information that could affect their ability to perform the job.
Yes, these checks can be extensive and thorough, but they serve a necessary purpose in ensuring companies protect their resources and hire reliable and trustworthy employees. As an applicant, it’s vital to prepare accordingly, remain transparent, and know your rights when it comes to background checks.

An employment background check is a process whereby an employer investigates a job applicant's past to verify information provided on their resume or job application and to look for any red flags like criminal history, credit history, or drug usage. This type of screening is becoming increasingly common in today's job market as companies seek to minimize the risks associated with hiring new employees.

When an employer conducts an employment background check, they typically look into the following categories:

Education: This section confirms the candidate's educational history and verifies that they have the qualifications listed on their resume.

Professional Licenses and Certifications: This section verifies that the candidate holds the licenses or certificates listed on their resume.

Employment History: This section verifies the candidate's employment history, job titles, and dates of employment. References are also often contacted for further insight into the applicant's past work performance.

Criminal Record: This section verifies any criminal convictions in the candidate's past, looking for felonies or misdemeanors.

Credit Report: This section examines the candidate's credit history to ensure their financial stability.

Social Media: This section looks for any red flags in the candidate's social media profiles. In some cases, employers will review social media profiles to see if any controversial behavior like posts discussing drugs, sex, or politics could reflect negatively on the company.

Drug Tests: This category confirms the candidate's drug usage. It is especially necessary for jobs that require a high level of safety or responsibility, such as truck driving or working with heavy machinery.

It's essential to keep in mind that laws surrounding background checks vary between countries and states. In general, however, employers must receive written consent from the applicant to conduct a background check, and the applicant must receive a copy of the report.

There are several reasons why employers conduct employment background checks. For starters, it ensures that they are hiring a high-quality candidate who has achieved educationally and professionally as advertised. It also helps to reduce the liability and risks associated with hiring a candidate who might pose a danger to the workplace. Lastly, employers also assess possible liability or risk issues that could lead to fraud, workplace mischief, or other crimes.

While some job applicants might feel that employment background checks are intrusive, they are becoming more and more common in today's workplace and can be viewed in some industries as a safety net to the company and employees.

Real Examples

One example of how in-depth employment background checks can impact a hiring decision comes from a Walnut Creek, California job applicant named Basiuk. In 2016 the real estate brokerage firm Compass told Basiuk that they couldn't hire him because of his criminal record, even though it was for a charge that did not lead to any jail time. Basiuk's past charge violated Compass' company policy, which forbids workers with a felony record. Basiuk had disclosed his history in advance, however Compass did not review his application until a few weeks before he was set to start. Real estate brokerage firms are regulated by the California Department of Real Estate (DRE), and the DRE offers people with criminal records the opportunity to apply for an exemption that waives the record to gain employment. The DRE received six of these waiver exemption appeals in 2012, which jumped to 38 by 2016.

Another example comes from a candidate named Taylor from Littleton, Colorado. Taylor was offered a job at a construction company in Seattle after receiving glowing recommendations from an LLC called Angel of God. The company owner claims that they discovered discrepancies in Taylor's background check, which showed Taylor was being charged with two felonies from a former employer (Angel of God). Taylor says they never heard of a court date and checks with the Colorado judicial department website show no criminal record for Taylor. Despite everything, Taylor never received the offer letter for the job. A background check revealed charges of theft and money laundering against the organization Taylor did work for, which was the Angel of God. Taylor took the necessary steps to get this cleared up and eventually received clarification of their name in the court system.

How you can prepare for a pre-employment background check
It's essential to have a clear understanding of what an employment background check entails and what information it can reveal about you. Some tips for preparing for a background check include:

1. Check your own records: Before you even apply for a job, it's a good idea to obtain and review copies of your personal records to check for any inaccuracies.

2. Be honest: Honesty is always the best policy. Do not omit or misrepresent any information during the application process.

3. Get your references in order: Make sure the people you list as references are aware that you've listed them, and ideally that they have positive things to say about you.

4. Clean up your social media: Conduct a quick self-audit and remove any posts or pictures that could reflect negatively on you or your future employer.

5. Be upfront if there is an issue: If there is an issue, don't try to cover it up. Instead, be upfront with the employer and discuss the circumstances as early as possible. In some cases where a potential red flag arises, it may require a short explanation before the search for employment moves forward.

Employment background checks are beneficial for protecting the integrity of the organization while ensuring the customer's safety and protection too. They allow employers to hire high-quality candidates and ultimately reduce the potential liability and risks associated with hiring the wrong person. Job applicants should always be clear and honest about their history and qualifications. With these steps, job applicants can pass employment background checks with ease, and employers can have the necessary information to make informed hiring decisions.

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