You may have heard the term "background check" thrown around, especially when it comes to job applications. But what exactly is a background check, and how is it used? In this article, we'll take a deep dive into the world of background checks, including what information can be obtained and how it can be used.
The Basics: What is a Background Check?
At its core, a background check is simply a way to gather information about someone's past. This can include things like criminal history, employment history, education, and more. Companies and organizations will often use background checks as part of their hiring process, while landlords may use them when screening potential tenants.
There are a few different types of background checks that may be conducted, each of which focuses on different aspects of a person's past. For example, a criminal background check may look for any criminal convictions or arrests, while an education verification check may confirm that someone actually holds the degrees they claim to have.
How Background Checks are Conducted
The process for conducting a background check can vary depending on the type of information being sought. For a criminal background check, for example, a hiring manager may use an online service to search for any criminal records associated with the applicant's name.
Other types of background checks may require more extensive research. For example, to verify someone's education, a background check company may need to contact the institutions where the person claims to have attended school and confirm their degree and graduation date.
What Information Can Be Obtained?
The type of information that can be obtained through a background check will vary depending on the purpose of the check. Some common types of information that may be included in a background check report include:
- Criminal history: This can include any convictions, arrests, or charges the person may have had in the past.
- Employment history: A background check may confirm the person's past employers, job titles, and employment dates.
- Credit history: This can include information about the person's credit score, payment history, and any loans or credit cards they may have.
- Education: A background check may verify the person's degrees, graduation dates, and other educational information.
- Driving record: This can include information about the person's DMV records, such as any traffic violations or accidents.
How Background Check Information is Used
The ways in which background check information is used can vary depending on the purpose of the check. Here are a few examples of how background check information may be used:
- Employment: A company may use a background check to help make hiring decisions. For example, if an applicant has a history of theft, a company may decide not to hire them for a position that involves handling money.
- Tenant screening: A landlord may use a background check to screen potential tenants. If an applicant has a history of evictions, for example, a landlord may decide not to rent to them.
- Licensing: Certain professions, such as lawyers or doctors, may require a background check as part of the licensing process. This is to ensure that the person has the appropriate qualifications and doesn't have any criminal convictions that would make them unfit for the job.
The Impact of Background Checks
While background checks can be useful tools for helping employers make informed decisions, they also have the potential to be misused or to unfairly impact certain groups of people.
For example, some employers may use background checks to screen out applicants with criminal records, even if the record is for a relatively minor offense that has no bearing on the job. This can disproportionately affect people of color, who may be more likely to have been arrested or convicted of crimes in the past.
Similarly, credit checks can be used to unfairly screen out applicants who may have had financial hardships in the past, even though their financial situation may have nothing to do with their ability to perform the job.
As a result, some states and cities have passed "ban the box" laws, which prohibit employers from asking about criminal history on job applications. Other laws regulate the use of credit checks for employment decisions.
Background checks are a common tool used by employers, landlords, and licensing boards to gather information about someone's past. While they can be useful in making informed decisions, it's important to consider the potential impact they can have and work to ensure they are used fairly and ethically.