A background check usually consists of consolidating a variety of employment, educational, criminal, financial, and other records about a candidate – for the purpose of evaluating that individual for employment purposes. It is a means of securing information about potential hires from sources other than the applicants themselves.
Depending on an employer’s criteria, a background check may investigate a candidate’s criminal records, education, employment history, credit history, motor vehicle and license records, and/or civil records.
In addition to a formal background check, employers may choose to do reference checks - these help to determine whether an applicant is qualified for a position. This generally involves contacting applicants' former employers, supervisors, co-workers and educators to verify previous employment and to obtain information about the candidate’s knowledge, skills, abilities and character.
Reasons for Conducting Background Checks
These are some vital reasons why employers do background checks:
- Improving the Quality of Hires - with background checks, you can filter out the candidates with fraudulent, exaggerated, and misrepresented information. This can narrow down your selection to those who are genuinely right for the job. This can help your company thrive and maintain or exceed its expectations with an additional employee
- Safety and Security - for the sake of your clients, your employees, and your company’s reputation, you want to avoid bad hires that threaten the integrity, safety, and security of the company.
- Decreased Employee Turnover - bad hires mean a higher turnover rate that could exhaust more resources than necessary for your company. Background checks may help filter out the bad hires and bring forward the quality candidates that are more likely to stay with your company.
How do Employers Conduct Background Checks?
Here are few steps on how companies do background checking:
- Inform the Candidate - the first step is to notify the candidate that they will conduct a background check. Employers are required to inform applicants that they intend to do a background check and must get permission to move forward with the process. Each applicant signs a background check notification document with a written permission in their records.
- Check on State Laws - each state has its own rules which may require or prohibit certain background checks. Some states limit whether or not you can check criminal, credit, driving, employment, military, or educational records.
- Third Party Background Check Company - most companies have a partnership with a background checking company for what they call screening services. Examples include Checkr, GoodHire, HireRight, etc. This lessens the legwork of a company as background checks can be time intensive (and they must be done correctly).
- [optional] Check Candidate’s References - checking references takes time, dedication, and lots of patience. However, reference checks can be essential to the overall hiring process. Reference checks can give another perspective on the applicant.
If an employer chooses to do reference checks, below are some typical questions they might ask:
- What are the candidate’s strengths? What about their weaknesses?
- Tell me about this applicant’s biggest accomplishment.
- On a scale of 1-10, how strong are the candidate’s communication skills?
- Would you recommend this candidate?
- *Please note: depending on the former employer, they might have a policy in place that only allows them to share employment dates.
Can a Background Check Ruin Your Job Prospects?
In short, the answer is yes. A background check is typically one of the final steps before employers decide whether to hire or not a certain candidate.
Here are some common reasons for an applicant being disqualified:
- Dishonesty in your Resume - Dishonesty is a huge red flag for employers and might cost you a job opportunity. If they discover that you lied about your education, skills, or qualifications, it will likely be detected during a background check, no matter how well-written or embellished your resume may be.
- Committed a Criminal Offense - A criminal record is one of the first things that employers check when screening applicants and often leads to job applicants being disqualified. However, depending on an employer's hiring standards and the severity of the crime committed, an applicant might still be hired, as long as they make their criminal history known to the employer.
- Work Authorization - Potential employees must be legally eligible to work in the United States (or selected states). Job applicants must present documents verifying their identity and employment authorization to the employer. One alternative is for an application to request a company to sponsor them during the interview process (ie - employment sponsorship or a green card sponsorship).
- Bad Feedback from a Reference - this is separate from a formal background check but worth noting. A good recommendation goes a long way to ensure that you're hired for that job. It allows employers to learn more about your character, work ethic, and overall suitability for a role. But what happens when a former manager badmouths you or gives you a less than shining review? It all depends on the company + hiring manager, but that could be a red flag in the overall hiring process.
Now that you have an idea on the process of background check, make sure to save all updated contacts of your previous employers. This may either be an email address, phone number or any means of communication so when requested by your new employer you can provide them immediately. Don’t let this process spoil your job application, be honest from the very start and always leave a good impression when leaving a company. Remember, there's no such thing as a perfect employee, and companies know this. Don't let a background check for employment discourage you from applying to jobs.