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When an Employer Asks to Do a Background Check (It's all Good)

You’ve gone through a number of rounds of interviews with a company, received positive feedback from the supervisor and HR and feel that an offer is coming any day. Then, they send you a request to do a background check. This is actually good news! If a company is conducting a background check on you, it typically means you are a top contender for the job. Companies usually only screen the candidates that they are interested in hiring.

Employers want to look into the background of a job applicant so they can get an indication of what kind of person you are and confirm that you are who you presented yourself to be. Usually, their main objective in conducting a background check is to avoid the risk of hiring an employee who may be more likely to do something that would have a negative impact on the company.

Government agencies and financial institutions were once the only organizations doing background checks, but in the past 10-15 years, more and more companies in other industries have made background checks their due diligence and a routine part of hiring. Some organizations, such as hospitals and municipalities, also conduct drug tests.

Today’s Background Check

Background checks themselves have also broadened in scope, but the type and amount of detail depends on the company and the job. More intense background checks are usually conducted for positions in which the employee is handling money or private customer information (such as social security and credit card numbers), driving a vehicle, operating machinery, or working with children, the elderly, at-risk populations or individuals with special needs.

Typically, background checks are done with the full knowledge and permission of the job applicant. You would be asked to complete a form providing information such as your previous addresses and granting permission to conduct the background check.

The information an employer may research includes your work history (past employers with length of employment), education (degrees earned), criminal record (in the past 10 years), credit history (if the position will have any financial authority), and/or your behavior on social media. An employer cannot obtain information on grades earned without permission and criminal history more than 10 years old. Most employers are more concerned with your past employment and education and confirming that you actually worked for a company or graduated from college. An employer may also want to know if you were ever fired, the reason for any termination or layoff, your performance and job attendance. Many companies will only confirm your title and dates of employment, but others may provide more detail on your work history with them.

Depending on what information they require, employers typically run background checks through third-party services including payroll or HR service providers, full-service background screening companies and reference checking agencies. Some of the information contained in a background check might include confirmation of a valid social security number (to avoid identity risk), research of criminal and driving records, and sex offender registries. The employer may use an agency or their own HR Department to obtain confirmation of past employment and education and research a job candidate’s social media behavior.

Protection for Job Applicants

Whenever an employer uses a job applicant's background information to make an employment decision, they must comply with federal laws protecting job applicants from discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, or religion; disability; genetic information (including family medical history); and age (40 or older). Since employers often run background checks through third-party services, they must also comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). In addition, they are advised to review the laws of their state and municipality regarding background reports or information because some states and municipalities regulate the use of that information for employment purposes.

If an employer finds a red flag in the report on your background check, they must send you a letter informing you what they found (attaching a copy of the report) and give you time (typically a minimum of 5 days) to correct or explain the issue. If the employer decides to move on, they must send you another letter indicating that the decision not to hire you was based on something in your background check, and provide you with contact information for the firm that generated the report.

To get an idea of what employers might find about you in their background check, you can request a Lexis/Nexis Accurint Person Report, which is free. If you are nervous about the background check because a red flag may emerge, such as a criminal record or an issue with a past employer, it is to your benefit to be upfront and inform HR or the hiring manager. The more information you can provide, the faster and easier it will be to move past the background check.

The background check may involve some paperwork and it can take up additional time while you’re waiting for an employer’s decision, but if you’ve been honest in presenting yourself, it can bring you one step closer to the job offer.

Why Do Employers Want to Know Your Salary History?
Are Credit Checks on Job Seekers Really Necessary?
Job Searching With an Imperfect Past or Criminal Record

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