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10 Things to Know About Background Checks

Don Straits, CEO and Dragonslayer, CorporateWarriors.com

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You have been working long and hard on your search for a new job opportunity. Finally, you have an awesome interview and you get a great offer. The hiring manager indicates that the only thing remaining is a background check (BC).

Your heart starts to pound and beads of sweat appear on your forehead. Questions fly through your mind: What are they looking for? What are they going to find? Who are they going to talk to? How do they conduct the process? Am I in trouble because of the DUI I got when I was 20 years old? Will they find out about the company I didn't include on my résumé because I only worked there for two months? Will they find out I got fired instead of quitting? Will my bankruptcy from 12 years ago prevent me from getting the job? What will my vindictive former boss say about me?

Let's answer these questions for you.

Companies are using BCs now, more than ever before, to make certain they are hiring the right person. Unfortunately, BCs are now more common because so many job seekers have a tendency to "exaggerate" on their résumés. Companies want to identify severe problems in the candidate's employment or personal history. But what information are they entitled to and what privacy rights do you have?

Robert Mather, CEO of Pre-Employ.com, which specializes in background checks, has some interesting insights into the industry and process. Let's take a look at what Bob has to say and what you can expect from a BC.

Mather says that the larger BC companies conduct between 4,000 and 12,000 checks per day. The cost will vary from about $19-56, depending on the type of information the company is seeking. In addition, companies cannot conduct a BC without your written authorization. If you are turned down because of a BC, the company must tell you why, according to federal law.

Let's review the most common BC items:

1. Criminal History
Felony and misdemeanor searches can be conducted by county, state or throughout the nation. Each respective search costs an additional fee. Some states will only provide information for the past seven years. You need to check each state for its policy. Only information of public record is available. Juvenile records cannot be accessed. Bob Mather indicates that identity theft and false criminal reporting are on the increase and can appear on your BC. More about this later and what you can do about it.

2. Civil History
Similar to criminal history and includes whether the job candidate is/was a plaintiff or defendant.

3. National Wants and Warrants
If the candidate is "wanted," it will appear through the NCIC system, but this information is not frequently requested.

4. Credit Report
This is a very common item for BCs. Companies are searching for financial stability. Bankruptcies prior to seven years will not appear.

5. Social Security Reports
This will reveal where the candidate has lived for the past seven years. Name variations are frequently used to verify addresses and locations.

6. Previous Employer Verification
This is the item that makes most job seekers nervous. Almost everyone has had some form of disagreement with his or her boss. The concern centers on what the employer will say and whether they will release employment files. In most cases, because of a dramatic upsurge in lawsuits from job seekers who received false bad references, previous employers typically only confirm dates of employment. Compensation and good or bad references are not generally provided; however, that doesn't mean it is not done. A job seeker might want to consider hiring a "reference check" company to verify what previous employers are saying.

7. Drug Tests
Approximately 15 to 20 percent of all BCs include a drug test. BC companies typically contract with local medical clinics to conduct the test. It can be expensive, so it is not done in all cases. In most cases, the job requirements determine if a drug test is necessary, particularly for anyone operating machinery or a motor vehicle. Executives are also frequently screened for drugs.

8. Reference Verification
The employer or BC firm will contact references provided by the job candidate. Typically, the questions are very specific regarding job performance as opposed to personal or private information. They rarely contact anyone other than the designated references provided by the candidate.

9. Education
The BC will verify attendance, majors, degrees, certifications and dates earned. This has become a common BC item as a result of overwhelming falsification by job candidates. We have all seen news reports of leading politicians, executives, teachers and celebrities who have falsified their education. Here is a tip: Job candidates without a formal degree should not waste their money on the phony degree or certification programs where you pay a fee to get a degree based on experience. Be honest about your education. If you believe you need additional education, enroll in an accredited school. Your efforts to complete or enhance your education will definitely be viewed positively.

10. Driving History
A common and almost mandatory BC item for people required to operate a motor vehicle. They are checking for license status, holder, dates of issuance and expiration, violations, suspensions, or other actions.

"Errors in criminal history frequently occur as the darker side of identity theft," Mather says. "Most people quickly become aware of problems on credit history as a result of identity theft. But you should also be aware that false reporting of crimes may be reflected on your BC because someone has stolen your identity."

If you have any concern about identity theft, or if you wish to learn what a BC will reveal about your background, you may wish to conduct a BC on yourself for a nominal fee using www.mybackgroundcheck.com. This site also has great free resources regarding background checks and how to clean up your report if you find any errors -- use the "Consumer Resources" link.

Finally: Relax. Too often job candidates worry too much about a BC. In the overwhelming number of cases, minor problems on your BC will not be an issue. Problems that occurred in the distant past will be overlooked based on your current history and ability to perform your job with talent and integrity. If a company is going to do a BC, be straightforward with them about any problem that might be discovered. Offer evidence that this is no longer an issue. Your hard work and honesty will help overcome any mistakes from the past.


Don Straits is recognized as a nationwide authority on contemporary job search strategies. His organization provides world-class outplacement and individual job search marketing services to senior-level executives. Corporate Warriors (www.corporatewarriors.com) has earned industry acclaim for its world-class multimedia résumé portfolios. Don can be contacted at don@corporatewarriors.com.

Last Updated: 24/09/2007 - 3:50 PM


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