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Employment background check: A job seeker’s guide

CareerBuilder | March 23, 2017

background checks


You are confident you could do the job, but you don't exactly have all the credentials the employer is requesting, and you've got a past that might be a red flag. If you are tempted to embellish your resume — even just a tad — to make yourself a perfect fit for the job, or think your past could go unnoticed, think again. According to a new CareerBuilder survey, the majority of employers (72 percent) say they conduct background checks (employment screening) for every new employee before they're hired. More than half (55 percent) drug test candidates.

There are typically two types of background checks. One is a reference check, which involves the HR person calling each of the previous employers you listed on your resume to confirm your dates of employment and salary. The second type is less related to your work history, but may involve a more thorough check done by an agency hired by the employer. This may include a credit check or a criminal record check depending on the sensitivity of your position.

The CareerBuilder survey debunked several myths around pre-hire screening that most job seekers are not aware of.

Myth 1: If I estimate my months and years of employment at each employer, that's good enough.
Reality: Thirteen percent of workers who currently have resumes say they estimate employment dates on their current resume. What they may not realize is their resume will get flagged as inaccurate and may cause an otherwise unnecessary delay in the hiring process or possible removal from of the running. From employment to graduation and everything in between, make sure dates are accurate.

Myth 2: Most employers don't even conduct background checks.
Reality: The majority of employers (72 percent) say they do for every new employee before they're hired. More than half (55 percent) drug test candidates.

Myth 3: If they conduct background checks, employers typically only look at where I worked.
Reality: In addition to locations of employment, employers check on everything from schooling, locations lived and criminal records to driving records and many other publically available information sources based on the position type the person is being considered for.

Forty-six percent of workers say they really don't know what information employers are checking for when conducting background checks, which can put them at a disadvantage.

Myth 4: It's not important to tell people I'm putting them down as a reference.
Reality: It's a professional courtesy to ask people's permission to use them as a reference, so they know to expect a call sometime in the future. If your references respond with surprise and confusion when a potential employer contacts them, it gives the impression that you are unprofessional or disorganized.

Overall, if you suspect there's something in your background that really could hurt your chances for employment, there are several ways to take control.

  • Review your online profile: In the modern age, many hiring managers supplement their pre-employment background checks with appraisals of applicants' social media profiles. Unlike your criminal background, you have direct control over what goes up on your Facebook account, so take a glance at your page with the eye of an employer.
  • Run a check on yourself: By running a background check on yourself before you go into a job interview, you can see what employers are probably going to see when they look into your past. You can run any number of checks to verify the accuracy of background information — driving history, credit history, etc. — but start with criminal checks, because that's where your prospective employers are going to start, too.
  • Know your rights: If you are ever disqualified from employment consideration based on employment screening findings, you have a legal right to find out why. Your employer is required to provide you with a copy of the background check that led to your disqualification, as well as to inform you in writing of the decision. While this information usually won't help you get the job, it will alert you about any false information that is coming up on your background check, so that you can fix it before your next interview.

Advice for employment screening:

What kind of work can you do from home?

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