What Employers Look at During a Background Check


The majority of employers look for fast and reliable services to screen their job candidates’ backgrounds. A background check can involve just a simple Social Security number verification. An advanced background check, on the other hand, can include credit history, court records, driving records, employment history, vehicle registration, property ownership, criminal records, compensation, bankruptcy, medical information, military records, references, and more. Depending on the industry, they might ask for drug screening.  

Typically, companies do background checks to confirm an applicant’s employment history, education, motor vehicle records, credit history, and license information. Of course, they all check for a criminal record. Different kinds of background checks yield different findings. The company in question establishes the search criteria, which typically depend on the type of job and the tasks and responsibilities that go with it. 

Reasons to Screen Job Candidates 

It goes without saying that the main reason employers screen candidates is to hire the best person for the job. Moreover, employers want to practice due diligence, guarantee workplace safety, reduce the risk of liability, and encourage honesty in candidates. They are most interested in whether the applicant is the right fit when conducting a background check. 

They want to know about any risks they would face if they hired that particular applicant. When checking someone’s background, employers have to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) or work with a compliant third-party service. If it isn’t, the employer cannot use the information they got to make an employment decision.

Part of this compliance is informing applicants in writing of your intentions to run a background check. They must provide written consent. If an applicant is rejected based on the findings, they must get a copy of the report and be informed of their rights, including the right to contest the damaging information.

Looking at Criminal Records 

The data you can get on criminal records depends on the state. You’re not allowed to make inquiries beyond a specific period of time in some states. Your state’s department of labor has detailed information about what you can look at legally. According to the EEOC, a candidate can’t be rejected based on the existence of criminal history alone. The company must consider the type of crime committed, how it relates to the position it’s hiring for, and when the crime was committed. 

Verifying Credit and Job History

An employer will typically want to confirm previous work experience, including employment dates, places, job titles, and the salary received. They won’t take the information on resumes at face value. A credit check is mandatory when hiring for a position in or involving finances and these companies may ask for a credit report. Credit reports include the candidate’s current and former addresses, Social Security number, credit card or loan debt, mortgages, car payments, and any delayed repayment of loans they’ve defaulted on.  

Character Check 

Some companies may want to talk to the applicant’s former coworkers, relatives, or friends to get an idea of what they are like. This is referred to as a “character check”. Normally, however, they only look for job-related information. 

The Extent of a Background Check

The company and the type of job determine how extensive a screening a candidate will be asked to undergo. If the job involves a security clearance, you can expect the check to be quite thorough. Things like education history, social network info, and licenses and permits are some less common examples of background checks. 

Background check regulations can even vary from one county to another. The employer may select different reports with a view to the job location and characteristics as well as their own requirements. 

Background Check Limitations to be Aware Of 

In some states, it’s illegal to disclose some types of information, but certain data tends to be excluded from disclosure across the board. This includes data related to bankruptcies after a decade and paid tax liens, arrest records, accounts in collection, and civil suits and judgments after seven years. The only exception is for jobs that pay over $75,000 a year. 

Since bankruptcy information is a public record, it’s very easy to access. However, it’s illegal to reject a candidate based on bankruptcy and without consideration of the type of job offered. In most states, medical information is private, so employers can’t make hiring decisions based on it. If the job involves intensive physical activity or labor or is otherwise stressful, they may inquire into your physical abilities and/or emotional resilience.     

Educational and Military Records

In some situations, an employer will receive access to military service records. The military may share your name, rank, awards, salary, and assignments without your permission, but that’s all. Likewise, you must give consent for a potential employer to see your education records.

What Employers Don’t Want to See 

Of course, the last thing an employer wants to learn is that the candidate committed a crime related to the position they’re hiring for. They may even consider a minor incident that happened a long time ago a red flag. They fear the candidate’s behavior will impact their job performance negatively once hired. In every event, the time when the crime was committed and the type of punishment are less important that the crime’s impact on the candidate’s then-job and employer.  

Bad Credit 

Most finance jobs come with the requirement to run a credit check. A person who’s struggling with debt and loans won’t be seen as a suitable candidate for an accounting or bank position. 

Suspicious Job History

The notion that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior holds true here just like with criminal records. This is why so many interviewers ask applicants why they left their last job or why they want to leave their current one. Someone with a series of short-lived jobs might be likely to leave yours in the near future. Multiple career path changes might indicate the candidate has yet to find his or her true calling, which is problematic after a certain age. While employees should be allowed to explore different fields of activity, this shouldn’t be at their employer’s expense. 

A pattern of quitting jobs over arguments with superiors is also a typical red flag. Employees with a history of leaving work over a disagreement with company policies or managers may bring such behavior to their new workplace. 

Finally, the outdated contact information on a resume is frowned upon. While updating a phone number or address can slip your mind easily, it may be seen as a sign of poor communication skills or insufficient technical know-how.  

Benefits of a Professional Screening Service 

The best employers know that a professional and reliable background check service can be essential to recruitment outcomes. Companies like these can ensure you’re choosing the best person for the job. What’s more, screening can be a legal minefield that’s dangerous to navigate without knowledge and experience. Certified CRAs guarantee legal compliance and save employers a lot of time, effort, and potential problems. 

There is no shortage of affordable and high-quality service providers. Companies that check applicants in-house find their access to information is more limited. They also risk finding false or incomplete data, causing them to hire an unsuitable candidate or miss out on someone who would have made a great employee.


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