If you’re looking for a new job, you may be wondering what the process looks like for employment background checks. Most employers will conduct some form of a background check before making a job offer, so it’s important to know what to expect.
In this post, we’ll outline the steps involved in a typical employment background check and give you some tips on preparing. We’ll also discuss the different types of checks that can be conducted and the information they typically reveal. So if you’re curious about how your past might impact your chances of landing a new job, keep reading!
Can I find out what information employers will see when they run a background check?
When you apply for a new job, most companies will require you to consent to have your background checked. This means that the potential employer has the legal right to pull your records and review them before making an offer of employment.
Even though this type of check is often called a “consumer report,” it’s not actually regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). That’s because “consumer reports” are typically reserved for credit checks, which provide financial details about an individual, while employment checks typically contain non-financial data like criminal histories.
Some agencies cannot order consumer reports, but only in very specific cases. Unless you’re applying for one of these jobs, the employer likely has the right to order a background check.
When is an employment background check required?
There are some situations where employers always conduct background checks, such as when hiring for positions in financial services, high-level security clearances, and law enforcement. But even when they’re not legally obligated to do so, many companies will opt for a background check when filling any type of job position.
While the prerequisites may vary from state to state and company to company (and even in different divisions of the same company), here are some examples of when you might expect—or be required —to undergo a background check:
- Government jobs
- Jobs that involve working with vulnerable populations
- Positions that have access to trade secrets, classified information, or financial data
- Jobs that require a high-level security clearance
What kind of background check will I have to go through?
Due to the sensitivity of the information involved, there are two major types of employment background checks. Criminal history: A criminal history records an individual’s criminal history and includes felony convictions, misdemeanor charges, traffic offenses, and possibly pending charges.
Depending on state law, it may also include DUIs, gun violations, protective orders/restraining orders, expunged records, juvenile offenses, arrests without conviction, and sealed records. Some private employers can even ask about arrests without convictions, but they’re prohibited from asking about arrests when they did not result in a conviction.
Tips for Passing your Background Check
You might think that a simple solution to pass your background check is to wait until after you get an employment offer and then correct anything that may come up. Unfortunately, that’s only slightly better than doing nothing at all because it means you’re waiting until the employer already has doubts about your suitability for the position.
As we’ll discuss below, there can be irreversible consequences if you don’t pass your background check and the potential employer decides not to hire you.
1. Be honest
It sounds like a cliche, but one of the best things you can do is be completely honest in your applications and interviews. In fact, this is something that most employers will recommend when checking references.
Honesty goes a long way with any prospective employer—if they see red flags on your application, the worst thing that you can do is not explain yourself.
2. Contact your references
Chances are that companies won’t be contacting everyone on your application list—they’ll usually check your professional and personal references first. That means it’s even more important to choose people who will say great things about you.
Be proactive and send them a message before they receive an inquiry, so they can think about what to tell their prospective employer.
3. Check the laws in your state
The types of crimes that employers can ask about vary by state, so there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for this situation. While some states prohibit inquiries into sealed or expunged offenses, others allow them completely.
For example, background checks in Ohio can include misdemeanor and felony arrests, but it’s illegal to inquire about sealed records. That means if you have any offenses that are eligible for expungement, you should not mention them on your application—but be prepared to explain the situation.
4. When in doubt, consult an employment lawyer
There are no hard-and-fast rules for this situation, so there may be many nuances you’re overlooking. An employment lawyer can help clarify what types of information an employer is allowed to look into under the law.
In the End
An employment background check can be a game-changer for your career—or you might think it’s no big deal. But if some kind of mistake is on there, you’ll never know until the employer phones to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Take control of your future by doing everything within reason to make sure there are no surprises on your background check.