What Is A Background Check?

Chances are that a prospective employer has informed you that they were going to do a background check on you before – but do you actually know what it means? Chances are that you, like so many others, have a basic idea of what a background check is. However, we find that there are a wide range of people who have no real idea what a background check is.

A background check simply means that a potential employer authenticates the information that a job applicant provided on their interviews, application, or resume. Simply put, a candidate may appear like the perfect hire in a conversation, but are they actually telling you the truth about who they are and what their responsibilities were in previous jobs? A background check is a great way for potential employers to find out whether the person applying for a job has the experience and background that they claim.

The fact is that upwards of 40 percent of all resumes have somewhat tweaked or completely false information. This means that as an employer, you want to know what type of person you are hiring. If someone is going to talk about specific qualifications, the company is going to want to make sure that they can actually rely on that.

Another reason to complete these backgrounds checks is a safeguard against liability issues. An employer can be held responsible for negligence if the employee does something that is against the law or downright dangerous. If the company did not do the required research, they are opening themselves up for potential legal trouble. For example, if a Limo company hires someone who has several DUIs on their record in addition to a poor driving record, they could be legally responsible if the person is involved in a car accident. We can expect the Limo company to check the driving record before hiring someone.

Other Reasons To Seek Out A Background Check

There are some applicants that assume a company does not trust them if they have to complete a background check at part of the hiring process. The truth is more in the middle. Oftentimes a background check is done to ensure that a prospective hire does not pose a risk to the reputation of the organization, the clients of the organization, employees of the organization, or volunteers.

There are state and federal regulations in certain industries that specify that prospective employees have to be screened before hiring. Perhaps government security clearances are necessary and you need to know whether someone is eligible. This has nothing to do with whether someone is trustworthy, but has more to do with following mandatory steps.

The Timing Of a Background Check

When is a background check done? Oftentimes reference checks and backgrounds checks are done during the actual hiring process. Oftentimes a company will want to have completed the checks and backgrounds checks before making an offer to a candidate. In some cases, the results of your background check may determine whether you get the job offer. If the organization finds negative information, the offer could be withdrawn.

Oftentimes there is a stipulation that you have a probation period. Not only will this include background and reference checks, but they can evaluate your job performance as well.

Background Checks At A Later Date

It is important to note that a background check can also occur later. For example, if a background check at a later date reveals that an employee lied about their education, experience, qualifications, or credentials, there is a good chance that they will be let go by the company. Almost all job applications have a statement attesting to the fact that you have provided the correct information. Lying about this on an application could lead to being let go after the fact.

What Information Will Be Checked?

If you are subject to a background check, you probably want to know what a future employer is going to look for. As a prospective employer, you are going to want to know what a background check is going to reveal about your candidate. There are several different aspects that are involved in a background check:

  • Looking at prior employment – If a prospective employee says that they have a decade of experience, chances are that the company is going to A. award them accordingly in terms of salary, and B. in terms of responsibility or seniority. A simple employment verification is going to consist of the person doing the background check calling your former HR department and asking whether the information listed on the application is in fact correct. This can be as simple as “Yes” and “No”.
  • Verifying academic and education credentials – A company is going to want to know whether you did graduate from a specific college or university. This is done to verify that the applicant does in fact have the degree that they claim. Because specific dates on a degree can hint at prospective employer how old you are, some websites recommend that you leave this off a resume. Even though you can leave it off a resume, a job application is another thing. In order to verify the degrees, a prospective employer is going to need those dates. Some companies are going to give more information about someone’s work experiences and it is possible to look at salary by looking at tax records and W2s.
  • Criminal background checks – It is important to note that a criminal background check is not for arrests, but for convictions. Note that the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) specifically states that arrest record standing by itself cannot be used to suspend, fire, or not hire an applicant or employee. The US Department of Labor: Laws and Guidance has more information about the EEOC. Unless an arrest turned into a conviction, chances are that this is not going to show up on a background check.
  • Credit checks – Chances are that you will not have to go through a credit check with most jobs, but if your job is going to include the handling of money or security, chances are that a credit check is going to occur. The EEOC also cautions against the overuse of credit checks.
  • Additional testing to determine knowledge and skill – You may need to confirm knowledge and still through a handful of tests. For example, if someone has a job where they spend the majority of their time behind the computer answering e-mail, they might have to prove that they are proficient in typing and spelling. These tests are in place to determine whether the applicant has the promised knowledge and skills.
  • Drug screening – There are some jobs where an employee is required to pass a physical exam, and others where drug screens are required. It is important to note that these tests have to be fair and they should not necessarily require drug screens in an average working environment. Both the nature and contents of the job should be linked to whether you need to take a physical or not. You should not be required to take a physical in most jobs.

How Long Does A Background Check Take?

When it comes to a potential hire or a new job, chances are that you want the information fast. A typical background check is only going to take a few days to complete. Depending on the scope and nature of the background check, it could take a bit longer. If information about former educational institutions or employers has to come from outside of the country or there is difficulty establishing contact with former educational institutions or employers, the background check could take just a bit longer.

Because all parties want to move quickly and offer a resolution, it is always good idea for a candidate to have the necessary information readily available if they know that they are going to have to take a background check.

The ‘Real’ Background Check

Most people assume that a background check reveals intricate Hollywood style sleuthing where someone is trying to find every bit of information possible about an applicant and is even willing to bend the rules a bit to get more information.

The actual truth is that most backgrounds checks are completed by Human Resources professionals or external companies that can help with background checks. These companies often know where to get the necessary information and are able to specifically narrow down target information for a company.

Honesty Remains The Best Policy

The truth is that a background check might appear intimidating at first, but there is nothing to worry about as long as you are telling the truth on both your resume and application. When it comes to certain indiscretions during your career, honesty is still the best policy because a good background check company is always going to find the information.