How Do Background Checks Work for Jobs? The Ultimate Guide

how do background checks work for jobs screening employee candidates check records

Studies show that more than 100 people will apply for any given job on average. That's a lot of applicants to work through. When you're listing multiple job ads, you have even more work on your hands.

You need a system that weeds out desirable candidates from not-so-desirable applicants. Job interviews, specific educational requirements, and strict experience preferences help, but you need more.

What you need is a reliable protocol for employee background checks, but how do background checks work for job applicants?

Read on to learn the pros, cons, and processes behind background checks and candidate screening for jobs!


What's a Job Background Check?

A background check is a process of verifying a prospective employee's personal and professional information. Background checks are also conducted for rental applications, childcare, volunteering opportunities, and certain types of loans.

Not all background checks are made alike. Some are noticeably more strict than others. The process can be as simple as a quick employment verification background check to a more comprehensive check with drug-screenings.

High-level security positions, like CIA jobs, require extensive background checks, screening, and vetting. A retail job may require no more than a previous employment check. It's important to choose a process that makes sense for the job role.

It's also critical to understand how proper background checks work. As more background check companies sprout up online, you must do your due diligence. Not every service uses current information, or worse, completely inaccurate data.

Let's dive further into the pros, cons, and expectations of background checks.


What Do Background Checks Look For?

If you simply want to know if an applicant is who they say they are, you could do a simple social media check. Linkedin is the best social media network for "verifying" a potential employee's name, city, and previous employers. Linkedin also lets users endorse their co-workers and colleagues, which helps verify identity.

Facebook is another site that only allows real people to join. They also have a rigorous verification process, and only allows one mobile phone number per account.

However, social media can only tell you so much. Still, people can pretend to be whoever they want online, despite appearing as "real" as possible.

If you want to conduct a thorough background check, you'll need to use a trustworthy company that retrieves accurate public information.

A background check can verify the following information:


  • Previous work and employer history
  • Prior criminal history (or lack thereof)
  • Previous addresses and current home address
  • Credit history
  • Driver's license records
  • Education history
  • Social security number verification
  • Public court records
  • Drug use
  • Past bankruptcies
  • Character background

If you're taken aback by any items on this list, you wouldn't be the first. Employee background checks are a controversial topic, especially, when it comes to credit history, drug screenings, and criminal history.

For example, credit history has long been argued as a roadblock for many job-seekers. After all, how is someone supposed to improve their credit if they can't get a job?

Let's take a closer look at these requirements to learn which background checks are necessary (and which aren't.)


Previous Work History

Every employee background check should verify prior work history, at the very least. This requirement can be as simple as a verification phone call with HR. Potential employers don't even have to talk with an applicant's previous boss.

Remember that employment verification is different than job references. A future employer can still call job references listed on applications.


Bad Blood with Previous Bosses?

One of the biggest concerns for job applicants is sabotage from previous employers. While rare, many applicants are understandably fearful that their boss or supervisor will give them a poor reference.  However, there are laws that protect against this kind of retaliation.

Hurting a previous employee's future job prospects is called blacklisting. Twenty-nine states already have blacklisting laws on the books, including California, New York, Texas, and Massachusetts. If job applicants live in these states, they can hire an employment lawyer to sue previous employers for sabotage.

Federal law also prohibits employment discrimination. Concerned job seekers should apply to companies that clearly state that they're an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Employer.


Criminal History

Most employment background checks verify past criminal history. However, a criminal past doesn't necessarily disqualify job applicants. Eligibility depends on the type of job.

The following jobs immediately disqualify applicants with felony criminal histories:


  • Police officers
  • Prison and security guards
  • Teaching
  • Education department jobs
  • Government positions
  • Healthcare jobs

Private industries, like retail stores, may disqualify felons from cash-handling positions. However, private businesses present the most employment opportunities for applicants with criminal histories.

The list of "felon-friendly" companies is growing. Oil and gas, marketing, construction, trucking, warehousing, manufacturing, and food processing are a few top industries for former felons.

Non-violent misdemeanors or past citations do not count as criminal histories. These incidences would not show up on a background check.

If you're an employer concerned about employee drug use, you can conduct a drug screening. You must include this requirement in your job listings.


How Do Background Checks Work for Credit History?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions about background checks. Employee credit checks are one of the most feared, controversial, and misunderstood types of background verification.

Here's where the confusion comes in: federal law permits businesses to conduct credit checks, but states can put a stop to it. In fact, ten states have laws prohibiting employment credit checks altogether.

If you do conduct an employee credit background check, it must follow the guidelines outlined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA.)

Under FCRA guidelines, employers must do the following:

Obtain consent from applicants before running a credit check
Provide a warning if the employer plans to reject the application based on credit
Provide applicants an official job rejection based on credit.


Therefore, federal law requires transparency if you reject job applications based on credit.

Remember, job candidates may avoid your listing if you run credit checks. If you do use credit checks, you're required to disclose this upfront to job-seekers.


Background Checks for Jobs on the Road

Are you looking for new drivers for your small business? Prepare to run a background check on job-seekers' licenses and driving records. Every driving job requires this.

A driving background check will verify if a driver's license is up-to-date. These types of employers need applicants with a clean driving record. You may require a certain type of license, too, like a commercial driver's license.

A thorough driving background check will look for the following:


  • Past license suspensions
  • Restrictions on license
  • Type of driver's license class
  • Prior car accidents
  • Current license status
  • License issue and expiration date
  • Past driver's license revocations
  • Driving violations
  • Violation points on license

Minor issues on your driving record may not be a disqualifier, but it all depends on your preferences as an employer. Too many past incidences could be a red flag. 


Social Security Number

At the bare minimum, you will run a simple background check on applicants' social security numbers. A valid social security number proves that a job applicant exists and can legally work in the United States. This background check will also verify if an SSN number has been used by anyone else in the past.


Education History

You may want to verify a job applicant's educational background. College degrees and transcripts are on file with the applicant's graduating institution. You can also ask an applicant to send their transcripts themselves.

Education is also verifiable on Linkedin. Applicants may also have student websites or email addresses registered with the college's web domain. Job-seekers can also upload published pieces from their academic days to Linkedin.


Social Media

Like credit history, social media is another controversial background check requirement. It's important to remember that social media doesn't provide a complete picture of a person. However, it can shed light on an applicant's professional behavior.

A simple social media check will reveal if an applicant has a history of badmouthing employers. This behavior can be a red flag. Another concern is an employee who divulges sensitive, propriety information on social media.

Job applicants who post hate speech, sexist comments, or harassment online are another problem. An employee who goes viral for all the wrong reasons is bad for business. If applicants are trolling, they're probably doing it behind accounts that you can't trace.

At the very least, you're looking for is a clean digital footprint. The footprint doesn't have to be a strictly "professional" either. A harmless social media account that showcases hobbies and interests should pass a background check.


Start Verifying Five-Star Talent!

How do background checks work for screening employee candidates? There isn't just one way to run a background check or check past records. As an employer, you can check for as little or as much as you want, as long as you operate within state and federal law.

Use this guide to craft an efficient background process, and check back daily for the latest business tips and tricks for success. Now that you know how do background checks work for jobs, you can learn more about employee recruiting and prospect screening for your business. Visit the HR or Career section of the Bootstrap Business Blog to learn more!

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