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How to Pass a
Background Check

How to Pass a Background Check
How do you pass a background check?
  • Understand what a background check is
  • Be honest about your history and qualifications (a failed background check will usually be the result if you make false claims)
  • Do a Self-Background Check
Understand Employment Background Checks

What Is A Background Check? - An Employment Background Check may be best described as an Application Verification. An employment background check allows an employer to verify information provided by an applicant on a resume or job application. Independent sources such as criminal and civil court records, prior employers, educational institutions, and departments of motor vehicles are researched. The information obtained is then compared to the information provided by the applicant and reviewed for any negative material.

Most Employers Do Background Checks - Most employers do some form of an employment background check. This can be as simple a reference check, or as in-depth as covering everything from criminal record checks to interviewing friends and neighbors.

Why Employers Do Background Checks - Employers conduct background checks to meet regulatory, insurance, and customer requirements; increase applicant and new hire quality; reduce workplace violence; avoid bad publicity; protect against negligent hiring liability; reduce employee dishonesty losses; reduce employee turnover; and hire the right person the first time. An employer has the obligation to provide a safe workplace for employees, customers, and the public. See Why Background Checks?

What Do They Look For In A Background Check? - Employers look for discrepancies between an applicant’s claims and what is reported by schools, prior employers, etc. They also look for negative reports such as a bad Driving Record or a Criminal History that would impact the applicant's job qualifications. See What Do Employers Look For in a Background Check?

What Is In A Background Check For Employment? - Anything from an applicant's history CAN come up. It depends how detailed the background check is, who conducts the background check, how far back they go, who they talk to, what information they check, and what laws apply in the particular situation. If there are any black marks in an applicant's past, it is pretty hard to keep them a secret. See What Shows Up On A Background Check For Employment?

A typical basic background check may include county criminal record checks, a social security number scan, employment history verification, and education verification. Depending on the job, a more complete background check may include common items such as a motor vehicle report, a credit report, license and certification verification, reference checks, a sex offender registry check, or county civil record searches. See Comprehensive Background Check.

Your Rights - The FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) is the primary federal law regulating employment background checks. Despite its name the FCRA applies to all employment backgrounds checks conducted by a third party whether they include a credit report or not. See A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

In addition to the FCRA, there are many other Federal, State, and Local laws and regulations that may impact a particular employment background check. See Background Check Laws & Regulations.

No Surprises or Delays

When dealing with prospective employers you want to avoid any surprises or delays in your background check. Do your homework. You want your background check to sail through without a hitch.

If you have something derogatory in your past employment, criminal record, credit report, license, etc., the interview is the time to bring it up. A frank explanation of any past problems will give you the chance to provide your side of the story, explain what you learned from the experience, and show how your subsequent actions demonstrate you are a changed person. Most employers have a "Zero Tolerance" policy about false claims on a resume or job application. This policy applies whether the falsehood is found before or after you are hired. Few jobs and employers require an absolutely clean record to be hired. Most employers can and do consider how long ago a problem occurred and whether the problem has any bearing on the position being considered.

Get Your Story And Facts Straight - Make sure that the information you put on your resume and job application is accurate and factual. The chances of incorrect information being discovered are very high.

Make Your Resume and Job Application easy to verify by providing complete, accurate and, up-to-date names (no abbreviations) and contact information for schools, employers, references, certificates, etc. If your former employer has moved or changed names, verify the contact information for the office that actually has your records. If you were a temp or contract employee make sure it is clear on your job application who the actual employer was. If a former employer is no longer in business try to locate a former manager who is willing to verify your employment. If you are not sure about a specific fact, let the prospective employer know you are providing an estimate.

Read the instructions and questions on the Job Application and any consent forms carefully. Answer the questions accurately and fully. Ask for clarification if something is not clear.

Update your reference information so that the employer can contact your references without difficulty.

Honesty Is The Best Policy - Tell the truth no matter what. If you lie you are likely to fail the background check and sooner or later the lie will cost you your job and your reputation.

Don't rationalize that "Everyone is doing it" or "I deserve it." Not true. Everyone does not do it and actually finishing a degree or filling a specific job position is more than learning, skills, or related experience (no matter how similar it may seem). If you feel that you "deserve it," explain your reasoning in your cover letter and interview. After all, the employer is looking for the best candidate and most will consider equivalent experience.

Self-Background Check

Verify that the records others have about you are accurate. Records are collected, stored, and retrieved by people. People can and do make mistakes. It is not uncommon for errors to be in records kept by schools, employers, courts, credit agencies, etc. Some vendors offer Self-Background Checks as a service, but you can easily do your own background check.

Here are some suggestions on how to do a background check on yourself:

Web Footprints - Look at what you have said and what others have said about you on the web. Do a search of your name (in quotes) and reread your old blog entries and other social media postings. View your findings from the point of view of a hiring company.

Criminal Records - If you have ever been arrested, make sure the court record is correct and up-to-date. For example, if you believe that a criminal record has been expunged, if you had a felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor, or if you suspect a criminal record may be incorrect in your case, check directly with the clerk of the court where the action was processed to make sure the records are correct. (Do a web search for the court clerk contact information.)

Civil Court Records - If you have been involved in a civil lawsuit, make sure the court record is correct. Check directly with the clerk of the court where the action was processed to make sure the records are correct. (Do a web search for the court clerk contact information.)

Credit Report - Get a copy of your credit report from each of three credit bureaus and make sure they are accurate. You are entitled to one free report a year from each bureau. (See, Credit Bureau Contact Information.)

Employment - Double check your employment history. Don't claim anything on your resume or job application that an employer would dispute. When you leave an employer, check your eligibility for rehire. Also, verify your employee files for employment dates, titles, compensation, and the record of any disciplinary action(s). You may have the right to a copy of your personnel file. If you are not sure about a prior employer, call and ask.

The Social Security Administration has several reports that may help you reconstruct your own Work History. See Applicant Background Check Resources: Social Security Work History and Earnings History Reports.

Education - Contact post high school educational institutions and verify their records. (Do a web search for contact information.) If you claim a degree from a diploma mill, it will likely be exposed.

Drivers License - Especially if you are applying for a driving job, get a copy of your MVR (driving record) from your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and verify the report's accuracy. If you have moved recently, verify your MVR from the prior state(s). (Do a web search for the DMV contact information.)

Professional Licenses And Certificates - Verify with the issuing agency that your records match theirs.

References - Before using individuals as references, contact them and let them know you are planning to use them as references. If they are expecting a call they will usually be quicker to respond and more open in their comments. Find out what they will say about you. If they are going to give you a bad reference, it is better to find out before you fail to get the job.

Neighbors And Associates - If you are expecting an in-depth investigative background check, alert your neighbors and associates that they may be contacted.

A Failed Background Check

Before an employer turns you down for a job because you "failed" a background check conducted by a third party (e.g. a background check company), the employer is required by law to give you a copy of the background check report and give you a chance to correct any errors. Check the report and make sure it is accurate. If you find incorrect information in the report, promptly inform the employer. You have the right to request a re-investigation to verify disputed facts.

FRAUD ALERT! Phony Web Sites

Before you fill out an online background check or credit report authorization form, verify that the company and the job opportunity are legitimate. The site may be an identity theft scam.

Additional Resources


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