It’s common knowledge that background checks are a major step toward employment in most companies and businesses nowadays. Lesser known is precisely which information is revealed by these new employee background checks. What facts about you can an employer discover through a pre-hiring background check? Some people assume that these checks focus singularly on criminal records while others don’t know much about the differences between county, state, and nationwide checks.
First of all, it’s important to note that not all background checks are the same. Some employers do focus just on criminal history. Others will dig into your credit history, your civil court history, and your driving record, among other things. What kinds of background checks you face will depend on your employer, as well as upon the job for which you are applying. With that in mind, here’s a primer on the various background check types you could be facing.
Even if some employment background checks go beyond criminal history, there’s a reason the terms “background check” and “criminal history screening” are often used interchangeably. It’s because the criminal history check is at the core of most employee or applicant background check policies. Many employers have rules about not hiring any individuals with violent or sex-related felonies on their records while others flag repeat offenders as questionable hires.
If you’ve committed a crime in the past, chances are it will come up on your employment background check. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. If the crime you committed was 15 or 20 years ago, it might not be picked up since some employees do checks that only go back five or 10 years.
Another exception would be if the employer is only running state or county searches, and the crime you committed was in another state or county. This possibility is not a free pass for you to lie about your criminal history on your application, though. More and more employers these days are doing nationwide criminal checks that can flag your criminal record—not matter where you committed your past offenses.
Address History and Aliases
Even if your employer only runs state checks, your crimes from other states may still be picked up. Some companies use address history checks to find out where you’ve lived in the past. Then, they use that address history to order abackground check under your name in multiple states or jurisdictions. This way, employers can find out about your out-of-state criminal activity, even without running nationwide checks.
Some offenders try to avoid this type of check by changing their name and putting their old criminal persona behind them. These individuals should beware of alias checks. By tracking your address history, background check companies can compile a list of names and aliases you’ve used over the years. Employers can then run background check searches on these names, and find criminal records that would have otherwise remained hidden.
Some employers do credit checks on their applicants, especially if the job at hand is one that involves finance and the handling of money. A credit history background check will not reveal your credit rating, but it will give a fairly good picture of your financial situation and responsibility. Your credit card limits, your average monthly payments, your credit card balances, your credit percentages, and any “past due” amounts will be detected by a credit history. In other words, a credit history check will give you employer a basic idea of how you handle money.
A credit history check can also reveal tax levies and liens placed against you, past bankruptcies, and other civil information. This information can be further fleshed out by a civil history check, which can reveal judgments made against you in county or federal court. Whether you’ve been sued, gone through a divorce, faced judgments for debt or property damage, or found yourself involved in any other kind of court case, your prospective employers can find out about it through a check like this.
If you are applying for a job that involves driving a car or truck, or perhaps even operating heavy machinery, then you may well be subject to a driving record check. Everything from speeding tickets and other minor traffic violations to accident reports and revoked licenses will be covered with a check like this, as will charges involving drunk or reckless driving. These checks are mostly run to determine whether or not an applicant is safe and trustworthy behind the wheel, and are, therefore, only relevant if the job requires that kind of driving responsibility.
Thinking about lying on your job application or resume, whether about a past job title, your education or a professional license? Good luck. Most employers run verification checks designed specifically to root out those lies. These checks include employment verifications (which include employment dates and job titles), education verifications (including dates attended and degrees earned), and professional license verifications.
As you can see, employers can find out a lot of different pieces of information about you, simply by running a background check. Not all employers run each and every one of the background check types listed above. However, you should always be prepared to undergo each of the various checks on this list, because you never know which checks your prospective employer requires.
One way to be prepared is to run background checks on yourself before you go into a job interview. Taking this precaution will allow you to make sure your record is as clean as you think it is before any incorrect criminal history or credit information costs you a job.
Another way to prepare is to simply be completely honest about everything you put on your resume, every box you check on your job application, and every answer you give in an interview. There are employers out there who are willing to hire someone with a criminal record, but there are almost no employers who will extend the same chance to someone who lies to them during a screening process.
About the Author: Michael Klazema has been developing products for pre-employment screening and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for a background check company. He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.