Are you ready to enter the job market for the first time? Before you starting going out on interviews, consider running a background check on yourself to see what your criminal record looks like.
Picture this: you recently graduated from college and your newly minted degree is hanging on your wall. Now, with the inspirational words of your university’s commencement speaker ringing in your ears, you are ready to dive into the job market and find your first “real” job. Before you go on your first job interview, though—or perhaps even before you start submitting applications or sending out resumes and cover letters—you might consider running a background check on yourself. How come? Well, because your criminal record could feasibly look a lot spottier than you think it does.
Many recent college grads just entering the job market do so with a feeling of invincibility. It’s not uncommon to feel like the world is your oyster following four successful years at a university—particularly if you were one of the top students in your degree program. But just as the competition got fiercer and the challenges got steeper when you traded your high school halls for a sprawling college campus, things are going to get harder and more competitive once more now that you are looking for full-time employment. As such, if you are going to beat out everyone else that is competing for your dream job, you are going to need to do everything in your power to become the ideal hire.
Becoming the Ideal Hire
Unfortunately, becoming the ideal hire is only partially based on factors that you have some measure of control over. Sure, you can craft a killer resume, research the company with which you are seeking a job, and rehearse your interview answers so that you make a great first impression. But there are other things you aren’t going to be able to do anything about, like your relative lack of experience.
Since there are other applicants out there who will have more experience and expertise than you do—not to mention other recent college grads who can match your hunger and passion—you need to minimize the number of factors that could scare an employer out of hiring you. You can eliminate a lot of these factors by cleaning up your social media profiles, for instance. Getting those offensive statuses or risqué photographs off your Facebook can go a long way toward making you appear more professional and workplace-ready.
Arguably more important than the social media cleanup, though, is the self-background check. Not all employers are going to check your Facebook, but you can bet that all employers are going to take a look into your criminal background.
The Complexity of Background Checks
I know what you’re thinking: you don’t have any control over what comes up on your criminal background check. Perhaps you’re thinking that, even if you could change your criminal history, you wouldn’t need to because your record is squeaky clean. You would be wrong on both accounts.
One of the most common misconceptions among job seekers—particularly young professionals who are just looking for their first jobs—is that there is a big, all-encompassing database of criminal history out there somewhere in the world. No such database exists: instead, criminal background checks are often a patchwork of different searches and investigations, pieced together by experienced firms that know where to look to find the relevant information.
There are different background checks for finding criminal records at the local level (county courthouses and police departments) and the state level (state police departments or criminal record repositories). There are also separate background checks for finding out about your driving record, your history in civil court, your credit history, your educational and professional history, your address history, and any aliases you might have.
Since background check companies are piecing together your information together from a wide range of sources, there is, unfortunately, the possibility for error. Perhaps you have a very common name and a background check accidentally pulls someone else’s criminal record instead of yours. Or maybe, at some point, a courthouse employee accidentally logged a charge to your record instead of to someone else’s. Other issues, such as identity theft, can lead to inaccuracies in your criminal record, driving history, or credit history. If you have been convicted of a crime but had it expunged, there’s a possibility that the courts failed to seal the appropriate records.
Correcting Inaccurate Information on Your Background Check Report
Bottom line, background checks are not infallible. Employers use them to make smarter, safer hiring decisions, but sometimes, inaccurate information can result in applicants missing out on job opportunities for past misdeeds they didn’t commit. Sure, if an employer disqualifies you from job consideration due to background check findings, they have to provide you with a copy of the report and give you a chance to dispute the findings with the background check company. In most cases, though, applicants who miss out on jobs due to inaccurate background check information don’t get a second chance at those jobs—even once they’ve “cleared their names,” so to speak.
By running a background check on yourself before you go into a job interview, you can see what employers are probably going to see when they look into your past. You can run any number of checks to check the accuracy of background information—driving history, credit history, etc.—but start with criminal checks, because that’s where your prospective employers are going to start, too.
Running checks at both the state and county level is the smartest idea since you will then be covering the bases that the average employer will cover. If your background check report comes back clean, you can rest easy knowing that employers probably aren’t going to be getting any surprises when they dig into your past. If there are unexpected convictions on your record, though, you will need to get in touch with your local county courthouse or state police department to get the errors resolved.
You will spend a few bucks to run a self-background check, and you could also end up spending a few hours doing damage control if errors do arise on your report. Obviously, though, investing your time and money to fix any background check problems now is preferable to losing a dream job because of those problems in a month or two.
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 Backgroundchecks.com. He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.