If you are in the midst of a job search, chances are you may be concerned about background checks and what employers may be looking for when or if they run one.

Whether or not an employer conducts a background check, as well as what specifically they look for may differ based on things such as the size of the company and/or the type of work they do.

If you are interviewing for positions that will put you in charge of sensitive data such as medical records, financial records or other confidential information, it is highly likely that your history will be screened (most likely by a third party organization).

Other positions that require background checks are roles in which you may work with vulnerable populations – such as children or the elderly. It is in an employer’s best interest to protect themselves from liability, and running background checks is one way to do that.

So what will employers look for? And do you have any rights in the matter? Read on to learn more about the process.

Background checks usually fall into one of three categories: Credit, Criminal or Past Employer. Rules vary by state as to what specifically may be checked, so if you are especially concerned, it’s best to check with your state’s Department of Labor website for a greater understanding of what can and cannot be looked at.

The good news is that if your employer uses a third party to check your history, that background check is covered by something called The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a federal law that regulates how your information is collected and disseminated.

Before your employer obtains a background check on you, they will need to notify you in writing and obtain your signature. Why is this important? Well, should that employer decide not to hire you based on the information collected, you should receive both a copy of the report and your rights – one of which is the chance to dispute the report and correct any errors.

Credit Checks

Some employers check a person’s credit history to look for patterns of irresponsibility. This may be anything from late payments to large credit card balances or other financial issues. In the past, employers would primarily check credit if they were looking to hire for a position dealing with money directly (such as bank teller or financial planner) but more and more employers these days are using this kind of background check to determine overall suitability for positions and to check for “red flags” in a candidate’s decision making skills or sense of responsibility. **Keep in mind that employers are prohibited to discriminate against those that have filed for bankruptcy (as according to the FCRA act mentioned above).

Criminal Checks

Again, the level of information sought is usually based on the type of job you are applying for. Working as a technician on a nuclear powered submarine for a government defense contractor will require a much deeper investigation, than say an hourly worker at The Gap.

What is, and is not accessible, also varies wildly by state-to-state, and even county-to-county, so it is best to check with your local authorities. If you have a felony on your record and are concerned about applying for jobs, seek advice from a local career counselor or other expert resource. There are possibilities.

Past Employer

Many former employers, when contacted, are hesitant to share information other than previous job titles and dates of employment. That’s not to say they won’t, however, as there is no federal law that limits what they say. There are laws surrounding defamation though, (such as slander or libel) which may cause employers to be extra cautious and only “stick to the facts” when sharing any information about your previous record of employment.

As with everything else surrounding a good application of employment, it’s best to be honest and upfront with your potential employer, as it shows professionalism, responsibility and maturity, behaviors that can very well work in your favor should something questionable arise on your report.

*Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is not meant to take the place of legal counsel. It is given in the spirit of general guidance only and is not intended to provide legal advice. Please seek assistance from state and federal authorities to learn more about your specific situation.

Updated: 09/02/2017

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