Congratulations, you survived the arduous interview process and landed a job offer! Your days as a job seeker are over and you’re excited to start a new contracting gig. Now read the fine print, “This offer is contingent upon completion of a successful background check.” What?! Don’t panic- it’s just one more step in the employment screening process before you can begin working. Knowing what to expect and being prepared will help streamline the process and reduce stress.
A pre-employment background check often includes an identity check, criminal records search, verification of employment and education, drug screening, motor vehicle records check, and sometimes a credit report.
Even though The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) set national standards to protect the rights and privacy of individuals, you may still have concerns about what information your future employer can discover during the background screening. Here are a few common concerns about the background check process and some tips for how to address them:
- My previous employer has gone out of business.
- Depending on the employer’s requirements, you may be asked to provide up to 10 years of employment history including current contact information, accurate employment dates, reason for termination, and salary. In cases where you consulted, be sure to provide the information for your employer, not the end-client. In cases where your previous employer has gone out of business, you may be asked to provide supporting documentation usually in the form of a W2 or paystub. If you do not have this information, you can reach out to the IRS for a free Wage and Income transcript which details your employers for a given year. Finally, be prepared to explain any gaps in employment greater than 3 months.
TIP: Your resume should be completely truthful and accurate.
- I have something on my criminal record.
- The industry standard for a criminal background check is to search 7 years. If something turns up during the scope of the search the employer makes a decision depending on the violation, the position’s responsibilities and your credentials today. Ultimately it is the employer’s call as long as they follow consistent and fair hiring rules and regulations.
TIP: Be prepared to explain the situation and provide supporting documentation if needed.
- I have a speeding ticket…or two.
- Unless the job actually requires driving, minor infractions should not impact your candidacy.
TIP: If you are really concerned about what may come up, you can order a motor vehicle report directly from your state’s driver’s license agency or a reputable third party company usually for a fee.
- I was late paying my credit card bill.
- Your personal credit history should not play a role in securing a job unless the position requires the handling of financial or sensitive information where your credit worthiness might impact your ability to perform the job duties. In the case where you are applying for such a position, the employer will obtain your consent to run a credit report and will make a decision depending on your credit standing, credit capacity, and credit worthiness. Not all debt is created equal, for example student loans or medical expenses. Employers must consider the nature and severity of what happened, the time elapsed since the accounts were established, and the type of job being sought. Ultimately it is up to the employer to make the hiring decision as long as they follow consistent and fair hiring rules and regulations.
TIP: This report is not applicable to everyone but in the case it applies to you, truthful explanations go a long way.
- I did not graduate from college.
- If education verification is a requirement, typically employers are looking to verify the highest diploma earned which could be college, high school, or a GED. To facilitate the verification process, it’s extremely helpful to have a copy of your diploma(s) on hand. Reach out to the educational institutions(s) at the outset of your job search for copies if you don’t already have them.
TIP: It’s estimated that up over 40% of resumes can contain false or tweaked information (source). Even if you were only a few credits short of a degree, the background search will illuminate that so don’t exaggerate your credentials.
- I take prescription medication.
- If you’re taking a prescription for medication that may show up in the drug screening, you will be required to provide proof that it’s a legal prescription. This is handled discretely by the Medical Review Officer (MRO) from the drug screening organization. Your employer will not be privy to the specific information, only a pass/fail result will be revealed.
TIP: Have your prescription information handy for when the MRO contacts you.
As a job seeker, it’s in your best interest to be honest and willing to work through the background screening process with your potential employer. Don’t stress out about what results the search may yield; many employers will overlook mistakes but not dishonesty.