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What Companies Look for in Your Background Check

Last updated: June 19, 2019
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As the gig economy grows and remote work rises along with it, background checks are becoming the standard for every contributor to a company’s brand. Whether you’re a freelancer, independent contractor, or full-time employee, you may be on call to prove who you really are before you start your next gig.

Background checks serve as a safety precaution for companies across the world as onboarding processes — and even day-to-day teamwork — transition into our digital world. Just as you wouldn’t hand over money to a stranger on the internet, companies need proof that you are who you claim to be before they hand over the checks. By performing background screenings, companies can rest assured that they are handing over logins, trade secrets, and more to people they can trust.

In this article, you’ll learn the basics of background checks, how they’re used, and how to complete your own.

Types of Background Checks

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To take into consideration the varying needs of different companies, there are several types of screenings available to employers. According to HireRight, the following four have been the most commonly used for the past decade:

Criminal History Searches

Criminal background checks top the list of highly requested background screenings for employers. These scan through court records, sex offender registries, criminal databases, and a handful of other criminal records to alert employers of felonies, warrants, and past arrests.

If you have a criminal conviction, don’t be discouraged. Below, we’ll review how your criminal records may be viewed by potential employers.

Employment Verification

For many employers, verifying your employment history is standard to ensure you’re qualified for the job. During this process, the information you’ve provided about your career may be cross-checked with public records, databases, or your former employers.

In some cases, your employer may opt to perform the employment verification themselves. This is usually done by calling references you provide, which can double as time to gain insight into your performance as an employee and team member.

Identity Verification

Even if an employer has met you in person, they may choose to verify your identity. Fake IDs existed long before the internet age, after all.

During this type of screening, a company may forward some of the documents you provide — such as your driver’s license and passport — to a government agency or other trusted source. As long as you can safely assume you’re a real person, you’re likely in the clear.

Education Verification

Much like your prior employment screening, an education verification mostly serves as a tool to prove to your employer that you are qualified for your job — and that you’re not a liar, of course. Your employer will receive official records about your highest level of education, your majors and minors, and the years you were in school. Don’t even think about faking an Ivy League education; this type of screening will inform your hiring manager about the schools you attended, too.

Other Types of Screenings

In addition to the four most popular types of background checks, employers may additionally ask to verify your professional licenses, especially when required for the role, or to review your credit history, especially for roles that deal with money. Social media screenings are trending across many industries as well.

For some professions, fingerprinting may be an important part of the screening process. This can help weed out any aliases a person may have, and display an accurate arrest record. Fingerprint background checks, if not already lumped in with the criminal background check, are commonly used when employees are expected to work directly with minors to provide an additional layer of protection against violent offenders and sex offenders.

How Employers Use Background Checks

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All companies will use background checks differently. As we already noted, you may have your criminal records reviewed, but not your licenses, or you may be asked to provide a fingerprint, but not references. Take a look at these company-specific background screening details:

If you have a criminal record, rest assured that a criminal history is not disqualifying for every company. While a bank may not accept a freelancer with a history of money laundering, a public relations agency might.

Even basic details may be looked at differently based on who’s doing the review. For example, your date of birth can be disqualifying for one, but skimmed over by another. A high-level position may hone in on employment background checks. Small businesses with many contractors may do a simple public records search and LinkedIn review to save their budgets.

Worried about discriminatory hiring practices? Don’t worry — there are some legal protections in place. For example, employers cannot see your credit score when looking at your credit report. There are even incentives in place to encourage businesses to hire ex-offenders, including convicted felons.

Before running a background screening, employers should ethically and legally ask for your permission first. If you are uncomfortable with the type of information an employer would like to see, you may choose to forgo the opportunity.

Completing Your Background Check

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Completing your screening should be a straightforward process, especially with the many online background check companies available nowadays. Typically, you will just need to initiate the screening by providing a few pieces of personal information. These will often include your full name, Social Security number, contact information (including your phone number), and date of birth.

The final cost may vary based on the types of screenings performed and the background check company used, but are often in the $25 to $50 range. Some employers will cover the cost, while others will pass it on to you by taking the cost out of your first paycheck.

Background Check FAQ

With all the information you need to know about background checks covered, here are the answers to four common questions that may still be on your mind.

1. Can I view the results of my own background check?

In most situations, you will not hear back about your results unless any red flags were raised. However, some companies will disclose the results with you upon request, or you can manually perform a free background check on yourself to get a taste of what your employer will see.

The only exception is your credit check. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, it is your right to review your credit information for accuracy.

2. How much of my history will my screening show?

This is up to the discretion of your employer, but most choose to limit it to 10 years or less. The depth of the screening, regardless of time frame, is also up to the discretion of your employer.

3. Will my background check affect my credit score?

Most screenings for employment will not affect your credit score, as these are usually considered soft inquiries.

Only hard inquiries will affect your credit score, but these typically will only occur if you’ve requested a credit card or loan, not from employment screenings.

4. How long does it take to receive results from my screening?

The majority of screenings will only take a week at most, while more in-depth screenings may require up to a month.

Go Into Your Background Check With Confidence

Now that you have a greater understanding of common background checks and how employers use them, we hope you feel prepared for this simple, but crucial aspect of employment. No matter your history, there is a job out there for anyone who doesn’t try to fool the process.

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