Things You Didn't Know About Background Checks

For an employer, conducting background checks is a valuable screening tool. If the applicant's record is clean, the employer may benefit from exploring the opportunity of employment further. If the background check returns incriminating information, the employer can quickly make an informed decision to not move forward, saving potential future trouble. Either way, a background check works out to be a win/win situation for the employer. Employers ranging from small care facilities to large corporate houses are being increasingly cautious about the people they hire. Hiring the wrong candidates could prove costly for employers that have not been thorough in background checks.

Key Takeaways

  • Background checks benefit potential employers as they can gain critical information on applicants, such as criminal history and verified identity.
  • Jobs involving children, people with disabilities, or older adults often require extensive and detailed background checks.
  • Some companies employ the services of third-party agencies or private investigators to conduct background checks.
  • Potential employers can also use the internet to gain insight into candidates' lives.
  • Job seekers should be mindful of what they post on social media as it might adversely affect their job prospects.

Background Checks Required

The Federal National Child Protection Act authorizes officials to access the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database for positions that involve working with children, people with disabilities, and older adults. This is to prevent abuse, kidnapping, or endangering the lives of these groups.

Take the case of New Zealand's Te Rito Henry Miki, who was under extended supervision after his conviction for assaulting an adolescent male age 12-16. He used fake identities (fake resume and birth certificate) to gain employment in six other schools in North Island, New Zealand. He managed to gain employment, despite being forbidden to teach children under age 16. A judge subsequently sentenced Miki to four years in jail for this violation. A lack of reporting and improper background checks are cited as reasons for this.

Potential employers also have criminal and identity verification requirements to rule out security concerns related to terrorism. This is particularly true of financial institutions that need just as much information about their employees as they do their customers. These institutions usually hire third parties that scan a variety of databases as part of their background checks. Some of the resources scanned include Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) and Blocked Person lists maintained by The Office of Foreign Assets Control OFAC, the European Union's consolidated list, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) list, and terror lists.

Background checks are conducted on managers and potential CFOs and CEOs to see if there is a hint of improper professional behavior, which could herald further impropriety on their part. Inflated records of education or false records of awards show a lack of moral integrity.

Industries That Don't Often Do Background Checks

Industries with high turnover rates, such as the hospitality industry, tend to not do a lot of background checks. Most other industries, however, conduct in-depth background checks because they will be liable for damages for things the employees might do during employment. Employers conducting background checks go through publicly available records, mostly generated by the government. They also scan social media and other digital spaces where people generally let their guards down and air their views.

Documents and sources accessed during a background check include Social Security numbers, drivers licenses, vehicle registration, driving records, credit records, criminal records, education history, workers' compensation records, bankruptcy records, character references, medical records, property ownership, military records, state licensing records, drug test records, past employers, personal references, incarceration records, and sex offender lists.

The depth of the background check depends on the nature of the job. It is critical, for instance, that someone who has a history of fraud not be employed as a cashier, or a possible terrorist employed in a defense facility.

Signing a Waiver

Employers often require potential candidates to sign a waiver before they undertake a background check. Some records, such as medical, education, and military records require the consent of the owner of the records. However, the army is allowed to release military records even without the acceptance of the applicant under special circumstances.

Employers can seek information from former employers regarding dates of hire and termination, as well as salary-related and incentive information. Former employers cannot, however, give false information or references.

The prospective employer can conduct background checks in-house by hiring a private investigator or agency. Some of these agencies work in specific areas only. Corporations with large numbers of employees may contract third parties for background checks with reports.

FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) allows for information to be collected through interviews with an applicant's associates, neighbors, and family regarding their character and lifestyle. Consumer reporting agencies, however, must make the appropriate disclosures to the customers before they collect information. There is also a stipulation regarding how long bad credit or a bankruptcy record remains on a person's record.

Special Considerations

Employers can also conduct background checks through internet searches. Google often yields a minefield of information. Applicants need to think twice before they post inappropriate pictures and comments on social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram.

An applicant's social and communication skills are often on full display on the internet. Preferences in politics, religion, and other controversial subjects should be posted with care. Metasearch engines like can throw up information in words and images from multiple sites.

If entering the job market, one of the smartest things you can do is conduct a background check on yourself through an agency. Once you see the report, you can check whether all the information is accurate. If not, notify the reporting agency and have it corrected. This is particularly important in the case of credit reports and court records. If you have a traffic violation, be clear if it is a minor or major violation and check the appropriate boxes on your interview application. The potential employer may consider you untrustworthy if you misconstrue the seriousness of the offense. You should also inform your neighbors, associates, and other listed references that they may get calls from prospective employers.

The Bottom Line

It is better to be prepared than to be ambushed and left red-faced. Background checks are a reality in today's job market. Employers are keen to get the right fit on board. You must see yourself as a brand that the employer wants to invest in and avail the services of; so, there is bound to be some checking around before they settle on you.

Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Congress. "H.R. 1237—National Child Protection Act of 1993."

  2. New Zealand Herald. "Sex Offender Teacher Jailed."

  3. U.S. Department of the Treasury. "Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Person List (SDN) Human Readable Lists."

  4. European Union: External Action Service. "Consolidated List of Sanctions."

  5. Government of Canada. "Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions."

  6. Federal Trade Commission. "Fair Credit Reporting Act—15 U.S.C. S1681," Pages 22, 34.