For an employer, a background check on a potential candidate can yield only good news. If the potential candidate comes out clean, it's great. If the background check comes up with incriminating information, the employer will have saved himself/herself a lot of trouble. Either way, a background check works out to be a win/win situation for the employer. Employers ranging from old age homes to large corporate houses are being increasingly cautious about the people they hire. Hiring the wrong candidates could prove to be costly for employers that have not been thorough in background checks.

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, the disabled and the elderly. This is to prevent abuse, kidnapping or endangering the lives of these vulnerable groups.

Take the case of New Zealand's Te Rito Henry Miki, who was under extended supervision after his conviction for assaulting a 14-year-old boy. 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 16. A lack of reporting and improper background checks are cited as reasons for this.

Potential employers are making criminal and identity verifications requirements to rule out security concerns related to terrorism. This is particularly true of financial institutions that need to know as much about their employees as they do about their customers. These institutions usually hire third parties that scan a variety of databases as part of their background checks. Some of the resources they would scan include Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) and Blocked Person lists maintained by The Office of Foreign Assets Control OFAC, the European Union's consolidated list, 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 hospitality tend not to do many background checks. Most other industries, however, conduct in-depth background checks on job candidates because they will be liable for damages for things the employees might do during their employment. Employers conducting background checks will go through publicly available records, most of them generated by the government. They will 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 would include Social Security numbers, driving 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 will depend 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 will have potential candidates sign a waiver before they undertake a background check. Some records in particular, such as medical, education and military records require the consent of the owner of the records. The army is allowed to release military records even without the acceptance of the applicant, but will do so only under special circumstances.

Employers can seek information from former employers regarding date of joining and leaving, 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 through agencies. 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 his or her 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 can remain on a person's record.

Employers can also conduct background checks through Internet searches. Google will often yield a minefield of information. Applicants need to think twice before they post inappropriate pictures of themselves on Facebook or Instagram.

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

If you are going into 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 indeed factual. If it is not, be sure to report it to the agency concerned 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 as to whether it is a minor or major violation and check the appropriate boxes in your interview application. Misconstruing the seriousness of the offence may result in your future employer thinking you are lying. You should also inform your neighbors and associates that they may get calls for references from prospective employers.

The Bottom Line

After all, 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. It is important you 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.