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Job Hunters: What Does a Background Check Mean to You?

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It costs a company a great deal to train a new employee so they want to make sure they hire well.  One of the steps to do so is adding background checks to the hiring process.  Of course the information age makes it possible at a reasonable cost.

What is in a Background Check?

What is included in the background check may vary from employer to employer and even by job role.  One of my previous employers had a more extensive screening of applicants in the Finance field than other positions.

This list includes common information that may be part of a background check.  Some are public records easily obtained by anyone.

What is Not Included with a Background Check?

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) has national standards for employment use but it only pertains to outside agencies; not situations when the company performs the background check internally.  This law doesn't allow bankruptcies over ten years old to be reported or other negative information after seven years with the exception of criminal convictions.

Other states have stronger laws.  California has the California Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act (known as CA ICRA)which limits even the reporting of criminal convictions if over seven years old.  You will want to check what's legal in your state.

Preparing for a Background Check

They say the best defense is a good offense.  In this case that means you should do a background check on yourself before potential employers do.

Get your credit report and review it for errors.  Contact the reporting agency and/or the creditor to correct any mistakes.  Request your driving record from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Check court records to make sure paperwork completed for any past cases are correct.  For example, a charge reduced to a misdemeanor may not have been carried out in the records.

You may even decided to pay for an outside agency to see what would be reported.  If you know negative information is likely to come to light, inform the employer before they find out from a report.  This gives you an opportunity to provide context.  For example, many people have negative credit reports due to financial problems after job loss the past couple of years.  Put a personal face on it in advance and explain the situation.

Keeping it in Perspective

It's normal to have a strong emotional reaction to someone researching your personal information.  We all cherish our privacy.  However the majority of job seekers easily pass this screening.

Being preparing for this growing hiring practice might just give you the edge… and the job!  Have you had a background check by an employer?

Photo courtesy of Robert S. Donovan

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