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Friday, February 23, 2024

What Do Employers Look for in a Background Check?

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You can swear on your dog and promise up and down that you’re a trustworthy person, but chances are, a potential employer isn’t going to take your word for it. A background check for employment will likely be done before they can officially welcome you aboard. A whopping 94% of businesses perform background checks on job candidates, according to the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA).

The good news: As a job seeker, you have some protections. Employers must receive written permission from you before running a background check, and if anything in the reports leads to the company deciding against hiring you, the employer is required to inform you and provide you with a copy of the report.

Standards Vary for Background Checks

Look, no one likes having a background check for a job; even seasoned job seekers may still be concerned about companies prying into their personal information—and yes, that includes your social media profiles. After all, can you really be sure you’re as squeaky clean as you think? Maybe. Maybe not.

So what do employers look for in a background check? That depends. What dings your record for one job might not have the same effect in a different job. Meaning, if you were convicted of a crime that is relevant to the job’s responsibilities, you’ll set off a red flag. Hiring standards can vary by employer and may be regulated by federal or state law, and employment screening criteria can also vary depending on what industry you’re in.

In other words, a potential employee doesn’t so much fail a background check for employment (although a screening company might use that phrase); it’s more like a candidate fails to meet the hiring standards set by a particular employer.

That said, there are some red flags that generally make employers hesitant to hire job candidates. Read on to learn what can cause a failed background check after a job offer is put in front of you.

What Do Employers Look for in a Background Check?

  1. Criminal History
  2. Drug and Alcohol Tests
  3. Credit History
  4. Bankruptcy
  5. Driving Record
  6. Employment History
  7. Education
  8. Criminal History

Criminal records searches are used by 93% of employers that conduct pre-hire screening, according to the PBSA. But many employers take into consideration the nature of the crime and whether the job candidate received a criminal conviction.

And even then, the majority of employers (59%) only disqualify 5% or fewer applicants based on past criminal convictions, according to Sterling Talent Solutions’ Background Screening Trends & Best Practices Report—and 67% of employers said they would proceed with a candidate evaluation after finding a conviction not divulged initially on an employment application, with most saying that they would give a candidate the opportunity to explain their criminal past.

However, there are some industries where a clean record is of utmost importance; for instance, jobs that require high-security clearance will deny you if you committed a major offense or one that was related to addiction, mental health issues, sex offenses, or cybercrimes. It’s a similar situation with jobs wherein you’d serve vulnerable populations (children and the elderly), such as caregiving, teaching, school bus driving, etc.

  1. Drug and Alcohol Tests

Many employers make job offers contingent upon candidates passing a drug or alcohol test. In 2019, American workers tested positive for drug use at the highest rate (4.5 percent) since 2004, according to the annual Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index.

  1. Credit History

Have a few blemishes on your credit report? In most states, employers are allowed to see your credit history before extending a job offer. But having subpar credit isn’t typically a deal-breaker unless, perhaps, you’re applying for a financial position or a job that requires you to handle money. Another instance where your credit history might be of interest to employers is if the job allows you access to the business’ financial instruments, like a company credit card.

  1. Bankruptcies

A more thorough background check for employment will uncover bankruptcy filings, but employers can’t see on a background check the reason why you filed for bankruptcy—meaning the onus is on you to explain what your financial troubles were and what steps you’ve taken to regain your footing. Again, this will matter more for financial jobs than for non-money-handling jobs.

Most employers understand if a divorce, medical issue, or some other unexpected event caused you to file for bankruptcy, but it’s best to have this conversation in person.

  1. Driving Record

Having a couple of speeding tickets or moving violations on your driving history shouldn’t be a warning sign to employers. The exception, of course, would be if you were applying for a job that requires you to drive, since having a driving accident while you’re on the clock could mean financial or legal consequences for your employer.

If you have a DUI on your DMV record, though, be prepared to explain the circumstances to your prospective employer.

  1. Employment History

You may need to provide an employment verification letter, although some background checks automatically include a report of your employment history—a list of all the companies you’ve worked for, your job titles, and dates of employment. Thus, your resume should be free of falsehoods and accurately reflect your work history.

  1. Education

When running a background check, many employers will verify your education credentials—and some employers will go the extra mile by asking you to show certificates of achievement or awards. Assuming you were honest about your education history on your job application, you have nothing to worry about.


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