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What Do I Need to Know about Background Checks for Jobs?

Updated on August 24, 2017
"Background Check" a photo used by permission of Henry Garciga
"Background Check" a photo used by permission of Henry Garciga

How much screening do we have to worry about?

People looking for employment have to put up with lots of hassles, as I’m sure many people can attest. Employers have you jumping through one flaming hoop after another before they’ll even consider you for a job. There are drug tests, credit checks and even background checks. What’s next, a DNA check? That will come, just watch.

In the old days – the 1970s and 1980s, and even well into the 1990s – many employers didn’t bother with such tests and everything worked just fine. So why do employers think they need them now?

Of course employers have the right to protect themselves against hiring employees who have a criminal past and/or have discrepancies on their résumés. Nevertheless, it appears our society - that of the United States in particular - has become so unforgiving that if you’ve made a mistake or two in your life, employers may not want to hire you. Such “mistakes” could include workers compensation claims or bankruptcies.

Perhaps the main reason employers conduct background checks is that with the advent of the Internet such employment screening has become quick, easy and cheap. Some employers conduct background checks for jobs paying minimum wage - $8.00 per hour in California. Yes, times have changed!

Enough said, let’s investigate Background Checks:

There are some safeguards for conducting background checks. In the United States, there is the Fair Credit Reporting Act, enacted in 1970. This law regulates the use of consumer reports that can be used in hiring. Also, people are entitled to know the source of any information used against them provided by a credit report company. People must also consent before the prospective employer can obtain their credit report.

Types of Checks

Many commercial Web sites offer the employer services for conducting checks and some offer services for free. These checks include criminal records, driving records and education verification. Other searches may include the sex offender registry, credential verification, skills assessment, reference checks, credit reports, and Patriot Act searches are becoming increasingly common as well. In the United States at least, the 9/11 attacks have changed the perceived need for background checks regarding employment.

Litigation Records

Employers may want to identify employees who tend to file lawsuits for discrimination of one sort or another and/or sexual harassment. But, according to the website,, consent needs to be given before legal records can be accessed.

Driving and Vehicle Records

Employers look for drivers with clean driving records, particularly when they have a job that requires of the use of company vehicles.

Drug Tests

Many employers conduct drug tests perhaps to ensure employee reliability and performance and to reduce the possibility of workers compensation claims.

Education Records

These records provide verification for the attainment of educational degrees such as GED or a bachelor’s degree, and also SAT scores.

Employment Records

These confirm the details of one’s employment history – timeframe, rank, accomplishments, associations and behavior.

Financial Information

Credit scores, liens, bankruptcies and tax information are provided.

Licensing Records

The validity of professional licenses can be ascertained.

Medical Evaluations and Records

Medical records are not supposed to be available to screening companies, investigators or reporting agencies without the consent of the employee or applicant.

Military Records

Employers sometimes request the specifics of one’s military career and discharge.

Social Security Number

Verification of one’s social security number may be necessary in all cases. In identity theft cases, stolen numbers are often used.

Interpersonal Interviews

Interviews with people who worked with or knew the applicant may be necessary to verify details of one’s employment history.

A complete background check may address all of the above issues and even more, such as address and phone number history, marriage records and business ownership – just about everything one can think of.

What if I want to conduct a background check on somebody else?

Acting like an employer may provide some perspective. Let’s say for the sake of discussion you want to do a background check on a prospective roommate. Perhaps you suspect he or she has been convicted of a crime some years ago. Could you easily conduct a background check on this person? Of course, you could. But don’t expect to accomplish such a thing for free. Accessing Criminal Records always costs money. You can verify simple personal information but that’s about it. Also, to run a complete check on this person, you may need to access the records of "all states," a procedure that will cost even more money.

Will I be able to see if this person has ever been arrested?

According to the website, “We cannot see arrests when we conduct a search for finding out a person’s criminal history. The only condition for seeing the arrests is that the person has been convicted.” And if you’re looking for outstanding warrants, you’ll have to check with the local police department.

I ran two of those “free background checks” on myself and they provided information that was minimal and sometimes false, particularly regarding addresses and relatives. According to what I’ve read on the Internet, using free checks is not a reliable way to conduct background investigations.

Do employers use such free checks? Perhaps we should hope they do! Perhaps not. If a prospective employer says they’re going to conduct a background check on you, insist they tell you which service or services they use. If they won’t tell you, find a job elsewhere.


Now that we’re living in the Information Age, we’re awash in data of all sorts, particularly when surfing the Web. This gives just about everyone access to people’s personal information – for better or worse. If you happen to be one of those unfortunate folks who “have something to hide,” I wish you luck, because you’ll need lots of it to keep your secret. Our society, namely that of the United States, has become an unforgiving and paranoid place regarding such issues.

Be that as it may, in New Zealand the Clean Slate Act of 2004 allows individuals to legally conceal "less serious" convictions from their records as long as they have been conviction-free for the last seven years. Perhaps the U.S. should enact such legislation. Shouldn’t everybody be given a second chance? Otherwise, if you’ve got skeletons rattling in your closet and you’re looking for a job, you may instead have to go into business for yourself, become a hobo or criminal.

Please leave a comment.

© 2010 Kelley


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    • InfoFinder profile image

      InfoFinder 7 years ago

      Excellent hub about a topic that many job seekers should read. Thanks.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 7 years ago from California

      I always love it when somebody admits to being fired, not just once but lots of times. Hey, keep up the good work. Later!

    • profile image

      jared redd 7 years ago

      A great primer on the obstacles evident with re-entry

      workers who have already cycled through multiple careers.

      What is particularly problematic is previous employment with companies that no longer exist. Dislocation is a term equally applicable to both employer and employee. This inconvenient fact of our fluid economy I would weigh as a strike against the applicant. As someone who has been in a decision-making position to determine a yea or nay on a prospective hire, I would only resort to scrutiny on someone if the position was for 2 months or longer, if it involved exposure to sensitive files, or if public contact was critical to the job. I have more experience being fired than anyone I know. This must surely qualify for 'Human Resource' experience, but that's another subject. Great article!

    • yenajeon profile image

      yenajeon 7 years ago from California

      This was super helpful! Thank you!

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 7 years ago from California

      Thank you very much for your incisive reponse, eilander1542011. It is truly stupid not to give a job two someone because he or she made a mistake many years before, but that's how ridiculous our society has become. Later!

    • eilander1542011 profile image

      eilander1542011 7 years ago from Everywhere

      A great hub Kosmo, and I agree with all you say here. It has become increasingly simple for anyone to find any information on anybody they want if they have the coin to spend. This is a stupid and negative occurrence. I know of people that have not received jobs that they would have otherwise gotten, but because of minor incidents on their background checks form over 25 years ago they did not get the job. Those kinds of occurrences are stupid. But we must remember society doesn't want thinkers, society wants followers, and generally speaking thinkers tend to find themselves in trouble with society. So via the ease of background checks, great thinkers can be pushed down in society. So we thinkers must remain strong and not allow their trivial attacks of our spirits to phase us. We are each individually greater than society as a whole could ever hope to be.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 7 years ago from California

      Yes, Austinstar, there are plenty of travesties out there, and pee tests for jobs are one of many. However, I'm not sure I advocate giving IQ tests. My main point is that we used to trust each other, so what happened? Later!

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 7 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      My personal gripe is the drug screens. I don't like corporations sticking their noses in our pee.

      Personally, I wish they would institute IQ tests and common sense tests to see if people are qualified to work. So many of my co-workers can pass all of the tests they run today, but they can't even reload staples in a stapler. I have witnessed one worker trying to put them in upside down.

      Of course, if companies actually hired qualified workers, well over half the population would fail. It's a travesty.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 7 years ago from California

      Thanks very much for your compliments, folks. They are always appreciated! Yes, someonewhoknows, I would like to run a background check on a number of politicians. Later!

    • someonewhoknows profile image

      someonewhoknows 7 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      Politicians backrounds should be particularly interesting.

    • lmmartin profile image

      lmmartin 7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      I tell you, there's just plain too much information available on anyone these days. We're all goldfish in a bowl. But you're right, why are employers so leery? What has happened? Lynda

    • zzron profile image

      zzron 7 years ago from Houston, TX.

      Great topic and info, very helpful.