10 Common Misconceptions about Employee Background Checks

If you’ve applied for a job recently, or gone in for an employment interview, then you’ve probably been asked to consent to a routine background check. In many ways, pre-employment background checks are becoming as important to hiring managers as your resume, application, and interview responses. Although the background check has become a pivotal component of the hiring process, many job hunters still have countless misconceptions about what background checks are and how they work.

Here are 10 of the most common misconceptions that you should get out of your head before your next job interview.

1. Background checks are solely looking for criminal history.

When consenting to a pre-employment screening, many applicants simply equate “background check” with “criminal background check.” While employers will check your criminal history, that’s not the only thing they are going to look at. Depending on the employer, a background check might also pull up your credit history, your driving record, your civil history, and more. Employers will also take the time to verify your educational background, your job history, and any professional licenses or certifications you may have. Some background checks even include a drug test.

2. I can control the narrative of my background check with great references.

The list of professional references you hand over at a job interview can certainly help your employment chances, but reference checks are merely one small part of employment background screenings. Just because your references praise you to the moon and back, that doesn’t mean your prospective employer is going to skip the rest of the check. They’ll still pull up your criminal history, credit history, and more.

3. Employers won’t find out if I lie about job titles, salaries, or employment dates.

Embellishing a resume is such a common thing that many job searchers feel like they have to do it to compete in a crowded job market. This is a misconception itself. Part of your background check includes employment verification, where your prospective employer will contact the human resources department at your old job and ask about your job title, your employment dates, and your salary. Lying about any of these things, therefore, is a good way to get flagged as a liar.

4. An applicant is powerless to fight back against background check findings.

False. If you are ever disqualified from employment consideration based on background check findings, you have a legal right to find out why. Your employer is required to provide you with a copy of the background check that led to your disqualification, as well as to inform you in writing of the decision. While this information usually won’t help you get the job, it will alert you about any false information that is coming up on your background check, so that you can fix it before your next interview.

5. My social media profiles are off-limits to hiring managers.

While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is not a big fan of employers making hiring decisions on the basis of social media background checks, that doesn’t mean that such checks are illegal—at least not yet. Of course, an employer is not allowed to discriminate against you based on information that they are not allowed to know, and wouldn’t have known without going online. Such information includes your age, race, sexual orientation, and religion. However, in most cases, such discriminatory information is absolutely not what a hiring manager is looking for. Instead, they’re on the hunt for inappropriate photos, profane comments, or anything else that might indicate a person who is a risk to their company reputation. In other words, clean up your Facebook before your job interview.

6. All background checks companies provide the same information.

One of the biggest misconceptions about background checks is that there is a big, universal cloud of criminal history that employers pull from to run background checks. In actuality, there are many different criminal history registries out there, scattered throughout different cities, counties, and states throughout the country. Other information, from your driving history to your civil court records, are similarly scattered, which means that one background check may find different information than another. Different employers also use different screening firms to run their background checks, and every firm goes about the task a bit differently.

7. If I’ve never committed a crime, I don’t have to worry about the background check.

This is another big one, especially among young people. Many applicants assume that, since they’ve never been convicted of a crime, they don’t have anything to worry about from the background check. This belief is incorrect for numerous reasons. First of all—and as we’ve established—a background check is about more than criminal history. Secondly, background checks don’t always return accurate information. If you have a common name, your background check might flag someone else’s criminal record. And if you’ve been the victim of identity theft, then your credit history could be in ruins without you knowing it.

8. There are plenty of employers out there who don’t run background checks.

This statement might have been true 10 or 20 years ago, but today, it’s 100% false. With the job market as crowded as its ever been, and with employers becoming more conscious of threats and lawsuits, you’d be hard-pressed to find any employer these days that doesn’t require a background check.

9. Employers won’t hire me if there is something unattractive in my background.

While it is true that people with criminal convictions face a harder time finding jobs than those with clean records, the belief that it is impossible to find a job with a black mark on your record is incorrect. Laws are in place to prevent blanket employment discrimination against criminals, and more recent movements—like “ban the box” and expungement—are making it easier for those with criminal histories to compete for jobs.

10. There’s no way to know what’s going to come up on your background check.

One of the smartest things you can do to prepare for a job interview is to run a background check on yourself. As is mentioned above, not every background check is the same, and there are no guarantees that the information that comes up on your test check will also be reflected in your employment screening. However, running a background check on yourself is a great way to find out if there is any inaccurate information coming up on your record—before that inaccurate information loses you a job.

Don’t miss out on your dream job because you don’t understand how employment background checks work. Learn about different background checks so that you truly know what you’re up against when you go in for that job interview. Doing so will boost your peace of mind and give you a better chance of getting the job.

Still looking for a job at an organization you’ll love? DAVIS Companies specializes in finding job seekers best fit opportunities, not just open positions. If you are looking for work, take a look at DAVIS’ job openings.

About the Author:

Michael Klazema has been developing products for pre-employment screening and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com. He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.

14 thoughts on “10 Common Misconceptions about Employee Background Checks

  1. Michael,
    I was really interested in your third point about how employers will check out on your actual job titles at previous jobs. I have worked at a couple of places where my job title changed a number of times and I know that they secretary who keep s track of pay scales doesn’t keep good records regarding job titles and has no idea what our duties were. Should I worry about a prospective employer checking up on that job reference during a background check?

  2. I had no idea that employment screening companies looked at more than your criminal record. Why would an employer feel it necessary to check your credit history or your driving record? It doesn’t seen like information they should base your ability to do the job on. At least I have a pretty good record, so I won’t have to worry.

  3. I think it is so awesome that employers can actually look through so many different records, and verify information about past employment. Since you could be working there, it is important that you are seen as a trustworthy and responsible individual. Even though credit scores may seem unrelated, it actually shows how responsible the prospective employee is with their money. In fact, I would say that a financial record is just as important as a criminal one.

  4. Yes, most of the companies today are taking help of the employee background checking process to get quality employees who are both capable of doing the core job and have a clean past. So, there shouldn’t be any misconception among the applicants before applying to their dream job. I liked the last point you have written. It’s vital in every employee’s view. If you have any doubt, if there is anything against you that could be taken as a red flag, it’s better and smarter decision to perform a background checking on yourself.

    As I have gone through these kind of situations, I feel it’s the best way to know your background check results prior to someone else checks and knows your background. It will also give you so much confidence while attending interviews.

  5. I had a transportation issue come up 2/14. Spoke to Management 2/15 and asked to be taken off of schedule. 03/11 transportation issue fixed called and asked to be put back on schedule. Found out I was officially taken off of payroll by My G.M. 03/09. First shift back was 03/16. Work straight through until 03/23. At end of Shift I was told I was been let go due to adverse action a background check. My G.M. knew earlier 03/23 of this.
    I was inactive on payroll less then 30 days. Was not made aware or gave permission for this 2nd background check and had not filled out a new employment application for rehire. I was hired on 11/17/2015. I am 55 and trying not to become homeless again.
    Was it right of my employer to let me go? Did they need my permission to run check? Is unemployment benefits possible? Can I file a complaint with FTC, EEOC or any other agency?

  6. Can a “current” employer force an employee into a background check after many years of employment? What are the implications if something shows up that is negative, not necessarily criminal?

  7. Can I sue a company that did not hire me based of my motor vehicles record? They mailed me a letter stating due to your MVR I will not be able to hire you they also sent me the reason which is an court record due to driving I received a PBJ non conviction. My state driving record does not have anything on it seeing though I only had the state driving license for two months.

  8. I had no idea that you were entitled to find out why you have been denied a job because of background checks. My brother is looking for a job and has been denied a couple of opportunities and the employers did not tell him why. It is important to remember that taking the time to understand your rights and how the hiring process works can help you get the job you want or understand what you need to change so you do.

  9. I have a very common name and a felon shares the same first and last and DOB with me though our middle names are different. Once I had to send my ID to the background check place to clear it up. Apparently this is common. With the rampant use of background checks is common sense starting to come into play more? As the date of the criminal with my name gets older it becomes harder to prove where I was or wasnt at the time. I ran an NCIC on myself and carry with me. How can I address this up front? The state criminal version lives in has been less than helpful at any sort of not me letter. Do people understand common names and do more in depth searches. Funny enough, i have a job that does fingerprint based checks so this wasnt an issue. I am terrified to try and find another apartment though

  10. I have recently applied for a job in California. My interview went excellent and I agreed to a California background check. Knowing I had previous convictions years ago I disclosed the information in my interview. The employer chose to go ahead with it anyway feeling I was a good fit for the position. Four days later I received an email with a document to approve a background check in Nevada. I had lived and worked in Nevada for nearly ten years, but that information was never discussed or disclosed on any of my previous paperwork. Is it safe to say that the information of my residence and work history came up through their background check and if so, safe to say they wouldn’t waste their time running a check through another state if my California check came back with information that would deter them from hiring me?

  11. I would like to know what does it mean in the summary of my background check. When it says disqualifying crimes and or negative actions and it says no next to it what does that mean?

  12. I have a question, if the company you are working for changes their name do you have to get another background check?

  13. I have a question, if you worked for a company in 2010, in the file it says, “ not rehire-able,” after 7 years it’s still in your file, is that legal? And they won’t say why he is not rehire-able. Please help

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