Background Checks for Candidates

Brittany Watson
piece of paper with checkboxes and a blue pen sitting next to a checked box

There was a time when you could simply walk into a business and ask for a job. If the boss liked you, you’d be invited to start working the next day to “see how you get on.” Things aren’t so simple anymore. Every step of the hiring process has been digitalized and departmentalized to help employers sift through a large number of candidates and ensure that the person they hire is the perfect fit. While modern-day hiring processes benefit both employers and candidates, there can be some ambiguity along the way, especially when it comes to the background check.

Most employers now perform background checks to avoid the liabilities and monetary losses involved with hiring and sometimes firing, the wrong person. But background checks benefit the candidate as well. They can help you avoid recruitment into a company or position that may not be a good fit for you. They can also help ensure that you don’t miss out on an opportunity you deserve because the other guy “padded” his or her resume.

Still, regardless of where you are in your career or job hunt, facing a background check may make you feel anxious, even if you have nothing to hide. Most people fear background checks because they don’t know a lot about them and are often afraid of going to employers to ask questions because they don’t want to appear “suspicious.” To help eliminate some of that stress and anxiety, the best thing to do is arm yourself with some knowledge, so let’s take a look at some of the basics of background check screening.

Employment Verifications

Conducting employment verifications involve reaching out to past, and occasionally your current employer, to verify basic information such as your position title and the duration of your employment. This is one of the first steps to ensure that your past experience qualifies you for the position. However, employment verifications can also tell a potential employer a lot about your work ethic, dedication, and stability. Even if some of the employers on your resume are not related to the position you are currently applying for, they may still be verified to help give your employer the big picture of your professional growth. While the questions asked of past employers varies, here are a few of the basics:

  • Dates of employment
  • Position title
  • Type of employment (full-time, part-time, temporary)
  • Reason for leaving
  • Eligibility for rehire

Pro tip #1 – If you don’t know your exact dates of employment, try reaching out to your past employer to get this information. While some small deviations in dates are typically okay, large gaps may raise red flags on your background check.

Education Verifications

Most positions have some form of education requirement, whether that be a high school diploma or an MBA. Unlike work experience qualifications which can be somewhat ambiguous, verifying education is typically a yes or no answer. Education verifications are usually performed by reaching out to the high school, college, or university you attended to confirm that you did graduate, when you graduated, and the type of degree or diploma obtained. While some employers may be interested in additional information like a GPA or whether you were on the Dean’s list, these details are not always included when verifying your past education.

Pro tip #2 – Most background checks verify your highest level of completed education. Even if you only have one semester left to finish your degree, your employer may still decide to verify your high school education instead. If you’re not sure what education to provide, list both or ask up front.


References are not to be confused with employment verifications. While an employment verification is typically performed to verify your work history, a reference is usually contacted to determine what sort of employee or coworker you were. Reference checks are often very important to employers because they provide a comprehensive look at who you are as a person, which simply cannot be conveyed through a resume or employment verification alone.

Pro tip #3 – Be sure to reach out to your references before listing them on your background check and let them know who will be contacting them, whether it’s the background check agency or the employer.

Professional Licenses and Certifications

If you provided any additional qualifications on your application beyond your basic education, such as a Microsoft Office certification or an EMT license, your employer may want to verify this information as well. Licenses and verifications are typically verified by the issuing organization or institution.

Pro tip #4 – When providing licenses and certifications on your application, be sure to include the issuing organization and license/certification number or ID.

Criminal History

Checking your criminal history is typically conducted by searching specific jurisdictions for court cases that match the personal identifying information you provided. If a court case is found, there are legal guidelines that background check agencies are required to follow to determine what records, if any are found, will be reported to your potential employer.

Pro tip # 5 – When disclosing anything about your criminal history, a good rule to follow is “if you think it might come up, disclose it upfront.” What you don’t want is for something to come up that you didn’t disclose yourself.

Motor Vehicle Report

A motor vehicle report (MVR) checks for possible driving violations or irresponsible behavior such as DUIs. These are conducted by running your license through driving record databases maintained by the state that issued your license.

Pro tip #6 – An MVR is typically reserved for candidates seeking a position that involves driving or operating company vehicles only.

Occupational Health Screenings

Health screenings are becoming a common part of the background check process. Depending on the position you are applying for, the health screening may only include a drug and alcohol test. A general labor position, on the other hand, may include a physical while a healthcare position may involve tests for hepatitis and vaccinations.

Pro tip #7 – Be prompt to respond to requests to schedule your occupational health testing. Some employers may have a short time frame in which the testing must be scheduled.

While a background check may seem intimidating at first, it’s actually beneficial to you and the company looking to hire you. As long as you are honest about the information you are providing, a background check should be nothing to fear. Check out A Guide to Common Background Check Terms for more guidance on understanding background check terminology during the process.

Disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.

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