Conducting a Background Check

When it comes to hiring a prospective candidate, knowledge is power.

While a resume may help employers identify desired skill sets and qualifications, it’s not until a background check is conducted that employers truly know who they’re dealing with.

Even with skill and personality assessments, there are certain patterns of behavior that only a background check can reveal, granted the employer knows how to analyze and dissect the vast multitudes of data included in a typical background check report.

Because of the complexity revolving around background checks, we’ve put together an article that includes everything you need to know about background checks and how to utilize them for the best results.

What is a Background Check?

At its core, an employee background check is the process by which an employer makes sure that a candidate is who they say they are, and that they’re not a threat to the safety of current employees and culture of the company.

To do this, employers examine a candidate’s past for things like previous jail sentences, civil records, achievements in education, previous jobs, etc.

While these items may not be directly related, they are instrumental in determining the “fitness” of a candidate and whether they have the skill set and personality traits they say they have.

Why are Background Checks Important?

As mentioned, one of the main reasons employers conduct background checks is to ensure that a candidate is not a potential threat to the company.

It’s important for a company that is looking to hire to do their due diligence and exercise good judgment when both choosing a background check provider and evaluating a candidate’s criminal record; otherwise, you as an employer will not only put the safety of your current employees at risk but also the entire business as well.

In some cases, failure to perform an adequate background check can put the company at risk for legal action, this sort of situation can end up costing millions of dollars, which for many companies, would be an irrecoverable blow.

How to Perform a Background Check

When it comes to performing a background check, there are certain rules and best practices that employers should abide by to get the best results.

Below are some common rules and strategies for conducting a background check:

Create a Background Check Process

To make sure that everyone involved in the hiring process is on the same page, it’s important that the process of performing a background check is officially documented and reviewed by the team.

By creating an official process, employers can minimize the risk of missing important steps, which will prevent legal issues down the road.

Additionally, with everyone now acquainted with the process, the background check of a potential candidate can be completed much quicker, which will help make the onboarding process more efficient.

Communicate with the Candidate

In cases where a background check will be conducted, it’s important to acquire the candidate’s permission before the report is run. Information related to bankruptcy, civil suits, and credit scores are protected by law.

However, items such as criminal convictions or anything else in the public domain is typically fair game for employers to examine.

Additionally, by talking to the candidate about the background check, the candidate will have an opportunity to explain anything that might exist on their record. In many cases, candidates might have errors on their background reports due to circumstances such as identity theft, which for many candidates, prevents them from obtaining employment.

Know State Laws

Knowing your state’s laws is a vital component of conducting a background check, as some states don’t allow for arrest records or credit history to be used in a hiring decision.

As such, it would be wise for employers to receive legal advice on how to navigate local laws before conducting a background check.

Find the Right Accredited Consumer Reporting Agency

One of the most common ways to conduct a background check is to outsource the process to a specialized, external agency.

It’s important to note that when using a background check service, they must abide by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), as nearly all background checks are governed by this piece of legislation.

Failure to ensure that the service provider is FCRA compliant could result in legal action taken against your company and the service being used.

Having an applicant tracking system that integrates with major background check providers will make your life a whole lot easier, saving you both time and money during the hiring process.

Know What to Expect

When conducting a background investigation, the below reports are commonly included in a background check:

  • Criminal Records Check – A criminal records check provides companies with both national and county records documenting the criminal activity of the candidate.
  • Social Security Validation – This report ensures that the candidate’s social security number is legitimate, while also providing information such as date of birth, previous names, and other information that is associated with a social security number.
  • Address History Check – Background checks will also provide employers with a complete list of where the candidate has lived, which will be helpful when cross-checking information across different reports.
  • U.S Terror Watch List Check – Nearly all background checks will inform employers if the candidate is on the U.S terror watch list. This information is especially important for companies that handle sensitive materials with foreign countries.
  • Sex Offender Registry Check – Included with most background checks is a sex offender report, which will indicate whether the candidate has a history of inappropriate sexual behavior.
  • Driving Records – For industries that require lots of driving (e.g., trucking, shipping, pizza delivery, etc.), a background check is an absolute must as it will provide a record of the candidate’s driving history.
  • Student Transcripts – A common practice amongst those looking for employment is to exaggerate certain details on their resume to give themselves an advantage over the competition. One of the most common qualifications that candidates lie about is where they went to school, which a background check will help clarify.
  • Credit Report – As mentioned above, a background check will also include a credit report history of the candidate (with the appropriate permission), this provides some insight on how well the candidate can manage personal responsibility and how they treat money.
  • Military Service Records – With permission from the candidate, an employer can obtain information on the candidate’s history in the military. This information can be vital for companies looking for a specific personality type or for companies that have a need for an employee with a specific skill set related to military activities.

Review the Results

Once a background check has been run and you have all the information, it’s time to review the data and make the hiring decision.

With so much information on hand, getting lost in the details is a real concern for those doing the analysis. However, by creating a process and defining the criteria by which a candidate’s background will be analyzed, you can prevent perfectly good candidates from falling through the cracks because of a slight mishap on their report.

However, caution is advised for those with serious past issues, as first and foremost, you as the employer are responsible for the safety of all your employees and your organization.


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