By Rebecca Gray
Due to a highly competitive market, finding a great job posting or even landing an interview doesn't necessarily mean you've got it made. Another applicant with matching skills could win that coveted spot based on how they conducted themselves years before. Background checks have become common fare for companies of all sizes—and though the extent each potential employer delves into your private business may vary, there's a very good chance they'll be looking.
In order to be prepared it's important to understand what companies are looking for, and why. But first, know your rights; for potential employers to be able to seek out extensive personal information they must first have written consent from you. Do you have the right to decline? Sure. Will you get the job if you do so? Probably not.
Why Companies Do Background Checks
It's an employer's market. Depending on the specific job you seek, there could be hundreds or even thousands of applicants to weed through. Human resource search filters can sift through the most basic requirements, yet the more promising candidates could have very similar skills and education levels. Background checks are a great way for companies to make discerning choices.
Fact or Fiction? Embellishing your qualifications or history on a resume is never a good idea. When companies take even a cursory glance at the “facts” and find fiction, they will quickly move on to other applicants. If you are well-suited for the job (at least on paper) then you may be subject to a more extensive background check before the interview, or after.
What Are Companies Looking For?
Each organization has its own set of priorities, ethos, etc. But on the whole, most are looking at key aspects such as:
- Legal Standing: Prior arrests might not prevent you from being hired, yet employers will most certainly take note of past legal issues such as DUI's, workplace litigations, stealing, anger management issues, and more. Note that juvenile records are not accessible, yet adult records are. The extent that companies can search for felony and misdemeanor issues can vary from state to state. In addition, prior driving offenses usually prevent applicants from being able to obtain special licenses and permits.
- Fiscal Responsibility is another topic of interest to most companies. A standard search will most likely include credit history and loan defaults. A prior bankruptcy will not necessarily prevent a company from hiring you but it could be the one negative component giving another candidate that leading edge. Employers also need to be able to trust that new employees will be able to care for work funds and budgets in a responsible manner.
- Drug Testing is another common component of workplace background checks, though consenting to take one is usually done via a separate form. In addition to pre-hire testing, many companies also reserve the right to test at random intervals and also if an employee is injured on the job. Testing is set up through the prospective employer and normally paid for by the company, as well.
- Specialized concerns will most likely vary, depending on the company. For instance, any educational institutions or childcare facilities will take particular note of any child abuse allegations. And companies offering expense accounts will doubtless look at an applicant's credit history quite closely.
What Are Your Rights?
Background checks are especially frightening to anyone who's had trouble in the past. However, time can help lessen the damage of past mistakes. For instance, collection notices and civil arrest records are not reported after 7 years. Bankruptcies are not reported after 10 years. But according to Privacy Rights, high-paying jobs with salaries higher than $75,000 a year will draw higher scrutiny of applicants.
Though background checks can feel incredibly invasive and daunting, they are sensible tools to help employers hire wisely. Remember that most credit and legal problems can be wiped clean in time, yet such missteps can be problematic as you seek employment.