Can an Employment Background Check Reveal Past Employers or Job History?
It's a fact: job seekers often lie on their resumés. According to a 2023 survey by resumé writing company StandOutCV, 55 percent of workers said they personally had lied on a resumé. That means tens of millions of Americans have potentially told lies to secure a job. That can leave many businesses wondering if there is any way to detect these lies using a typical employment background check.
There’s good reason to be concerned. While these lies can appear on any part of a resumé, including in the education section, the StandOutCV survey found that the two most common forms of resumé dishonesty concern past employers. Lying about prior job experience and including falsehoods in the resumé's skills section top the list of ways people are dishonest during hiring.
The trend of resumé fabrication puts employers in a challenging position. Most hiring decisions are grounded in employment history and past job experience. Employers often look for individuals whose work histories reflect an ability to perform the job at hand. If candidates lie about their past jobs — whether by embellishing job responsibilities, tweaking position titles to make them sound more impressive, or fabricating jobs — how can employers make informed decisions about who to hire?
The answer may lie in better vetting practices, but understanding what each tool can and can’t offer you is important. It’s not as simple as going online to perform an employment history search the same way you might Google to see someone’s LinkedIn page.
What a Background Check Can See
Resumé lies often leave hiring managers asking one key question: can a background check for employment show previous employers or other details about a candidate's job history?
The simple answer is no. A background check can’t return a list or access any database of a professional's jobs over the years. Most pre-employment background check services aim to uncover public record information, such as criminal record information, driving records, or a credit report. While vital to the hiring process, details such as education or employment history, do not form part of the public record in the same way as a felony conviction does.
Instead, the employers who hired them hold records detailing an individual's work history. That does not mean you have no recourse, however.
While a pre-employment background check doesn't source lists of places where a candidate has worked, background screening companies can assist employers in detecting and identifying resumé dishonesty. The good news is that employers don't need a background search to do so: candidates usually provide a list of employers while filling out a job application.
A background check company can help verify the information in the Work History section of a candidate's resumé or application. At backgroundchecks.com, we offer a background check with employment history built into the process. By contacting the employers that a candidate lists on their resumé, we help managers determine which information is true and which might fall into the "resumé lies" category.
You won't have to look far if you're wondering where to find employment background check services that will help with this problem. Using our employment history verification product, employers can share data provided by applicants about past jobs or employment opportunities, backgroundchecks.com investigators then contact the companies or employers listed on a resumé to verify crucial details.
These details might include:
- Job titles
- Employment dates (both start and end dates)
- Job responsibilities
If a candidate has fabricated or embellished parts of their work history, our verification check will uncover those lies.
In some cases, an employment verification background check will also include the applicant's reason for leaving their previous employment. It might also include their eligibility to be rehired by the same company. However, former employers will not always be willing to discuss these details during a routine work history check. Most will choose to shield themselves from any potential liability as best practice.
Work history verifications differ from reference checks. The goal is not necessarily to collect information about a candidate's work ethic, character, or integrity. Asking about these details is generally a more subjective pursuit than verifying hard facts such as employment dates or titles.
Employers could face lawsuits for defamation if they speak negatively about a past employee unless they can prove what they say with evidence. As a result, HR managers typically focus on confirming or denying only the most objective facts about past employees. Most will do their best to avoid tiptoeing into subjective judgments.
Employers wishing to explore those subjective opinions should perform professional reference checks as part of their employee background check process. When a candidate provides a list of past bosses or colleagues, hiring leaders can contact those individuals to discuss other matters. There is implicit permission from the candidate for both parties to discuss the individual in considerable detail.
backgroundchecks.com can also perform reference checks on your behalf alongside criminal record screenings and job history background checks. We also offer two other checks for education verification and checking professional licenses if there are other parts of an applicant's resumé that you want to check for truthfulness.
Job seekers sometimes invent college degrees, lie about professional licenses or certifications, or otherwise stretch the truth on facets of their resumés. Verification background checks can put all the details provided on a resumé under a microscope to inform prospective employers whether they can safely hire a candidate based on a resumé.
What if I Forget to List a Job?
If you are a job seeker, you have a significant task in front of you when assembling a resumé. There is an art to crafting a perfect resumé. That challenge often prompts some candidates to stretch the truth.
The primary purpose of resumés is for employers to identify, at a quick glance, which applicants are best suited for a role. For job applicants, the goal is to earn the employer’s recognition. While these priorities overlap in many cases, they can clash if a candidate's way of getting noticed involves flashy job titles, lying about skills or qualifications, or other kinds of resumé dishonesty.
With that said, there is another reason why prospective employees might "lie" on their resumé: omission. Perhaps, while putting together your resumé, you forget to list a job you held for six months more than five years ago. Alternatively, maybe you are deeper into your career and can't find space for your entire professional history without exceeding the usual limit of one page for your resumé. In either case, you could present a resumé that is missing jobs you have held in the past.
The first question that job seekers often ask is whether prospective employers can run a background check for employment history that will show these unlisted jobs. The answer is no: no central database compiles a list of everywhere you have worked. So, excluding one past job from your resumé doesn't mean your hiring manager will immediately find that information and ask why you left it out.
However, realize that employers do pay attention to hiring and departure dates when reviewing resumés. If you forget to list a job or opt to exclude one, doing so may leave a notable gap in your work history. That gap may raise some alarm bells for the employer. If a gap in your job history is long enough, it might cause a hiring manager to wonder whether you are hiding a red flag — such as being fired. Alternatively, the hiring manager might draw conclusions about your motivation and work ethic if they assume you were out of work for months or years.
Worries about the implications of resumé gaps is another factor that would sometimes lead job seekers to stumble into resumé lies. While applying for jobs, it's not uncommon for a candidate to eliminate gaps from their resumé simply by saying that they worked at a previous job for a few months longer or started a subsequent position a few months earlier.
While these seemingly minor resumé "adjustments" might seem harmless, try not to be tempted by them. Employment verifications can and will flag these resumé lies, and most employers will be far more suspicious that you lied than they would have been about a three-month gap between jobs. According to a study by ResumeLab, 65 percent of candidates caught lying were either disqualified from hiring consideration or fired from jobs they already held.
If you forget to list a job, try to be as honest about it as possible. Be accurate with your job history dates. Answer candidly if the hiring manager asks you in your interview why there are gaps in your resumé.
Familiarize Yourself With Your Employment History
To keep a full account of your professional history, you might use LinkedIn and then curate your resumé to list just three to five key jobs from that history. The other benefit of building a LinkedIn profile spanning your entire career is that it allows you to familiarize yourself with the complete scope of your employment history.
This process is a smart step for resumé writing. Taking the time to reflect on where you have worked, the positions that you have held, and the dates for each employment engagement reduces the risk of accidentally incorporating inaccuracies into your resumé. It also lets you think critically about how to best present yourself to a prospective employer.
Where in your career did you receive promotions, job title changes, or other mid-job shifts that you should note on your resumé? Which jobs that you've worked on over the years are the closest match with the job description of the position that you are seeking now? How can you spotlight your work history to get a hiring manager's attention without telling a lie or exaggeration? Spending a few days familiarizing yourself with your professional history will help you answer all these questions and give you the tools you need to put together the best resumé possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does a background check show about employment history?
Technically, no product based on public records, such as a criminal background check, will ever show a candidate's history of past jobs. The most common background check that employers run is a criminal history search. This search will uncover conviction records but won't provide a record of where the candidate has worked over the years.
The type of background check that employers use to check professional history is an employment verification check. This check takes the job candidate's work history on their application and checks the information for falsehoods or inaccuracies.
How do background check companies verify employment history?
An employment verification check involves contacting the previous employers listed on a candidate's resumé and asking them to verify the accuracy of key pieces of information that the candidate provided. Specifically, the background check company will ask about positions and titles, dates of employment, job responsibilities, salaries, reason(s) that the candidate left the job, and eligibility for rehire.
The background check company will then deliver a report to the hiring manager detailing any discrepancies between the candidate's resumé and the information its team gleaned through the verification process.
Can you lie about your employment history?
While it is possible to lie about employment history on a resumé or job application, that doesn't make it a smart idea. Employers want to know that they are hiring a qualified candidate but also want to hire someone they can trust. Even a minor lie on a resumé — such as an exaggerated job title — breaches that trust before it begins to form. A job history verification process can easily disprove lies on a resumé, making it particularly risky to be dishonest about past work.
Can an employer know your employment history?
Employers can require job candidates to submit to a variety of pre-employment background checks, including employment history verifications. A hiring manager must first notify you of their intent to conduct a background check and get your express written permission to proceed with the check.
These requirements are stipulated in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), and failure to comply can leave employers vulnerable to lawsuits. However, if a prospective employer asks you to approve an employment background check and you refuse, they may dismiss you from hiring consideration.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments