Can a Background Check Reveal Past Employers or Job History?
It's a fact: job seekers often lie on their resumes. According to a 2017 survey conducted by executive search firm OfficeTeam, 46 percent of workers know someone who has lied on a resume. When the company last asked this question in 2011, only 21 percent of respondents said that they knew a resume liar.
While these lies can appear on any part of a resume, including in the education section, the OfficeTeam survey found that the two most common forms of resume dishonesty concern past employers: job experience and job duties or responsibilities.
The trend of resume fabrication puts employers in a challenging position. Most hiring decisions are grounded in employment history and past job experience. Employers are often looking for individuals whose work histories reflect a pre-existing ability to perform the job at hand. If candidates are lying 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?
What a Background Check Can See
Resume lies can often leave hiring managers asking one key question: can a background check show previous employers and other details about a candidate’s job history?
The simple answer is no. A background check cannot return a list or database of the jobs that a professional has held over the years. Most pre-employment background check services are geared toward uncovering public record information, such as criminal record information, driving records, and credit history. While vital to the hiring process, details such as education or employment history are not part of the public record in the same way as a felony conviction. Instead, records detailing an individual’s work history are held by the employers that hired them.
While employment background checks don’t source lists of places where a candidate has worked, background screening companies can assist employers in detecting and identifying resume dishonesty. The good news is that employers typically don’t need a background search that can pull together a list of a candidate’s former employers: the candidate has likely self-provided that list while filling out a job application or submitting a resume.
A background check can verify the information provided in the “Work History” section of a candidate’s resume. At backgroundchecks.com, we offer an employment verification background check. By contacting the employers that a candidate lists on their resume, we can help hiring managers determine which information on the resume is true and which might fall into the category of “resume lies.”
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 resume to verify crucial details. These details might include job titles, employment dates (both start and end dates), and 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 job or their eligibility to be rehired by the same company. However, note that former employers will not always be willing to discuss these details in the course of a routine work history check.
Work history verifications differ from reference checks, in that the goal is not necessarily to collect information about a candidate’s work ethic, character, integrity, or other details that speak to their ability to perform the job at hand. Asking about these details is generally a more subjective pursuit than verifying point-of-fact information such as employment dates or titles.
Employers can be sued for defamation if they speak negatively about a past employee, unless they can back up or prove the things that they say with evidence. As a result, HR managers will typically focus on verifying or denying objective facts about past employees and avoid tiptoeing into subjective judgments.
Employers wishing to explore more subjective opinions of a worker’s job performance, dependability, character, and ability should make a point of performing professional reference checks. When a candidate provides a list of past bosses, colleagues, or other individuals to speak on their behalf, hiring leaders can contact those individuals to discuss other matters. There is tacit permission from the candidate for both parties—the professional reference and the prospective employer—to discuss the candidate in significant 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 verification checks for education history and professional licenses if there are other parts of an applicant’s resume that you would like to check for validity.
Job seekers will sometimes invent college degrees, lie about professional licenses or certifications, or otherwise stretch the truth on facets of their resumes. Verification background checks can put all the details provided on a resume under a microscope to let prospective employers know whether they can safely hire a candidate based on a resume.
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 resume. There is an art to crafting a perfect resume, and it’s precisely that challenge that prompts some candidates to be tempted to stretch the truth.
The primary purpose of resumes is for employers to identify, at a quick glance, which applicants are best suited for a role. The purpose of resumes for job applicants is to get noticed by the employer. While these priorities overlap harmoniously in many cases, they can clash if a candidate’s way of getting noticed is adopting flashy job titles, lying about skills or qualifications, or committing other instances of resume dishonesty.
With that said, there is another reason why a job seeker might “lie” on their resume: omission. Perhaps, while putting together your resume, you forget to list a job that 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 resume. In either case, you could present a resume 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 that identifies any past jobs they did not list on their resume. The answer is no: there is no central database that compiles a list of everywhere that you have worked in your life. So, if you exclude one past job from your resume, that doesn’t mean your hiring manager is immediately going to find that information and ask why you left it out of your resume.
However, realize that employers do pay attention to hiring and departure dates when reviewing resumes. If you forget to list a job or willfully exclude one, and doing so leaves 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 a work engagement that ended badly. Alternatively, the hiring manager might draw conclusions about your motivation and work ethic if they assume that you were out of work for months or years at a time.
Worries about the implications of resume gaps are another factor that sometimes leads job seekers to stumble into resume lies. While applying for jobs, it’s not uncommon for a candidate to eliminate gaps from their resume 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 resume “adjustments” might seem harmless, try not to be tempted by them. Employment verifications can and will flag these resume lies, and most employers will be far more suspicious that you lied on your resume than they would have been about a three-month gap between jobs. According to a recent study by ResumeLab, 65 percent of candidates caught lying on their resumes were either disqualified from hiring consideration or fired from jobs they already held.
Ultimately, if you forget to list a job on your resume—or choose not to list a job due to space concerns or lack of relevance to the career opportunity—try to be as honest about it as possible. Be accurate with your job history dates, and answer candidly if the hiring manager asks you in your interview why there are gaps in your resume.
Another strategy is to keep a full account of your professional history on LinkedIn but to curate your resume so that you are listing just three to five key jobs from that history. This approach gives you more space to delve into the parts of your employment history that you feel are most impressive or most relevant to the job at hand while leaving an easy way for employers to get a fuller picture of the jobs that you have held over the years.
Familiarize Yourself with Your Employment 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 foundational step for resume 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 resume. It also provides you with an opportunity to 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 resume? Which jobs that you’ve worked over the years are the closest match with the job responsibilities and qualifications of the position that you are seeking now? How can you spotlight your work history in a way that will get a hiring manager’s attention without telling a single lie or exaggeration? Spending a few days familiarizing yourself with your professional history will help you answer all these questions, and it will give you the tools that you need to put together the best resume possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do background checks show employment history?
Technically, no 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 it 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 work history that a job candidate discloses on their resume or job 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 resume 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 resume and the information that its team gleaned through the verification process.
Can you lie about employment history?
While it is possible to lie about employment history on a resume or job application, that doesn’t make it a smart idea. Employers want to know that they are hiring a qualified candidate, but they also want to hire someone they can trust. Even a minor lie on a resume—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 resume , 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 a work history check and you refuse, they can dismiss you from hiring consideration.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is Chief Marketing Technologist at EY-VODW.com and has over two decades of experience in digital consulting, online product management, and technology innovation. He is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments.