A Guide to Background Checks & Employment Verification

A Guide to the Different Types of Verification Checks

Work history; education; professional licenses, certifications, or other credentials. This information dominates the resumes, job applications, and interviews that employers use to decide which applicant is the right fit for a vacancy. Yet, when vetting candidates, many employers focus squarely on criminal history searches and don’t think as much about delving into the different types of verification. Using only a background check and no employment verification or other steps could leave you vulnerable to misrepresentations.

What if a candidate is dishonest about their job experience or qualifications? Just as importantly, is there a background check that can help employers ensure they make a hiring decision based on accurate resume information?

Fortunately, the answer is yes. There are background checks that employers can use to verify that their candidates are truthful on their resumes or job applications. Typically called “verification checks,” these screenings are useful for digging into a candidate’s past. With them, you can make sure they have the work history, educational credentials, and professional licenses they claim on their resume. 

What is an employment verification background check, though, or any other similar report? In the simplest of terms, these checks are a way for employers to make hiring decisions with the peace of mind that comes from knowing their candidate is as qualified for the job as they seem on paper.

Read on to learn more about how such verification checks work. We’ll dive into the different types of verification checks available for you to order as part of your pre-employment screening process. We’ll explore why these background checks are a valuable asset to employers. We’ll also discuss the background detail these checks provide and how backgroundchecks.com can help you navigate this lesser-known segment of the background check world.

One important thing to note: verification checks can’t necessarily reveal everything you may want to learn about a job candidate. For instance, it’s not uncommon for employers to order our employment verification check, expecting the report to verify salary history information about their candidate. Employers sometimes like to check salary history details because candidates use their past salaries to negotiate salary and benefits at a new job. 

However, a standard background check and employment verification do not include salary history information, and there are parts of the country where it’s illegal for employers to use any form of salary verification during a background check. Therefore, like all forms of pre-employment vetting, it’s vital to understand what you can and cannot do with these tools.

Employment Verification

Work history takes up the bulk of most resumes and occupies a substantial portion of the typical job application. There are many reasons for this structure, but the biggest one is that employment history typically provides the best clue as to whether a candidate is qualified for the vacancy.

Most job listings request that candidates have a specified number of years of experience working in a particular field, if not in a specific role. As a result, most employers place considerable weight on employment history when deciding to hire a person. When filling a position, the conventional wisdom is that someone who has worked a similar job in the past will likely succeed in the new role. Though not always true, it is a good indicator for employers. Additionally, an experienced candidate typically requires less training and can become a productive team member more rapidly.

For these reasons, employers need to have complete confidence in the work history information they weigh when making their hiring choices. Therein lies the substantial value that a background check and employment verification can bring to any hiring process. Let’s break down the different approaches you should know.

What is an Employment Verification Background Check?

An employment verification check verifies that a job candidate is truthful about the work history section of their resume. Consider the details a typical work history resume section contains: job titles, employment dates, responsibilities of the position, and accomplishments while working that job. All the information that an employment verification can double-check.

In other words, the primary purpose of an employment verification check is to do just what its name implies: to verify employment.

Studies have shown that 50% of resumes or job applications contain lies or stretched truths. In most cases, those lies fall on the minor side of the scale: a fibbed employment date here, an exaggerated job title there. In some cases, though, desperate job seekers may invent entire resume sections. A thorough employment verification can confirm whether a candidate has worked for the employers they list on their resume.

Beyond verifying that the employment did occur, verification checks can also drill down into a candidate’s work history in search of more nuanced resume lies. Was the candidate untruthful about their job title? Did they exaggerate their job responsibilities to make the position sound more impressive? Did they change details about their history to make their experience align more closely with the job they want now? Did they fudge a hiring or departure date to fill in gaps in their work history?

An employment verification check can flag all this resume dishonesty if it exists. Better to discover these falsehoods early in the process than to put your trust in a candidate who cannot perform at the level you expect. Hiring someone based on a falsified employment history can leave you stuck repeating the recruitment process with someone else when the initial candidate washes out. The result: more time and money spent on a hire you should get right the first time.

Steps to follow when verifying employment

How do employment verifications work? Consider these steps if you decide to include an employment verification check as part of your background check process. Once you create a process that works for your business, repeating it for every new hire becomes even easier over time.

  1. Know what you want to verify: A resume can include a long list of past jobs, especially for candidates decades into their careers. Note that an employment verification check only consists of verification for one employer. If you wish to verify multiple jobs that your candidate listed under their work history, you will order multiple verification checks eventually

    Deciding which jobs you want to verify and how many will enable you to be better prepared when the time comes to order the actual checks. Consider focusing on the positions most relevant to the position for which the candidate applied.
  2. Have the information ready to go: When we verify employment, we use the details provided by your candidate about a job they held, such as the position, the dates of employment, and the reason for leaving or eligibility for rehire, and then speak to the employer in question.

    We then make sure their accounting of that information matches what the candidate shared. Making sure you have the relevant information for each work history section you wish to verify will make our job easier as we seek to provide the necessary verification.
  3. Know what to expect: On our end, employment verification checks involve contacting a supervisor or HR professional from the candidate’s previous employers and having a conversation to verify employment information. Usually, this process takes about 2-3 days between ordering a check and us providing a report.

    However, note that weekends and holidays can delay that process, as can other complicating factors. For instance, if you’re trying to verify employment at a business that no longer exists, we may still be able to confirm key details by contacting the subject of your check and having them provide us with a W2. This process could add further time to the background check cycle, however.

Order a background check with employment verification today

Are you ready to start verifying a candidate’s work history? Check out our employment verification product page to begin ordering your first report.

Legal aspects to keep in mind

As you verify details about past employers, note that there may be some cases where legal barriers impact the information provided on your employment verification report. For instance, some states make any form of salary verification background check illegal for employers to use. Businesses may not even disclose salary information about past employees when asked in such jurisdictions.

Which details a previous supervisor might be willing to share about a subject’s character or work ethic represent a murkier area of the law. In the past, employers have been sued for libel or slander over things they said to prospective employees about ex-personnel. As a result, employers today are generally cautious about sharing their more subjective judgments of past employees.

In other words, don’t expect to get more from a background check with employment verification than confirmation or denial of the information your candidate listed on their resume. You’ll have to rely on your own judgments from an interview—and the information you can glean from a candidate’s references.

Reference verification

A work history verification check isn’t typically a good opportunity to objectively assess a candidate’s character, work ethic, and cultural fit within a business. Even so, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way for employers to uncover some of this information. If you’re seeking more subjective judgments of who a candidate is and what they are like on the job, the solution you seek is reference verification.

What is a Reference Verification?

A reference verification or reference check is a common step in the background check process. Employers use this to learn more about how past supervisors, work colleagues, educators, or other acquaintances of the subject feel about that person. It’s an opportunity to learn about a candidate’s potential strengths and weaknesses—though be aware that references may be “coached” to give positive responses.

Where employment verifications are primarily about verifying objective facts regarding a candidate’s work history – such as places they’ve worked, the jobs they’ve held, and dates of employment – reference checks lend themselves to more subjective and wide-ranging conversations about the candidate.

Typically, a reference check will touch on a candidate’s “soft skills,” including attributes like character, work ethic, dependability, communication, timeliness, ability to work as part of a team, and more. If a candidate produces a high-quality work product but avoids communication, a previous manager might share that information as part of a reference check. References can often speak knowledgeably about a candidate’s best qualities or accomplishments; hearing these positive reflections from a third party can have more value than hearing them from the candidate.

Steps to follow when verifying references

If you decide to incorporate reference verification into your background check process, keep these steps in mind to ensure you are well-equipped.

  1. Ask for references: Why can references often speak more freely about a job candidate than that person’s past employer? A reference is a person a candidate has asked to speak to on their behalf, which means they know that a prospective employer may contact that person to ask questions. In most cases, candidates provide their own list of professional references.

    There is tacit permission here for the reference to speak freely. When you wish to conduct a reference verification, the critical thing to remember is to ask your candidates to provide a list of professional references as an attachment to their resume or job application.
  2. Know what questions you want to ask: What information do you want from a reference verification that you may not find anywhere else? Again, most reference checks revolve around soft skills and are designed to give hiring managers a better idea of whom they’re considering hiring. Preparing ahead of time and knowing which specific skills, accomplishments, or attributes you want to discuss with a reference will make the reference verification process easier and less stressful for all parties. Try to keep questions consistent between references.
  3. Go in with the right expectations: At backgroundchecks.com, our reference checks are for one reference each, which means ordering multiple checks if you wish for us to call multiple references.

    Also, be aware of the timeline. In most cases, we can provide a reference check report within 1-3 business days, but that timeline can vary depending on how easy it is for us to reach different references. Not every individual has open availability, even if a candidate informs them to expect a reference check phone call.

Order a reference verification today

Visit our reference verification page to order reference checks for your next hiring process.

Legal aspects to keep in mind

In general, focusing on the references provided by the candidate should avoid most of the potential legal pitfalls of a reference check. In the vast majority of cases, a candidate won’t include someone on their reference list unless

1) they consent to that person speaking freely about them, and

2) they’ve obtained that person’s permission to list them as a reference.

There are sometimes legal barriers to reference checks. For instance, some companies have “no reference” policies, as they don’t want to open themselves to the legal liability of speaking negatively about a past employee. But if the candidate has consented to a reference check, provided a list of approved references, and has permission to list each reference, “no reference” policies and other legal hang-ups are less likely.

Identity Verification

Although it can be easy to overlook the importance of identity verification, it is an effort that most businesses should consider using as a basic element of the hiring process. The goal of this process is simple: make sure the candidate is indeed whom they say they are. It is possible for individuals to adopt aliases as they move around, potentially to dodge criminal records associated with another name. In some cases, it could even be the result of identity theft.

Verifying someone’s identity and confirming the existence of any aliases can help make the entire background check process smoother. Especially when so many checks are name-based, ensuring you have the right person’s record in front of you is vital. In many cases, there is no ill intent behind the use o an alias or a different name—but you should verify if this is the case for yourself. An alias check is the solution.

Using the applicant’s Social Security number, you can order a service such as the US AliasVERIFY to confirm whether you know everything necessary about someone’s name. This will report any aliases officially associated with that SSN in any relevant database. If your search returns any aliases, you will know you need to take some extra steps in vetting to ensure there is no negative information associated with these other names. Fast and simple, it’s an element of due diligence you shouldn’t overlook.

Legal aspects to keep in mind

There are fewer legal aspects to worry about with alias verifications because you’re simply checking names. However, you should still seek to obtain the applicant’s consent to such a search for compliance purposes. Since this step involves collecting an applicant’s SSN for use in a search, you should also have procedures in place for handling such sensitive data. Avoid potential mishaps by keeping private applicant and employee information safe and secure, away from prying eyes and potential bad actors.

Education verification

Do you require all candidates for a position to have specific educational credentials? In some cases, employers are not legally allowed to hire individuals who don’t hold specific academic qualifications. Jobs in education, medicine, and law, for instance, often require particular degrees. In other cases, employers may simply need their candidates to have at least a high school diploma or a bachelor’s degree. No matter your organization’s educational requirements for new hires, an education verification check can play an important role in your pre-employment screening process.

What are Education History Checks?

Education history checks exist to help employers verify that candidates are truthful about the educational credentials they list on their resumes or job applications. Knowing that someone has a degree relevant to the vacant position is a way to check for competency during the hiring process.

The logic is simple: a person who holds a degree relevant to the role – be it education in writing, public policy, or graphic design – will be more successful in the position than someone who hasn’t obtained the same education.

An education verification works much in the same way as an employment verification. Rather than contacting a past employer, the background checker gets in touch with the applicant’s claimed college, university, trade school, or other educational institutions. With this contact, the checker can verify key details about the subject’s educational credentials – such as dates of attendance, degrees earned, credentials received, honors attached to the degree, and more. The ultimate goal is to avoid a discrepancy in a background check performed on your candidate.

Steps to follow to conduct Education History Checks

Keep these steps in mind to help ensure a successful educational verification screening.

  1. Know what you’re verifying: Note that each education verification check through backgroundchecks.com only verifies one diploma or degree from one school. If the candidate claims to have earned multiple degrees at a single school (such as bachelor’s and master’s degrees), or if they earned multiple degrees or credentials from multiple schools, you would conduct individual searches for each degree.
  2. Recognize the difference between educational credentials and professional licenses: It is important to remember that an educational credential (such as a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or a doctorate) is different from a professional license or certification (such as a license to practice law or medicine in a particular state).

    Just because someone has a law school degree, for instance, does not mean they have passed the bar or been given a license to practice law. This difference could dramatically impact how you approach evaluating someone’s suitability for a job. You will need to use a different type of verification check to verify professional credentials.

To learn more about educational verifications or to order your education background check, visit our product page today.

Legal aspects to keep in mind

Employers are allowed to require certain levels of education in any hiring situation where they wish to do so. The biggest legal aspects to consider are those that apply to any background check, such as full compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and relevant Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance.

Professional license and certification verification

Certain occupations require workers to be formally licensed by state or federal law before they can legally hold a job in that field. Professional licensing is essentially a form of quality control in the workforce, designed to ensure that the people working certain jobs have met specific benchmarks of education and training, ethics, and competency.

Depending on the career, there may be various pathways to a professional license, including gateway exams, training or education requirements, or prerequisites that mandate a specific amount of work experience. The idea is that if a person holds a professional license, they should have a particular baseline of knowledge and experience regarding industry practices, processes, standards, codes, and more. 

Employers can and should run other background checks to determine a candidate’s suitability for any position. Still, a professional license can typically be seen as an endorsement from a state licensing body that the candidate is qualified to do the work.

Of course, just as job seekers sometimes are dishonest about work history or educational credentials, they may lie about professional licenses. Instead of taking each candidate at their word when they say they are licensed to work in a specific industry, you can use professional license checks to verify the validity of those licenses. We are proud to offer that type of background check at backgroundchecks.com.

What is Professional License and Certification Verification? 

Many jobs don’t require any professional license. However, there are many occupations where employers are legally bound to ensure the candidates they hire are properly licensed. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, electricians, counselors, and even cosmetologists fall into this category. Professional license checks are a way for employers to make sure that they are not hiring a candidate who isn’t formally licensed.

Professional license and certification checks work similarly to employment and education verifications. Where verifying a college degree involves contacting the institution that supposedly awarded the degree, verifying a professional license entails contacting the relevant state or federal agencies. Through this process, we can determine whether the candidate has indeed been licensed, whether their license is in good standing and other deeply relevant details for employers.

Steps to follow when checking Professional Licenses

Remember these tips while conducting professional license and certification checks on your candidates.

  1. Know where your requirements lie: In most cases, professional licenses are not just a “nice to have” but a “must-have.” Employers need to hire licensed workers to comply with state or federal law. As such, it is prudent to consult with your attorney to make sure you know which licenses your workers need to have for compliance.
  2. Verify each relevant license: In some cases, candidates may have multiple professional licenses. For instance, states often have different teaching certifications, depending on the level of the educational professional. An elementary teaching certification, for example, is often different from a certification for middle school or high school teaching, which differs from a special education teaching credential.

    Some teachers may hold multiple licenses, denoting experience with various grades or subjects, while others may have just one. Knowing the difference – and how to verify each license, where applicable – is essential to avoid overlooking something important.
  3. Check the dates: A professional license verification report will give you assorted information about the candidate’s license, including the issuance and expiration date. It is useful to focus on these dates to know when the candidate’s license expires and is valid. An expired license is out of step with compliance, just like a candidate with no license.

Order your professional license verification check today.

Legal aspects to keep in mind

Because professional licenses are often required as a matter of state or federal law, employers need to know if and when they must run licensing checks on their employees. Using education as an example, again, a school district would want to check for licenses when vetting prospective teachers. Still, it wouldn’t need those verification types in place for all district employees. There is no licensing requirement for a custodian, for instance.

It is also worth noting that even state licensing agencies can sometimes run afoul of background check compliance. Read this article about when a state failed to run background checks before granting professional licenses.


Verification checks have substantial value in helping employers make smart, sound hiring decisions. However, because these checks collectively cover an extensive range of qualifications – from work history to education to professional licenses – they can generate some confusion. Here are some frequently asked questions about verification checks and how they work.

Note: Also, feel free to read the verifications frequently asked questions page on our Learning Center.

How is educational background verification done?

An educational background check involves calling the educational institution where the candidate supposedly earned their credential (be it a high school, a college, a university, a graduate school, or another program) and double-checking details about the diploma, degree, or certificate. Most often, the admissions office will have this information.

Do all employers verify education during a background check?

No, not all employers include education verification as part of their background check process. In most cases, an employer will be considerably more likely to conduct an education verification check if the job description lists a specific educational degree or credential as a hiring requirement.

What is background verification, and how does it work?

A background check is intended to verify a candidate’s information on their resume or job applications. These checks can determine whether prospective candidates are truthful about their work history, education, or professional licenses and certifications. 

The verification category also includes reference checks, which can shed some light on a candidate’s soft skills and temperament. Usually, these checks involve making direct contact with someone who can verify details about the candidate, such as someone in the HR office at a previous employer, an admissions specialist at a college or university, or a representative at a state licensing agency.

What is the best way to verify someone's employment status?

An employment history verification check can verify key details about a candidate’s work history, including employment dates, job titles, and eligibility for rehire.

What does the employer verify in the background verification process?

Most employers will be hesitant to share any subjective comments about a previous employer when contacted as part of the background verification process. Companies can face libel or slander lawsuits if they denigrate past personnel to a potential future employee. As a result, employment verifications typically focus on objective facts. Whether the candidate was indeed employed at the company, what job title they held, what their key responsibilities were, their dates of hire and departure were, and whether the candidate is eligible for rehire are the key questions we ask during an employment verification.

What does a discrepancy in a background check mean?

Employers run verification checks in search of discrepancies between what the candidate provides on their resume and what is true. However, not all differences mean the same thing or will be given the same weight by the average hiring manager. 

For instance, a discrepancy in employment dates – especially if the date of hiring or departure from a previous job is only off by a month or two – could be chalked up to a simple error in memory on the part of the job seeker. Similarly, some people may remember their job titles differently from what they were.

In other cases, discrepancies are more malicious, such as when a candidate lists a managerial title when they only held an entry-level position. In rare cases, candidates may even fabricate entire portions of their resume, such as listing a job they never had or a college degree they never earned. These serious discrepancies are usually an effort by underqualified candidates to compete for jobs they otherwise wouldn’t be considered for. Employers that use verification checks do so to avoid hiring mistakes related to resume dishonesty.

How is third-party verification done for new employees?

A third-party verification simply means that the person verifying details like work history and professional licensing isn’t the hiring manager or someone else who works directly for the employer. Sometimes, it can take long for employers to track down the relevant contact information for verification checks, let alone have the conversations necessary to obtain key information points. Hiring a background check company can reduce the time commitment without cutting down on the quality of the verification check. At backgroundchecks.com, we do third-party verifications for employers in a range of industries.

How do employment verifications work?

One of the most important checks involves confirming past employment. During a background check and employment verification, we contact a candidate’s past employer based on the information you provide about that company or organization (such as business name and location). In most cases, we then have a conversation with someone in the HR department and ask them to verify several essential details about the candidate’s resume. If there are any discrepancies, we note them for you.

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