Employers regularly use background checks to vet prospective hires. A thorough background check can identify red flags that might pose a liability risk to an employer or details that may disqualify a candidate from performing a job legally or functionally. Here is everything that you need to know about background checks for employment.
In this article, we'll tell you about the top questions we get asked:
A background check is a look into someone’s past, which can include information such as criminal history, job history, education, and driving record.
When they are conducted by professional background screening firms such as backgroundchecks.com, background checks consist of pulling records at county courts, searching informational databases, contacting former employers and educators, and completing other vetting steps. We compile this information into a thorough report for employers.
What shows on a background check will depend on the type of background check that you order and what is in a subject’s background. A criminal history check, for instance, might show a clean record or multiple felony and misdemeanor convictions. An employment verification will verify key details about a candidate’s past jobs, including job titles, employment dates, and reason for leaving.
We advise browsing our site to explore the types of background checks that we offer. Once you’ve decided which checks you wish to conduct on your subject, you’ll need to provide us with key details, such as name, date of birth, and Social Security Number. The exact process for running a background check is similar from one check to the next, but certain checks may require you to provide different types of information than others.
For example, here’s how you would conduct a county criminal history search on a candidate:
Employers run background check on their prospective hires for a variety of reasons, ranging from due diligence to legal obligation. A hiring process can be a major investment, and employers want to get a return on that investment. Vetting a candidate to make sure they are qualified for the job at hand – and to look for potential red flags in their past that might make hiring that person a risky decision – can help an employer avoid a bad hiring decision. Running a background check provides peace of mind in the hiring process by giving the employer more information about the person they are thinking about trusting with a job. While background checks can’t necessarily completely eliminate the chances of a bad hire, they do reduce the likelihood of a bad hire very substantially.
Background check laws vary from state to state, industry to industry, and even position to position. There are certain jobs for which employers are obligated to vet candidates with background checks under state or federal law, including healthcare, education, childcare, law enforcement, and public transportation.
Even when they aren’t required by law, background checks are an essential pre-hire step for employers. Running a background check can help employers identify red flags in a candidate’s past—such as a history of sexual violence, convictions for embezzlement or drunk driving, or fabricated resume information—that may affect the individual’s qualifications or trustworthiness. Identifying these red flags ahead of time can save an employer from undue risks and legal liabilities, among other issues.
A truly “complete” background check should look beyond criminal history. Looking at a subject’s civil court history, for instance, might turn up lawsuits, judgments, and other details that call into question their trustworthiness or employability. Verification checks can check the claims that a candidate makes on their resume—from their employment history to their education to the professional licenses that they hold—to make sure that the information is accurate.
Other checks, such as reference checks, credit checks, driving history checks, and drug screenings, can deepen your understanding of a candidate and provide more peace of mind in your hiring decisions.
Familiarize yourself with laws and regulations that restrict how employers use background checks in the workplace. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), ban the box laws, and other laws in your state or local area should guide your use of background screenings for hiring purposes.
Some checks (including criminal history, employment and education verifications, and reference checks) are smart resources for every employer to use. Others are role-specific, such as motor vehicle record checks, which are necessary for positions that involve driving but not essential otherwise, or credit history checks, common for jobs in finance but not always relevant to other positions.
What you find on a pre-employment background check report will vary depending on the type of check that you conduct. Criminal history checks incorporate details about criminal charges, case numbers, and verdicts. Civil history checks include information about case types, plaintiffs, defendants, findings, and conditions. Education verifications outline details about a person’s college education, including degrees received, dates of attendance, and any honors attached to the degrees.
At backgroundchecks.com, our product pages all outline the specific details that a background check report will include and provide a sample background check report to help familiarize our clients with what they can expect from a background screening.
Here are the types of background checks that employers will often incorporate when vetting prospective hires:
At backgroundchecks.com, we offer additional background checks that can help employers improve the quality of their searches. These checks include alias and address history checks, which can identify names that a candidate has used or places where they have lived in the past. Employers can use both to flesh out a criminal history search.
Many employers start the criminal background check process by searching a subject’s criminal record in the county where that person will be working. Alias checks can reveal other names that a person has used in the past, which employers can then use to run additional checks. If a candidate was convicted of a crime before they legally changed their name, using alias checks is the best way to avoid overlooking that conviction.
Similarly, address history checks enable employers to order additional criminal searches in other counties, reducing the likelihood of missing any red flags.
We include turnaround time estimates for background checks on each of our product pages to provide our clients with a sense of how long they might take. Some of our background checks are database searches that will process instantly. Others will require us to do some more legwork, such as visits to county courthouses or calls to employers or references. These steps are harder to estimate for time, though we typically indicate that our checks will require a turnaround time of one to three business days.
You can learn more by reading our full-length blog on the topic of how long a pre-employment background check takes.
Most employers cycle through their background checks within a week to avoid keeping their top candidates waiting for conditional job offers. Since employers are competing for top talent, a quicker hiring process is an asset.
In part because of this common desire for speedier background checks, our single most popular service at backgroundchecks.com is our instant criminal database search product. Currently, this database spans more than 650 million criminal records from across the United States, as well as offender registries, national security sources, and other resources. A search only takes seconds to process and return results. We are continuously expanding the coverage of our database to ensure that it covers as many criminal jurisdictions as possible.
Keep in mind that not all criminal history background check processes are the same. For court-based criminal and civil checks, verification screenings, and several other types of background checks, the time to complete the search will increase from minutes to days.
Beyond our instant criminal history search databases, our other criminal background checks typically take one to three days to process. Checks will take more time if we have to send a court runner to collect information in person. Holidays, weekends, and other court closures can also add time to the process.
While our average turnaround time estimate for the background checks that we offer is one to three business days, keep in mind that every background check is unique and that some searches will take significantly longer than these averages.
Weekends, holidays, office closures, the need for in-person searches, and other extenuating circumstances can affect turnaround time for a background check. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, most courts, business offices, school offices, and other entities that serve as “primary sources” for our background checks closed as part of mandated shutdowns. As a result, we experienced background check delays.
There are many types of background checks that employers can use to vet prospective hires. These include:
Criminal background checks are the most common pre-employment background search. We can search criminal records at the county, state, and federal levels, as well as our proprietary database, which combines hundreds of millions of records from all 50 states, plus Washington D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico.
These checks verify the key details and qualifications that job seekers list on their resumes, including past jobs, education, and professional licenses and certifications. Reference verification checks also fall into this category.
For jobs in finance—from stock trading to accounting to financial advising—employers may wish to get a sense of a candidate’s day-to-day financial habits. Credit history checks and bankruptcy checks are ways to look into this segment of a person’s background.
Driving record checks, civil court history checks, address and alias checks, and drug screening checks are all background check services that we offer at backgroundchecks.com.
Employers should familiarize themselves with all compliance standards and regulations for background checks, including the following: