Employer’s Guide to Employment History Checks

It's a fact: job seekers often lie on their resumes. According to a 2017 survey conducted by executive search firm OfficeTeam, 46% of workers know someone who has lied on a resume. When the company asked the same question in 2011, only 21% of respondents said they knew a resume liar. 

While these untruths 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. Specifically, job seekers are dishonest about work 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 work experience, at least in part. Employers prefer individuals with work histories reflecting the ability to perform the job. If candidates lie about their previous positions – whether by embellishing job responsibilities, tweaking position titles to make them sound more impressive, or fabricating jobs – how can employers make informed decisions about whom to hire? 

For all these reasons, employment history background checks are a key component of any pre-employment screening process. By conducting these verification checks, employers can ensure that their candidates have the experience they claim on their resumes – and that they are hiring people who are genuinely qualified for the position.

What are Employment History Checks

Employment history checks don’t work like criminal background checks, where you can access a searchable database for potential matches and results. There is no searchable database of the places people have worked in the past.

Instead, they manually check the candidate’s work history on their resume or job application to confirm authenticity. Background check companies that provide this type of background search will call one or more of the employers listed on your candidate’s resume and validate the information they provided with a former manager, HR administrator or other authority.

Using an employment history check, it is possible to verify most of the information typically included in the work history section of a candidate’s resume. This part of the resume will usually include names of past employers, job titles, employment dates, and responsibilities. Accomplishments typically populate the employment history section of a resume. An employment history check can verify that the candidate was indeed employed by the organization and critical objective facts like job titles and responsibilities, employment dates, and perhaps the reason for leaving and eligibility for rehire. 

Read our blog post to learn more about what’s included in an employment verification check.

What a Background Check Can See

Resume dishonesties 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 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, and credit history. While vital to the hiring process, details such as education or employment history are not part of the public record as with a felony conviction. Instead, the employers who hired them hold records detailing an individual’s work history.

While employment background checks don’t source lists of places where a candidate has worked, background screening companies can still 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. How come? The candidate has likely provided that list themselves 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 to determine which information is accurate.

Using our employment history verification product, employers can share data provided by applicants about past jobs or employment opportunities. Our investigators at backgroundchecks.com then contact the companies or employers listed on a resume to verify crucial details. These details might include job titles, employment dates, and job responsibilities. Our verification check will uncover misrepresentations if a candidate has fabricated or embellished parts of their work history.

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, former employers will not always be willing to discuss these details during a routine work history check. 

Work history verifications differ from reference checks since the goal is not necessarily to collect information about a candidate’s work ethic, character, integrity, or other “soft skills” that speak to their ability to perform specific duties. 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 they say with evidence. As a result, HR managers will typically focus on verifying or denying objective facts about past employees and avoid delving into subjective judgments.

Employers wishing to explore more subjective opinions of a worker’s job performance, dependability, character, and ability should perform professional reference checks. When a candidate provides a list of past managers, 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 considerable detail.

You can also order reference checks from backgroundchecks.com. We will perform them on your behalf, alongside job history background checks, criminal record screenings, and whatever types of pre-employment background check service you may require. For instance, 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 stretch the truth on various facets of their resumes. Verification background checks can put all the details provided on a resume under a microscope to inform prospective employers whether they can safely hire a candidate based on a resume.

Process to follow

How do employment verification checks work, and how should hiring managers implement them as part of a pre-employment screening process? Read on for a brief rundown of the steps you should take before, during, and after the background check process.

  • Create a background check strategy for the vacancy you need to fill. 

To avoid accusations of discrimination or unfair hiring policies, employers must enforce background check requirements consistently for all candidates (or at least all finalists) for any position. So, it is essential to decide upfront 1) how many finalists you’ll advance to the background check stage and 2) what specific types of background checks you’ll require for those candidates. In other words, if you to three finalists for a position, you must have the same vetting criteria – including background checks – for all three candidates.

  • Decide when in the process of running the background checks.

In many places, ban the box laws have delayed when employers are allowed to ask candidates about criminal history. Those delays also apply to criminal background checks. Some ban the box laws delay criminal history inquiries until after the first interview. Others delay it until the employer extends a conditional job offer to their first-choice candidate. While these laws don’t apply to other types of background checks – employment verifications included – many employers simultaneously handle the whole background check process. Regardless, deciding in advance when you will run your employment verification checks will make it easier to plan their logistics.

  • Choose a background check provider

While some hiring managers take it upon themselves to contact a candidate’s past employers, the fact is that this process can be extremely time-consuming – especially for someone not familiar with the ins, outs, and etiquettes of employment history background checks. Choosing the right background check provider will save you time and deliver superior results, all at the same time. At backgroundchecks.com, we have a strong track record for providing outstanding employment history checks to our employer clients. We hope you will consider us a possible collaborator for your employment screening process!

  • Decide which employers/jobs to check

Especially if you’re hiring for a higher-level position, there is a chance that your best candidates will have half a dozen jobs (or more) behind them by the time they apply to work for you. In the past, it was common for American workers to spend entire careers working for a single company. Now, people tend to move around a bit more, which can complicate matters for employment history. Because background checks to verify employment history take time – and because they cost money, usually on a per-employer basis – it probably doesn’t make sense to verify every job listed on a candidate’s resume. Instead, you should choose the job or jobs that have the most bearing on your hiring decision and verify those. Usually, the best practice is verifying the most recent employer and any outstanding past jobs – such as big-name companies.

  • Get permission

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a federal law that all employers must follow when using background checks for employment purposes. The FCRA stipulates numerous rules employers must follow to protect their candidates’ privacy and rights. Chief among these rights? Employers must notify a candidate of their intention to conduct background checks and obtain express written approval. These rules apply to criminal history checks and any background check – including employment history verifications.

  • Move forward

Once you have FCRA-compliant permission from your candidate to proceed with your background check process, you can proceed with your work history verification. At this stage, it’s advisable to enter the work verification process with an idea of how you might react if the check identifies “red flags.” Most employers use the background check of employment history to determine whether candidates were lying on their resumes. Read our blog post, titled “How To Check Employment History and Uncover the Top 7 Resume Lies,” to learn more about some of the most common types of dishonesty that crop up on resumes. 

Do remember, though, that each background check finding should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. For instance, minor discrepancies in employment dates or job titles can be chalked up to natural inaccuracies in human memory. On the other hand, more serious and overt inaccuracies – such as when a candidate is caught lying about having worked for a specific employer – can be taken more seriously. 

Best Practices

Why is it important for employers to verify employment history as a key step of any hiring process? The answer is simple: In most hiring situations, employers base their decisions on a candidate’s professional history. Education, professional licenses or other credentials, and interview demeanor do matter; however, the top factor most employers seek is professional experience directly transferrable to the job at hand. 

For instance, an airline hiring pilots understands that it needs to find people who are qualified, licensed and experienced in the cockpit, lest it risks the safety of its passengers. As such, airlines will utilize a lengthy list of background checks – including employment history verifications – to vet their prospective hires.

Candidates understand the weight that robust and relevant work experience carries for employers, and sometimes they take advantage of this fact by lying about their past jobs. These inaccuracies can be minor – slight discrepancies in employment dates – but they can also be serious. If a candidate fabricates entire parts of their work history, it can be the difference between someone who looks like a qualified applicant on paper but is indeed woefully inexperienced.

The mere reality that experience matters in any job situation explains why an employment history verification matters for many hiring situations, but there are other reasons too. Read on for more detail about why verifying past work experience is a best practice for employers.

Negligent Hiring Claims

Employers are responsible for providing their personnel with a safe workplace. A big part of that responsibility is preventing situations where there is a good chance that an employee will harm other workers or members of the general public. In cases where employers fail in their obligation to take reasonable care of their employees, negligent hiring claims can arise.

In essence, negligent hiring is a legal claim made against an employer after an individual is injured in some way by someone the employer hired. A negligent hiring claim argues that the employer could have somehow predicted or foreseen the danger posed by the employee in question. Usually, negligent hiring claims hinge upon background checks, as they provide a window into a prospective employee’s past – and, therefore, give details on that person’s behavior, competence, or past misdeeds. 

In most cases, conversations about negligent hiring surround criminal background checks. For instance, suppose an employer hires a new employee without conducting a criminal background check. One day, the employee assaults a customer. Investigations reveal that the employee had a history of assault in their background. In this case, the victim would have a strong case for a negligent hiring lawsuit because the employer would have known what risk the employee posed if they had done their due diligence in running a background check. Most employers run criminal background checks on all new hires to avoid such situations. Many companies even use continuous criminal monitoring to look for incidents that arise after a person is hired.

While the most severe negligent hiring claims often come up around criminal background checks (or lack thereof), negligent hiring can also apply in the case of employment verification checks. For instance, a factory worker can inadvertently cause injury or death to a colleague if they don’t have the skills or experience necessary to work safely in a higher-risk work environment. If the victim/the victim’s family can prove 1) that the worker who caused the accident was incompetent and 2) that the employer should have known about the worker’s incompetence, they may have a successful negligent hiring claim on their hands. So, if the worker fabricated relevant work experience, and it caused or contributed to the accident, and the employer could have reasonably known about that incompetence through a work history verification, the victim would have grounds for a lawsuit. 

Thorough work history verifications to assess a candidate’s competency are essential in the hiring process. Competence isn’t just valuable to employers who wish to maximize productivity and morale but also matters to the safety of the workplace. As such, employers should consider running work verification checks in their due diligence process.


Employment history verifications, criminal background searches, and other pre-employment screenings are valuable in helping hiring managers make the best hiring decisions possible. However, employers need to understand that there are rules and regulations when using background checks for hiring purposes. Perhaps most notably, these checks are governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a federal law designed to protect people from invasions of privacy and other infringements by regulating how the information in consumer reports can be used.

The FCRA incorporates various rules about background checks. First, employers are not allowed to conduct background screenings on their candidates without disclosing their intention and obtaining written consent. 

Second, if an employer decides to use the information found in a background check report as grounds to disqualify the candidate from job consideration or rescind a job offer, they must explain the decision to the candidate in writing and provide a copy of the background check report. 

Third, the candidate must be able to respond to and dispute the background check report. Other rules abound for how employers must present disclosure and consent forms, how much time must be given between notification of adverse action and hiring another candidate, and more.

Failure to comply with these rules can be a costly mistake. FCRA lawsuits are more common than many people realize, and sometimes they can arise for oversights as minor as issues with the background check disclosure and consent forms. Simply put, before proceeding with a background check – whether a work history verification screening or a reference check – employers should abide by the FCRA in every way possible.

Common Pitfalls

When vetting candidates for job purposes, several pitfalls can emerge. Here are some of the biggest ones and what employers can do to avoid issues.

  • The candidate lists employers that are no longer in business: A pitfall with employment verification checks, mainly when a candidate lists a past employer that is no longer in business. Unfortunately, there’s no easy workaround for verifying a candidate’s employment at an entity or organization that no longer exists. Your best bet is to focus on the other parts of the candidate’s employment history.
  • You have personal ties to your applicant: Personal ties to job applicants may cloud judgment when reviewing background check results. Being objective about your candidates is hard when you have an existing connection with them. Hiring managers might be more or less likely to judge a candidate’s background check results harshly if they know that person and have preconceived notions about them. Alternatively, if a friend applies for a job, you might feel more inclined to skip the background check process than you would be for other applicants. In the interest of fairness, it’s essential to get past those personal ties and proceed with your hiring protocol as if you had never met the candidate in question. Hiring managers who cannot do this might do their best to hand off hiring duties to a colleague, at least partly.
  • You end up with poor performers: Studies have shown that C-level managers spend an average of one day per week managing poor performers. This statistic alone is enough to justify a thorough background check process, particularly a robust employment verification and reference checking stage of that process. Checking job history, experience, work skills, and professional accomplishments can help you avoid poor workplace performance, saving you significant time and headaches.
  • Not vetting every hire thoroughly: Most employers know that investing in recruiting, hiring, training, and onboarding a full-time employee, demands hiring the right person. But what about part-time employees, seasonal staff, or temporary personnel? These workers are too often discounted in the background check process, but they can still impact a company’s productivity, efficiency, culture, and overall functionality. There’s a reason why screening agencies remind businesses to check their summer hires. All new employees should undergo a thorough background check to ensure the best engagement possible. A summer employee or part-time worker could evolve into your next full-time hire. The likelihood of that shift happening is higher if you screen your employees before hiring. Read our blog post, “Don't Overlook the Importance of Screening During the Seasonal Hiring Rush,” to learn more about the importance of background checks for all types of hiring.


Does an SSN check show employment history?

At backgroundchecks.com, we include Social Security Number validations in some of our checks to verify identity, generate lists of potential aliases or past names, and provide address histories. However, an SSN check does not show employment history. No background check will generate a list of a candidate’s past jobs. Instead, the applicant needs to provide that information (via job application and resume), and then we can use other channels to verify individual jobs on that list.

Can employment history be verified in a background check?

Employment history checks work by contacting previous employers directly to verify the work history information that a candidate provided on their resume. Usually, a previous supervisor or an HR manager can speak to the candidate’s job titles, employment dates, work responsibilities, reasons for leaving, and hiring eligibility. Note that employment verification checks work on a one-by-one basis. If you want to verify three previous employment engagements, in other words, you will need to order (and pay for) three individual verification checks.

Can employers search for job history?

Contrary to popular belief, background checks cannot reveal past employers. There is not a searchable background check database that can deliver a list of all the places a candidate has worked in the past. Instead, each applicant must provide this information on their resume. The employer can then check individual jobs on the work history list to confirm they’re genuine and verify details like job titles, employment dates, and more.

How do big companies verify your past employment history?

When you hire a background check company to verify a candidate’s employment history, you essentially hire us to contact previous employers and enquire about that candidate. Most past employers will be willing to discuss some information about past employees, including confirmation of employment, their job title and work responsibilities, and the duration of their employment.

Be sure. Be confident. Be fast, efficient, and consistent.

Avoid errors and omissions with backgroundchecks.com

More than 17,000 small and mid-sized businesses screen job candidates through backgroundchecks.com