How Do Employment History Checks Work?

Do applicants for your open positions have the skills and experience you need? Conducting an employment history search is important in discovering the answer, but what does that look like in practice? See how to conduct this search and what you might find.

When an individual applies for a job, they simultaneously supply a huge amount of information to employers. Consider the average resume, which might have more than a dozen different items that require your attention. Only when you begin to drill down and separate each type of information does it become clear how much information there is to verify—especially if you want to be certain you're making a smart decision for the position you need to fill.

From the claims an applicant makes about their educational history to the places they say they've worked in the past, all this information adds up to paint a picture of the individual's skills, experience, and capabilities. All of this comes before you think about ordering a criminal background check to look for any red flags. 

If employers could review all the necessary information they need to verify by ordering a background check, the world would be simpler. However, background checks typically only involve criminal records—not the place where you'll find out whether that applicant really had the job titles they claim. 

Verifying employment history is important, but how can employers find out everything they need to know without adding too many delays to the hiring process? An effective partner providing a background check with employment history verification can be the answer—but how does such a check work? Let's discuss why you should invest in this extra step in the first place and break down what you need to know.

Why Should You Invest Time Into an Employment History Search?

Hiring candidates whose integrity you can trust is important for any business. Even in a simple retail environment, there are always opportunities for abusing the employer’s trust to steal from or defraud the business. For that reason alone, analyzing applications and resumes for truthfulness is an important step. 

More crucially, though, employment history tells you much about where someone has come from in their career. Many different jobs in a short period can be a red flag, while a few entries with long-term stays and an evolution in job roles could be a very promising sign. Someone's work history can also show you that an applicant has the potential, experience, or professional background that aligns with your job opening. From building trust to confirming skills, employment verification has key benefits.

Remember that an employment history check is not the same as a background check. They are two separate processes, though you might see them packaged together. Background checks are often automated because they pull information from computer systems and professionally-compiled databases. The process for employment verification is a little different and is not so easily automated. Let's consider why.

A Typical Process for Checking Employment History

There is no universal system that tracks everywhere someone has worked and what they did for their employer during that time. Instead, you (or the service provider you choose) need to directly contact an applicant's past employers. This is a challenging task. Someone might have several previous jobs listed on their resume, or they might have worked for a company that has since gone defunct. Regardless of the specifics, it still requires time out of the day to sit on the phone and call other companies.

Typically, you will want to speak to someone in Human Resources who has the authority to discuss prior employees. Most businesses will limit the information they disclose about past workers. Unlike a reference verification in which you ask personal questions about an applicant's reliability or skillset, this process primarily confirms the accuracy of what an applicant has already told you. Fearing the potential for defamation lawsuits and other headaches, many companies will not provide personal details about someone's time at the business.

Because it is time-consuming, many businesses will turn to a third-party, such as the partner that provides their criminal background checks, to identify employers, contact them, and confirm the applicant's details.

What Does an Employment History Search Reveal?

What could you discover if you're not likely to find out precisely how someone performed at their last job? Though you might like to find out what someone's last boss thought about their work ethic, you can still gather valuable information through this process. You'll usually aim to find confirmation for facts such as:

  • The job titles the person had while working there.
  • The date the person began working and separated from the company.
  • Specific job duties or responsibilities.
  • Salary information in jurisdictions where sharing such information is legal.

You can use this information to confirm the accuracy of an applicant's resume and the way they've represented themselves to you.

Red Flags and Signs of Concern to Note

It's easy enough to tell when someone passes this check—all the information lines up, or discrepancies are minor, such as start or end dates that are off by a few days. When should you start feeling concerned? Red flags include:

  • A business reports that the applicant never worked for them.
  • They report a different job role or title than what's on the resume.
  • The individual did not work for the company as long as claimed.
  • They made more or less money than they claimed, when applicable.
  • The individual was terminated from their position.

Now is also a good time to consider whether you need to dig deeper into the gaps on someone's resume. Short gaps are normal, especially when someone leaves a long-term position; it can take time to decide where to go next. However, lengthy gaps—especially those a year or more—could be cause for concern. Address these questions during an interview.

Operating Your Background Check Processes Legally

Generally, any legal concerns in this process fall on the employers you contact rather than the decisions you make based on that information. However, salary inquiries are one area where all employers should exercise caution.

For many years, asking applicants what they previously earned was a standard procedure. Now, dozens of states have begun adopting laws that make it illegal to ask about or consider salary information during the hiring process. Some states, such as California, require you to obtain an applicant's consent to learn salary information. Before engaging in this inquiry, be sure you understand which rules and regulations apply. 

Equip Your Business With More Information About Applicants Today

Going beyond the criminal background check to include employment verification is an important step. When you choose to hire someone, it's your right as an employer to gather and evaluate as much information as you're legally entitled to consider. By confirming the accuracy of this information, you build trust in your applicant and gain confidence about how they represent themselves.

What other types of verification should you perform, and how does a thorough process look? You can find the answers to questions like this and many others in our Learning Center. Start exploring more information now or discover how we can streamline your vetting processes with effective and in-depth employment verification.

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