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How to Conduct an Employment Background Check

There are many questions not answered by a job application and resume, which is why an employment background check is an important part of the hiring process. It can alert you to potential issues with your new hire before they ever start working for your company. Learn the facts about this hiring tool, the information it can provide, and how you can use one legally and effectively.

What is a Background Check?

Also known as a “pre-employment background check,” a background check is usually done on a job applicant in the final stages of the interview process. Once you know that a worker will be a good fit for your team, performing this task can help you make a final hiring decision.

Background checks can give you a wide range of details, such as credit history and past employment verification. Depending on your job requirements and industry, your specific background check needs will vary. Most background checks are sold by companies that provide this service. 

What is Included in the Background Check?

A background check can be quite simple or very comprehensive. Some of the most common types of data that potential employers request include:

  • Criminal records check. This common background search will tell you of any criminal activity at a local or national level. Note that this won’t always give you information on civil infractions or crimes that were expunged or committed when the applicant was a minor.
  • Social security validation. This is a standard component of most employment background screenings and is vital to ensure that any job candidates can legally work in the U.S.
  • Address history check. In addition to helping you verify the information listed on a resume or job application, this check can help you perform the criminal records portion of the background screening more easily.

The background report may also check against the U.S. terror list, sex offender registries, and active or outstanding warrants. Depending on the job requirements, a credit check or driving history (if the position includes the use of a motor vehicle) may be required as well.

Steps to Take Before Performing a Background Check

State and federal laws may determine how and when the background screening may be done. If you have questions about what is legal, speak with your legal team before you start. Once you have a process in place, you’ll need the following pieces of information from the person being checked, along with their written permission to perform it:

  • Full name, including any aliases, married names, and maiden names
  • Social security number
  • Date of birth

It can save time to ask that they share their addresses from the past ten years as well.

How Employers Conduct an Employee Background Check

For your protection, it is advised that you include an employee background check form as part of the hiring process. From there, you can:

  • Check with your HR or legal department for any updates to the background screening request process.
  • Get written permission from the candidate to run the check. Let them know what information will be requested and allow them opportunities to disclose anything negative that may come up in the check.
  • Contract the services of an FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act)-compliant company.
  • Read through the report carefully, making a note of anything that appears inconsistent with the application or resume, or anything that may be troubling.

It’s up to you how you hire based on the background check information. However, there are some pieces of information that cannot be used in a hiring decision. Discrimination based on those categories outlined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is not allowed. These include age, disability, national origin, being the victim of past harassment, pregnancy, race or color, religion, or sex.

Some states don’t allow disqualification based on past felonies, either, so perform your due diligence when considering the information provided in this process.

What Can Disqualify a Candidate During a Background Check?

While a potential employer may refuse to hire based on a number of reasons, it’s legal for a company to base their hiring decision on certain things that may appear in a background check. They include:

  • Criminal history
  • Poor credit
  • Bad driving record
  • Inconsistencies with application or resume
  • Poor performance review from a previous employer


Do you still have questions about the best way to use an employee background check in your hiring process? Get your answers here:

What Shows Up in a Background Check?

Different checks will show different data. Common checks will include past employment screening, credit history, criminal history, driving records, residential addresses, and civil suits.

What Information Do I Need from Candidates to Do a Background Check?

In addition to written permission, ask for their full current and past names, date of birth, and social security number.

Do I Need an Employee’s Permission to Do a Background Check?

You do need permission if you want to hire an outside agency to run a check based on sensitive information. Refusal to give you permission may warrant their rejection from the job application process.

How Long Does it Take to Do a Background Check?

It can take between one to five business days to get a complete background check from a service that does this professionally.

Should I Perform the Background Check Myself?

While it’s common for hiring managers to look into a candidate on Google or social media, anything beyond these informal searches isn’t advised. Companies that provide background checks for a living are well-versed in the different types of searches and have tools available to them to ensure they are getting records for the right person.

Mistaken identity is common, so it’s best to leave it to the professionals. They can aggregate the data much more efficiently (and at a lower cost) than someone without experience and access.

If you’re an employee looking for work, you can pay to have a check done to see what a potential employer may learn about you. Be sure you use a company that’s vetted.


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