To pass a background check, you will likely need a clear criminal history, clean driving records, acceptable credit bureau reports, no tax lien problems and no other disqualifying issues, depending on the duties for which you will be responsible. While some of these items may be beyond your ability to address after the fact, you can clean up or improve other areas. Your prospective employer is required to notify you, in writing, that you will be subject to this check, but you can do a lot to improve things even before you apply for the job.
Investigate Your Finances
Employers will likely investigate your financial picture as part of a background check, especially if you will handle money or will need to be bonded. Pull your free annual credit report from Annualcreditreport.com and look closely for any discrepancies. File a credit bureau dispute for any error as directed by the website. If you have old, unused accounts, close them. If you have any tax debt or liens, contact your county collector or the IRS to arrange a payment plan that will show you have it under control. While your financial picture may not always immediately disqualify you from a position, it could give you a competitive advantage if it shows you manage your finances well. According to the Federal Trade Commission, if you are not hired based on a public record or financial issue, your prospective employer must tell you the specific reasons and provide you with contact information for the company or agency that supplied the information, so you can dispute its findings.
Gather any information that could help your case if you are not hired because of something on your background check. If you have disputed a credit file, save your documentation, as it can take over 30 days to get the records corrected. Save tax receipts, paid speeding ticket or tax lien receipts and other documentation of things that could come up. Investigate your college transcripts for accuracy and contact the school if you find an error since, according to Careerbuilder.com, your employer could verify your grades, courses and other information. Give exact employment dates and have documentation such as a letter of recommendation or other proof of employment, especially if the company is no longer in business. Contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles and order a driving record, then request corrections if you find errors.
Navigate the Online Minefield
According to the online business publication Execunet, around 90 percent of prospective employers check the candidate in a search engine and half have disqualified a candidate for the result. However, 82 percent of executive recruiters have found favorable information online about a candidate. Type your name in each of the major search engines and evaluate your digital footprint to see how you look to a recruiter. Delete negative comments you may have made about past employers on social media pages. Remove unflattering pictures and videos and replace them with material that highlights your positive traits, especially those related to the job. Forbes recommends posting answers that candidly show your job-related skills on sites dedicated to questions and answers.
Think Outside the Box
If your employer provided you with written notice in the hiring process, it may investigate your background even after you start work. Be truthful in every detail, since you may lose your job if you are found lying. Choose solid references that will articulate your strengths and subtly downplay your weaknesses, and tell them that your prospective employer may contact them. Since drug testing is a part of many background checks, avoid substances that will yield failing results. If you have a criminal record, prepare a document that explains exactly what happened and gives documentation and contact information for verification. Contact the court clerk's office to get a copy of the record to be sure it is correct and current.
- USA.gov: Credit Bureaus and Credit Scoring
- Annualcreditreport.com: Request Yours Now
- Internal Revenue Service: Apply for an Online Payment Agreement for Individuals and Businesses
- Federal Trade Commission: Employment Background Checks
- Careerbuilder: 10 Things to Know About Background Checks
- A Matter of Fact: How to Pass a Background Check
- Execunet.com: Executive Recruiters Reveal Top 3 Things that Put Candidates at Top of Hiring Slate
- Forbes: How An Online Reputation Can Hurt Your Job Hunt
- Photo Credit Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images
- HR.com: Can You Pass a Background Check?
- Big Interview: The Ultimate Guide to Passing Background & Reference Checks
- Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: Employment Background Checks: A Jobseeker's Guide
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Background Checks: What Job Applicants and Employees Should Know
- Washington State Service Corps: Guide to Criminal History Background
- CBS News: What Happens on a Pre-employment Background Check?
- Trib Total Media: Digital Footprint Can Damage Job Seekers
- Active Screening: Your Digital Footprint: What It Is and How to Clean It Up
- A Matter of Fact: A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act
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