What Do Employers Check for in a Background Check?

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Background checks are commonplace for new hires.
Background checks are commonplace for new hires. (Image: Patrick Ryan/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Background checks have become an integral part of the hiring process for many employers. Job seekers often have to consent to various screening procedures prior to being hired, particularly when applying for government jobs and positions that involve working with children and disabled individuals. In some cases there are state and federal laws that require mandatory screening for certain lines of work such as childcare, while in other cases employers run their own background checks to determine whether applicants' resumes contain false or distorted information and protect themselves from negligent hiring lawsuits.

Identity Verification

Verifying an applicant's identity ranks as one of the most essential elements in a background check. Employers match Social Security numbers with addresses and other data to confirm that a person is who he says he is. This helps companies avoid hiring frauds with aliases.

Criminal Records

Background checks also review applicants' criminal records. This includes everything from simple misdemeanor charges and arrests to court appearances and incarceration history. Screening details depend on the job and the state. For instance, childcare positions typically cross-reference applicants with sex offender lists. State laws determine what elements of criminal history are fair game for employer background checks. Some states allow employers to consider only felonies but not misdemeanors, while others allow for consideration of only convictions rather than arrests. In addition, official drug test records may be examined.

Driving Records

Some checks take driving records into account, especially when the checks are done for professional transportation jobs offered by employers such as school bus companies and commercial trucking outfits. Driving records include information about vehicle registration, driver's insurance, parking tickets, moving violations, instances of vehicle impoundment and accidents.

Education Records

Employers also verify the education history provided on applicants' resumes. Job seekers sometimes lie or embellish when it comes to their academic credentials. MSN Money expert Liz Pulliam Weston warns against this, noting that employers can easily detect resume padding. Federal and state laws prohibit employers from accessing confidential information from schools including official transcripts, disciplinary actions and financial aid records, according to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. However, employers can obtain access to public directory information such as student names, dates of attendance, majors and degrees earned.

Employment Records

Job applicants almost always face scrutiny in terms of their employment records. This is one of the most routine aspects of a background check, according to MSN Money. Generally, this part of the check simply confirms places of employment, dates of employment, official job titles, salary figures and other basic information. In some cases, potential employers consult former bosses for professional character references.

Financial Records

Financial records can also be reviewed. This includes data on property ownership, as well as credit reports that examine things like mortgage payments, car payments, credit card debt and late bills. Bankruptcies can also appear on reports, although the Federal Bankruptcy Act prohibits employers from discriminating against job seekers solely because they have filed for bankruptcy.

Additional Considerations

Employer-sponsored background checks occasionally include items like lie detector tests, medical records, military service records and workers' compensation records. These checks typically require written permission from the applicant. Additionally, employers often review applicant profiles on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace as part of the screening process.

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