What Do Background Checks Look For?What Do Background Checks Look For?

Learning that a potential employer plans to run a background check can be one of the most intimidating parts of searching for a job. Exactly what information does a background check reveal? Can employers access applicants’ taxes or college transcripts? What do background checks reveal about applicants?

Criminal Record

The most well-known portion of a background check is the criminal record search, which uncovers misdemeanor and felony offenses. National background checks can uncover crimes committed in any state, but not every employer is willing to pay for a national check and may simply settle for a state-level background check. In many cases, companies are required to run background checks due to insurance or grant requirements. For example, a licensed daycare center must ensure that no employees have a history of crimes against minors.

Credit History

Why do employers care about credit histories? For many hiring managers, credit scores are a way to measure applicants’ financial aptitude and trustworthiness. A candidate with a very low credit score may be tempted to steal or accept bribes. According to Experian.com, the average credit score in the United States is 711, so anyone with a lower credit score could be considered below average. While a low credit score can be a barrier to obtaining a dream job, particularly in the financial sector, the credit score is only one of the many things that a background check looks for. Candidates with a strong resume or employment history can overcome a low score.

Employment History

A good resume highlights an applicant’s accomplishments. For experienced employees, this often means leaving insignificant jobs off the resume; hiring managers don't want to read about a potential software engineer’s high school job working the grill at a local fast food restaurant. Some applicants too thoroughly trim their resumes and hide important facts about their job history. A background check can reveal that an applicant who claimed to take a three year break for "traveling” was actually working a string of jobs that never lasted more than a few months or reveal that an applicant who claimed to work at a company from 2018 to 2020 was only there from December 2018 to January 2020.

Driving Record

The typical office job may not require any driving, but almost every employee will drive themselves to work at some point. Employers want to know if potential employees have a history of reckless driving to limit liability. This is especially true for positions that require any driving while on duty; no company wants to hire a truck driver or van operator with a string of DUI arrests. Some employers even conduct annual background checks for positions that entail frequent driving, a practice that Forbes.com highly recommends.

Education Verification

According to Indeed.com, up to 40 percent of people lie on their resumes, with lies about education being some of the most common. Whether applicants misrepresent how many years of education they achieved or which university they attended, a background check looks for factual information about educational attainment.

Professional Licensure

What do physicians, cosmetologists and private investigators have in common? All three professions require licensure in many states. A comprehensive background check will retrieve any relevant information from the appropriate licensing board, including sanctions against the licensee. Less-thorough background checks might only check for an active license and only in specific states.

Background checks vary; applicants for a sensitive government position will undergo a more comprehensive check than applicants for a cashier’s position at a local retail store. While not every background check will cover every item mentioned above, applicants should assume that employers will be thorough.