Whether you’re an employer or an employee, preparing for background checks can be tricky. If you’re hiring, how do you know which information you should look for – and what you’re legally allowed to look at? If you’re looking for a job or being considered for a promotion, how can you prepare for what might come up quickly and effectively?
In this article, we attempt to answer these questions (and a few others) by covering what’s included in a background check. We also go over which services you can use to preview what a professional background checking partner might find, whether background checks are legal, touch on how to run searches properly, and more.
How important are background checks to employers?
According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, resume fraud costs employers $600 billion each year. The reasons for this degree of damage vary. On a basic level, people lying about their qualifications and job experience leads to waste, poorly executed tasks, and other problems. Moreover, someone could also misrepresent their education and certifications, being completely unqualified to do the tasks they were hired to do in the first place. Beyond that, people could falsify any number of things. For example, one common trick is to inflate previous paychecks in order to negotiate for a better salary at a new workplace. This may seem relatively benign, but again, small-scale fraud is still fraud, and given that false resumes are so expensive to employers, it’s best to run background checks every time.
One common misconception is that internal hires and executive-level employees are less likely to lie on their resumes. This is true to a degree: Business Week reports that 16% of executive resumes contain false academic claims, compared to nearly 1 in 2 for all resumes. At the same time, 16% is still a lot since we’re talking about people who lead other people and represent organizations at the highest level. This is true for internal hires as well. For example, someone may have passed a basic background check when coming into a company. But since requirements are more stringent at higher levels of organizational structure, that initial check could’ve failed to reveal facts that can count against someone. For this reason, it’s important to run quality background checks – even when hiring executives or promoting staff internally. The low price of a check far outstrips the potential losses incurred by not doing homework.
What’s included in a background check for employment?
Background check information can vary. In advanced checks, the providers in the list above can look through deep web data, send runners to retrieve documents, and more. However, a few things should always figure in any quality background check. These are:
- Identity verification – this is the first line of defense against fraud, abuse, and misinformation. Confirming someone’s identity is the cornerstone of any thorough background check and should be included in custom searches every time.
- Employment verification – given how often people falsify their past employment details, this is another important check. You’ll have to obtain consent to get it, but once you do, your search partner will contact past employers to make sure the indicated employment information is correct. Alternatively, you can ask an employee to bring in pay slips and W-2 documents or other paper trails to prove employment.
- Education and licenses – this is another important check, especially if you need employees who have specific licenses (e.g. gun, driver’s, medical, etc) or academic degrees. It works a lot like the employment verification check. Some educational institutions may not respond to direct queries or submit their information to the public record, but you can still use an educational reporting provider to check.
- Criminal records – be very careful when performing this check, because doing it without going through the right procedures can land you in a lot of trouble. Depending on what the FCRA and your state laws say, you should be able to look through convictions from the past 5-7 years – but only if specific criteria are met first.
- Drug use – if you don’t want to hire regular drug users (including cannabis), you can pay a partner to run drug checks on your employees. As with the above point, be very careful to make sure you’re not breaking the FCRA or state laws when you’re doing this. Otherwise, you could land in hot water with local or federal law enforcement.
How can employees prepare for their screening?
Prospective employees might seem to have the disadvantage in their interview. After all, employers make it their business to know yours before hiring. However, applicants can run their own background checks on themselves to see what turns up. With this information in hand, it is much easier to come prepared with an explanation of whatever circumstances show up. This can make all the difference between someone being perceived as un-hirable and someone who has learned from their mistakes and worked to improve themselves.
When searching for a quality background checking service, prospective employees should keep the following key features of in mind:
- Deep research – anyone can do a basic Google search and find some everyday information on another person. If you’re using a paid service, it’s important that it goes above and beyond these basics. This is doubly true if you’re about to go through a stringent background check, e.g. for the military or a federal organization.
- Accurate and clear reports – a quality report should be readily scannable and intuitive to understand. You don’t want to pore over pages and pages to find the handful of information you actually need – so look for thoughtfully designed, straightforward report styles.
- Speedy results – a basic background check should only take seconds or minutes. A more advanced one can take a few days. Any longer than that, and you’re better off considering a different provider; you certainly want to get the results you need on time, every time.
- Custom searches – the ability to customize your searches for the specific data sources you need is standard these days. If a provider insists on giving you reports that contain info from all their data sources, it’s best to choose someone else.
- Mobile access – quality providers have several ways to cater to mobile users. One is with native iOS and Android apps that make it easy to execute searches and carry reports with you without print them out. Absent dedicated software, providers should at least have a mobile-ready dashboard accessible by any browser.
- Customer support – live support is best, but extended hours are fine too. Some providers give you self-troubleshooting tools to help you diagnose what’s not working.
Now that you know which features are best, let’s talk about some specific services that do background checks well!
BeenVerified is a two-tier background check service. Its basic package covers criminal records, financial records, social media presence, and other public-record data. This is enough to give you a solid idea of who it is you’re talking to or interviewing. If you want other data sources and information about gun licenses, for example, you can always upgrade to the premium version. This also lets you send runners to courts and physical archives to find even more data, which is useful. The best part is that advanced and basic searches are both fast. The former take up to a few days while the latter take seconds, making BeenVerified one of the speedier services on the market.
BeenVerified’s web dashboard is intuitive and well-designed, making it easy for you to find the exact results you’re looking for. This includes easy custom searches, and reports that are both sleek and easy to navigate. Mobile users can enjoy Android and iOS apps that make it easy to execute mobile searches and carry results on the go. Even if you don’t want to use these, there’s an excellent responsive mobile website that works well from all operating systems. Last but not least, you can always get the help you need with BeenVerified thanks to 24/7 customer support that’s helpful and knowledgeable.
Similar to other top-tier background checking services, TruthFinder offers a basic and premium search. The price of entry nets you access to reports drawn from standard data sources: criminal records, driving records, contact details, possible photos, and known family members. If you choose to go for the premium option, you’ll also get social media data from the last few years, gun licenses, and more. But what really makes TruthFinder special is that their technology searches through deep web data to find all kinds of information that is usually completely inaccessible to Google and online users. If you really want to see everything that’s out there on an individual, TruthFinder is an outstanding option.
The service’s interface is easy to use. The desktop version of the dashboard makes custom searches a breeze and makes it easy to look through older results. The Android app is feature-rich and surprisingly quick to download. While there’s no iOS app, their online dashboard is highly response and mobile-ready. No matter which version of the service you end up using, the reports you end up with will be well-designed, easily scannable, and full of easy-to-read information. Even if you do find that you have any problems or questions, 24/7 customer support is always on hand to help you solve them.
Instant CheckMate is a background checking service that delivers beautiful reports from a variety of sources. These reports can include all available information or be customized to fit your specific needs. If you use the service’s basic tier, the sources will span criminal records, marriage and divorce records, known family members, contact details, and some social media data. If you choose to expand your search, you can pay a premium fee to see financial history, driving licenses, weapons licenses, and more. Together, all these data sources can help you put together a thorough picture of who someone is and what their past was like.
The Instant CheckMate website dashboard is convenient and easy to use. Custom searches are easy to execute in seconds, and prior reports are immediately accessible. Everything is always a click away, and even if you do need help, customer support is available 24/7. The Android app for Instant CheckMate is almost as good as the website, offering an excellent design and feature set. iOS and other users are welcome to use the lovely responsive mobile website (which is better than most background checking services’ apps).
Intelius searches through a number of different data sources to give you detailed reports on individuals’ pasts. Data sources include criminal records, sex offender registrations, credit reports, property records, and education. Drawing on these, Intelius gives you clear, comprehensive reports that are easy to scan and presentable enough to share with other people and teams. The dashboard is intuitive and easy to use, whether you want to make a new search or manage previous ones. The same extends to the Android and iOS app versions, which are well-designed and highly stable. If you ever have any questions, customer support is available at extended hours – as is a troubleshooter tool that makes figuring out what’s wrong a breeze.
What about free services?
Free background checking services are popular and easy to find on the web. They look through some of the same data sources as the paid services on this page, but with one important caveat. Since there is no financial incentive for a free service to give you quality information, they simply show you what they manage to find; no more, no less. Moreover, free background check services often ask you to upgrade your membership, secretly harvest your own information, show you ads, etc. For all these reasons, we strongly recommend that you go with a commercial service if you’re going to make searches for any important reason. So long as you know how to execute searches correctly, you’ll get far better results this way. After all, the best services are still quite affordable.
Finding someone’s background information doesn’t have to be tricky at all. The only tricky part is knowing the law, other people’s rights, and being clear on what you can and can’t do. Now that you know how to conduct background searches, what are you going to do next? Leave a note below and let us know; we love getting feedback from readers.