Pre-employment background checks can be nerve-wracking for all kinds of reasons. One of the main ones is not knowing what to expect and what to prepare for. After all, the specific background check you’re going to get depends on a lot of things including the position you want, your potential employer, etc.
To help you make sense of things, we’ve put together this article with 5 things to consider before your application. We’ll cover things like online research, things your employer may want to know, and scenarios in which it’s best to volunteer your information from the start. The first question we’ll cover addresses jurisdiction.
What’s legal in your state?
It’s virtually never illegal for employers to make background checks. This is something job applicants often get wrong. Local laws may require permission for specific checks; certain background check results can’t be used against you in determining job suitability. At the same time, it’s important for you to understand background checks are legal.
Having said all that, certain states do make specific actions illegal. For example, the 30+ states with ban-the-box laws don’t let employers ask you about your criminal record, past convictions, and so on and so forth. It pays to be sure what is and isn’t legal in your state ahead of your background check, especially if you have sensitive information you don’t want to be discovered.
To this end, make sure to check if your state is a ban-the-box one. Then, check local, state, and federal laws, as well as your potential employer’s policy. This will give you a solid idea of what might come up during your background check and protect you throughout the process.
What will your employer want to know?
Depending on who you want to work for, you may get asked about your licenses (gun, car, medical), your credit score, past convictions, and other important information. The higher-ranking a position, the more likely this becomes. To make sure you can answer accurately and quickly, consider having the following documents on hand.
- Driving record. This document is easy to get at your local DMV. If you have a history of revoked or suspended licenses or any DUIs, be ready to address it during your interview. This is especially important if you’re applying for a job that requires you to drive.
- Your credit report. First, make sure that your state makes it legal for employers to check credit scores. If it is, get a free copy of your credit report from any of the three major credit scorers: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. This way you’ll be ready to answer your employers’ questions immediately.
- Your criminal record. If you have a record of convictions, be ready to display and address it during your interview. Just make sure that criminal record checks are legal in your state first. If it isn’t, you could be doing yourself a disservice by handing it over to an organization.
- Employer references. There’s no law stopping your past employers from saying whatever they want about you. It’s best to have your own written references on hand. Additionally, you may want to call your previous employer and let them know you’re interviewing for a new job in order to secure a positive reference when on call.
Once you’ve done all of the above, move on to the next step.
What can you find on yourself online?
You can’t replicate a professional background check with 100% accuracy. However, you can use the Internet to get a somewhat accurate idea of what information is out there. To this end, you may want to check out the following resources:
- Social media. In many states, it’s technically illegal to screen you based on your Facebook account. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really stop anyone from continuing to do so. Make sure your social media is either restricted from view or neat enough to look good to potential employers.
- Public criminal databases. These aren’t perfect, but if you have non-convictions, old convictions, sealed criminal records, or anything else you may not want an employer to see, this is a good place to check.
- Google. The single best way to find as much information about yourself as possible is Google. Looking for various spellings of your own name can reveal all kinds of information you may not know is out there.
If you find something you feel may hinder your odds, consider doing two things. First, do what you can to remove information from your social media profiles and other online sources. Second, consider disclosing what you found to your employer so you can put your own spin on it.
When should you volunteer information about known issues to your employer?
As a rule, you should never feel obligated to share information about yourself without being prompted. In fact, you should think twice before revealing anything about yourself when asked to do so. A lot of times, employers try to take advantage of prospects who aren’t well-heeled about their rights into saying things that can harm their job application. That’s something you want to avoid.
At the same time, if you believe an issue is very likely to come up, there are multiple advantages to revealing information preemptively. This is especially true if you have anything that might be a major red flag. Trying to hide a big problem is unlikely to work whereas being forthcoming an issue that’s bound to come up no matter what will score points in your favor.
Another factor is that declaring your own information pre-emptively gives you a chance to spin it in your own favor. If you can show that the information is not as it appears at first glance, even better.
For example, let’s say your ex-spouse was a reckless spender who ruined your own credit rating. If you can make a convincing case for your personal innocence in the matter and provide proof of the same, you might still get the job you want and score some sympathy points in the process.
What can you do to improve the results of your background check?
Before you move forward with your job application, think about what you can do to put your best foot forward.
This starts with managing the information you have online, e.g. on social media, as outlined in the points above. However, there are a few less obvious things you can do to help yourself. For starters, contact courts to fix any inaccurate information. For example, if a sealed court decision is actually public, you can make a call or make a personal visit to get that fixed.
Something else you can do is expunge old criminal records. This is possible in some states, especially if you have old, minor strikes against you. It can require getting a lawyer, but so long as you have the time and money for it, expunging old convictions and coming in with a clean record is always a plus.
Ways to self-check your background information
Running background checks on yourself is a smart way to prepare for a job application. It helps you get an idea of what employers will see when running their own checks. However, not all background check services are created equal. Here are some of the specific features you should look for in any software you use.
- Research quality. There are two main things to consider. First, you want a service that checks a large variety of sources (e.g. criminal records, driving records, etc). Second, you want a service with up-to-date, relevant information.
- Fast results. When checking your own data before a job application, you don’t want to wait for days and weeks. You need a fast turnaround time and a service that can deliver accurate reports quickly.
- Mobile apps. iOS and Android apps let you check your background information on the go. Moreover, they make it so you don’t have to print information to take it to a job interview.
- Custom search. Given the information in this article, you may want to look for specific information sources, information types, etc. In scenarios like these, cookie-cutter search tools don’t cut it. You need custom search parameters.
With the above in mind, below are some of our specific service recommendations for checking your own background information.
BeenVerified is arguably the best background check service on the web. It has a two-tier pricing policy. On the first level, you get basic searches that cover criminal histories (including non-convictions), financial records, social media, property reports, and more. If you upgrade to a premium membership, you get access to other records (including gun licenses). The premium level also lets you send runners to check physical court (and other) archives, which is convenient.
The final reports delivered by BeenVerified are accurate, intuitive to use, and rich in information. Mobile apps include Android and iOS versions, readily available for donwload from their respective app stores. Customer support is available via e-mail or phone 24/7, so you can run a check on yourself no matter where you are and what time it is. All in all, it’s easy to see why BV is so frequently mentioned as the #1 way to check backgrounds online.
2. Instant CheckMate
Instant CheckMate is another service with two kinds of subscriptions. First, there’s the basic rate that reveals criminal records, marriage and divorce information, relatives, and public social media data. You can upgrade to a premium package and also get information on financial history, driving licenses, gun licenses, and more. Whichever you choose, you’re going to get an Android app, a convenient mobile and desktop website and an intuitive search feature that makes custom lookups a breeze.
One area in which CheckMate stands out is customer support. Help is available 24/7, and the operators are both knowledgeable and helpful. This means you can get the help you want, when you want it, and without ever running into support staff who can’t answer a question. Reports are beautiful and intuitive, with a design that combines a lot of information with readability and ease of use.
TruthFinder is another outstanding background check service. It also comes in 2 versions: a basic and premium one. With a basic subscription, you can look through the most important background records: criminal convictions and non-convictions, sex offender registers, data about known family members, social media presence, and more. As a premium user, you also get access to licenses (including gun licenses), education history, and even voter registration data. All of this information is presented via beautiful, easy-to-read reports; another important benefit.
TruthFinder also has a few advantages other background checking services don’t offer. For example, they have a deep web search algorithm that looks through non-indexed pages and dark web websites. This kind of search reveals information that’s usually invisible on the Internet, making TruthFinder uniquely suited for specific use cases. An Android app is available; so is a mobile website for iOS users. Customer support is 24/7, meaning you can get answers to any questions you have, anytime.
Last but not least, we’ve got Intelius: a sleek, easy-to-use website that creates intuitive background check reports. Intelius looks at a wide array of sources including criminal records, sex offender registers, credit reports, and more, to give you a strong idea of what employers will see when looking you up. Apps are available for both Android and iOS devices, meaning you can perform searches and take results with you without having to print. Customer support isn’t 24/7 but, in our experience, is generally helpful and knowledgeable.
Now you know everything you need to consider before a background check. Follow the advice above and you’ll be sure to make the best possible impression during your application process.
Just do one more thing before you start applying. Make sure that all the information on your CV and cover letter is accurate. Nothing ruins a good first impression like having to explain why you misrepresented yourself in writing. The best case scenario is that you’ll look sloppy and the worst is that you’ll be taken for a fraud. Avoid both by updating your papers before each and every application.
Do you have any comments, questions, or extra tips? Then let us know below. We love reading your feedback and appreciate your messages!