Background Checks: Definition and Impact on Applications

For many companies, running a background check is a regular part of the onboarding process when hiring a new employee or even considering an existing employee for a promotion. Background checks help keep workplaces safe and can help employers identify potential risks in advance. In this article, you can learn what an employment background check might include depending on the position or company policy.

What does a background check include?

A background check can mean different things for different companies or industries. There are only a few official records that may be checked during a background check, like your personal identification or your driving record. 

Here’s a look at the various aspects an employer can verify as part of your background check: 

Employment verification

One of the most common types of verification a potential employer will use is an employment verification process. This means someone at the company calls the past employers you list on your resume. They may also call the other references you provided. 

The questions a potential employer can ask as part of the employment verification process do have limits. The questions are usually about how long you worked there, why you left, and if they would rehire you. If a past employer is unavailable or has closed, you can provide paystubs or similar documents to verify your employment history with the company. 

Certification check

If the role you are applying for requires you to hold certain education, licensing or certifications, a potential employer is likely to verify that you have the qualifications you list on your resume. Just like an employment check, this process means someone contacts the institutions or universities on your resume and verifies that you studied the courses you say you did and earned any subsequent degrees mentioned on your resume. They will also ensure any professional licensing is up-to-date by calling the issuing organization. 

If an employer cannot verify an aspect of the resume, they usually present the problem to the applicant for an explanation. 

Criminal background check

Some employers run criminal background checks as a means of promoting a safe work environment. These checks are also common for roles that will place you in a confidential, financial or operational department due to the risk associated with hiring in these positions. Most often, any conviction on your record more than seven years ago won’t appear, unless there are special conditions. In some areas, the history will be shorter. 

As with all checks, the employer will let you know in advance if they will use a background check. You can talk with them in advance about what they may find. This will give you the opportunity to explain any criminal history you may have so that they have context when they view your criminal record.

Driving record 

Any position that may give you access to a company car or require driving may mean your employer will check your driving record. Generally, a parking ticket will not even show on your record. These kinds of infractions are unlikely to cause problems with your application. 

However, repeated violations may begin to reflect on your abilities or commitment to safety. Additionally, more serious infractions, like a DUI charge, can cause the employer to turn down your application, especially if you will frequently be driving on company time. As with the criminal background check, it’s best to give employers advance notice about what they may find. This shows honesty and integrity, which is helpful in getting any job. 

Drug screen

Many employers require drug testing as part of the hiring process. Most also require on-going drug testing at random. This is especially common when working in the healthcare field or in any other position that may give you access to prescription drugs. In many cases, employers who complete drug testing will also pull a criminal background check to ensure you have no history of drug use or related charges.

Failing a drug test is generally means for instant application denial. Note that, even if marijuana is legal at the state level, many employers have yet to work out policies regarding its permitted usage so testing positive could hinder the application process. Additionally, some prescription drugs show up on a drug screening. If you have a prescription, you do not need to disclose your medical history, but you will need to provide a copy of your prescription from your doctor. 

Identity verification 

Finally, the simplest form of any background check that a company can run is verifying your identity. This is a matter of collecting your driver’s license or passport and checking with the state or federal government (depending on the documentation you provide) to ensure your identity. This verification process also serves to check whether or not an individual is a legal citizen who is authorized to work in the United States.