What Do Job Background Checks Look For?

Background check is the process where the company verifies that an individual is who he claims to be and provides an opportunity to check and confirm the accuracy of his claims.

It is one of the most crucial parts of any job application process, as it helps employers avoid making bad hiring decisions and protect their business from potential legal liabilities. As an applicant, you should be aware of the information in your background check to prepare accordingly.

In this article, we will go through everything you need about job background checks, including what employers look for and how you can prepare for one so you can land the dream job you’ve always wanted without any conflict.

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Reasons Why Employers do Background Checks

Companies don’t do background checks just for the sake of it. There’s always a purpose behind it, and employers usually have one or more of the following reasons:

 Compliance with the law

There are specific industries where the law requires employers to conduct background checks on their employees. Employers run background checks on new applicants to avoid legal troubles and uphold their potential statutory or regulatory responsibilities. Failing to do background checks leaves companies susceptible to lawsuits.

Protection for the business and employees

Background checks help employers protect their businesses and employees from potential threats and fraud. It helps reduce fraudulent behavior in the workplace, such as lying about employment or education information, using false identities to gain employment, or stealing clients’ identities.

Better quality of hire

By understanding an applicant’s work history, educational achievements, and other information included in a background check, employers can identify whether an individual is likely to be a good fit for the organization and the job.

Save time and resources

The recruitment process is costly and time-consuming. A thorough background check of candidates can help expedite the process by weeding out those with questionable backgrounds, thus saving the company time and money.

How do Employers Conduct Background Checks?

Doing the background checks themselves

If an employer decides to do the background checks themselves, they create a system for gathering and reviewing the information about an applicant.

Usually, their source of information is an applicant’s resume and job application. They may also request information from the applicant’s references, like their former manager, colleague, or teacher.

Hiring a third-party company

Outsourcing background checks to third-party organizations is an effective way to ensure compliance with local and federal regulations. These organizations specialize in conducting background checks, so they are familiar with the laws and have access to sources they need to do background checks.

Combination of both

Some employers choose to use a combination of both public records and third-party companies to conduct background checks. It allows them to get the most comprehensive information possible on an applicant.

What Do Employers Look For in a Background Check?

Identity and social security verification

Most employers will start by verifying your identity and social security number. A Social Security Number (SSN) Trace is often the first step of a pre-employment background check. Cross-referencing a candidate’s SSN against public records can help assess and confirm their identity and provide accurate information on criminal background and credit history, among others.

Employment history

Employment verification is critical to the hiring process as it allows employers to confirm a job candidate’s past work history and experience level. It can also uncover false employment claims, missing work history, or job title overstatements.

Credit check

A credit check is often conducted as part of a background check to help employers assess a job candidate’s financial stability and responsibility. It is best for posts that include access to financial transactions, assets, and decisions. 

Criminal records

A criminal background check will show an employer if the job candidate has prior or pending convictions, felonies, misdemeanors, or arrests. It helps employers assess if the candidate is likely to commit a crime in the workplace.

Driving record

A driving record details any offenses related to operating a vehicle. These can include complaints about alcohol or drug use while driving and accidents. The ideal candidate is dependable in all areas, not just work ethic and team projects. A driving record is another way to check a person’s responsibility level.


Employers contact a job candidate’s references to get more information about their work history and skills to decide if the applicant is a good fit for the company. References included people who can attest to a candidate’s employment and educational history, like previous employers and schools.

What Employers Cannot Check

Medical records

Employers cannot check an applicant’s medical records during a background check. Employers may require a physical examination only when relevant to the job. Otherwise, medical records are confidential.

Military records

As these records are confidential under the Privacy Act, employers cannot check an applicant’s military records during the background check process.

School records

Employers cannot check an applicant’s school records during a background check, but they may contact the school to verify dates of attendance and graduation.

Sealed criminal records

Individuals whose criminal records are sealed or expunged do not need to share this information with potential employers. If an employer asks about prior convictions and the only ones the applicant has been sealed or expunged, they may legally answer that there is “No Record.”

How to Prepare for an Employment Background Check

Get your credit report

If you know that your potential employer will be running a credit check, it’s best to get a copy of your credit report before they do. This way, you can check for any inaccuracies or errors that could reflect poorly on you. You’re entitled to one free credit report advantage of this.

Check your records

Check any record the employer can access as part of the background check process to ensure that the information is accurate. If there are any discrepancies, correct them before your potential employer sees them.

Safeguard your privacy

It includes cleaning up your social media profiles and checking your privacy settings. Hiring managers and recruiters often look at social media to gather information about potential candidates. If there is something on your profile you don’t want them to see, make your account private or curate your content.

Be honest

If something in your past may reflect poorly on you, it’s better to address it upfront rather than have the employer find out later. It may be a cliche, but honesty is the best policy.

Give your references a heads up

Let your references know that your potential employer may contact them as part of the background check process. This way, they can prepare to answer any employer questions.

Common Red Flags During Background Checks

Inconsistencies in employment history

These inconsistencies could be minor as discrepancies in dates or job titles. Or, they could be more significant, like different companies listed for the same period.

Lying on the application or resume

Lying about one’s qualifications or experience is grounds for immediate rejection from the hiring process.

Multiple short-lived employments

It could indicate job-hopping or other issues that may make the applicant less desirable.

Poor reference checks

Negative reviews may occur because of miscommunications, personal problems, or other factors outside the job candidate’s control. However, if similar poor impressions continue showing up, it might be alarming for the employer.

Criminal history

An applicant’s criminal history is one of the employers’ most important factors during a background check. Depending on the nature of the offense and the time that has passed since it occurred, employers may or may not be willing to consider the applicant for the position.

Credit history

For some positions, an applicant’s credit history may be relevant. For instance, if the job requires handling money or managing finances, a bad credit history could cause concern.

Unprofessional social media profiles

Posts on social media can provide insights into a person’s character and behavior that may not reflect in the resume. Displaying a bad image on social media can turn off potential employers.

Difference Between Pre and Post-Employment Background Checks

Pre-employment checks encompass only those potential candidates who have applied for a vacancy, while post-employment checks include every company employee.

Pre-employment checks occur before hiring, while post-employment screenings can even happen after work has begun. These annual or semi-annual checkups help ensure a safe and focused workplace.

Pre-employment checks usually take about two to five business days, while post-employment checks can take seven to nine days. Sometimes, the turnaround time is longer for both because of uncontrollable factors that can delay the results.


The best way to go into a background check is to be honest, and upfront about your character so that you’re confident that you have nothing to hide. While a background check can seem intimidating, it’s simply a way for employers to get to know you better and ensure that you’re the right fit for the job.

Remember that different employers might have different standards for what they’re looking for in a background check. However, it helps to know the standard procedure before going through it. This way, you can be as prepared as possible and know what to expect.

Regardless of the procedure, the key is to relax, be yourself, and let your honesty and qualifications shine through.

bryan rucker
Written by Brian Williams

Brian is an expert in security, privacy, and information. He has studied background checks, criminal, people search, and such topics over the last 5 years. He is also an avid writer and enjoys sharing his knowledge through this blog. Read more of Brian's articles.