Q. I've been offered a job contingent on a background check. Do I need to be worried about what might come up?
A. Maybe. With the competition hotter than ever for the jobs that are out there, companies are proceeding with caution in their hiring. Embezzlement, scams, harassment, and other illegalities hurt too many companies and they are working diligently to protect their employees, their customers, and their reputations. A background check can include criminal information such as misdemeanors, financial and credit data, as well as any other documentation that might be found in court proceedings, which are public record.
Pre-employment screenings - and the background checks that go along with them - have become more vital as fewer employers are willing to give more than basic reference data. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) data estimates 70 percent of companies have policies to offer only dates of employment and position in a reference check.
Background checks come in many levels and companies can choose to either do them internally or to hire a third party vendor for the more comprehensive checks. Kellie O'Shea at Creative Services, Inc. provides client services for customers interested in utilizing background checks for pre-or post-employment screening. O'Shea advises companies on the many regulations for background investigations, the consumer reporting laws related to personal information, and the challenges found in regulated industries like health care, financial services, and transportation.
Many people assume these issues pertain to lower-level blue collar roles, but as evidenced by the issues faced by the potential senior staff at the White House, background checks are used at all levels of organizations, and not just for pre-employment. Screenings can be done as part of a promotion, or even retroactively. O'Shea also notes that more companies are choosing to require vendors to submit to higher level screening for staff that will work on the company site.
If you are going to be the subject of a background check, you will be asked to sign a consent form, so you will be aware that this will occur. You may know that something will come up in a complete background check, or you may assume there is nothing to report.
The latest issue to complicate these checks relates to identity theft, and common names. Your background check may include information that is not yours. If an employer finds negative information, and chooses to "take an adverse action" - not make the job offer, rescind a promotion, or fire you - they are obligated to give you the chance to dispute the information.
If you anticipate issues will come from these checks, you have access to all the information the employer will. It may be worth your while to go to a court where you may have issues and access the public records. You can also use of one the inexpensive online criminal record databases. These are not foolproof, but offer a starting point. Based on the data that you find, and how old it is, you may need to make some hard choices on how much information to offer prior to a check being conducted.
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Meet the Jobs Docs
Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at Winter, Wyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at Winter, Wyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.