Background Checks – Managing Your Online Persona

Q. I am interviewing for a job. Before they make an offer, the company completes a background check. I don’t think I have anything to hide, but that depends on what they can find out about me. What do they want to see, and what will they be able to get access to?

A. Almost all companies do some research into the backgrounds of their candidates. There is a significant range in the depth of background checks conducted by organizations in different industries, or for a variety of job functions. Employers directly, or through utilizing the services of a third party, can conduct background checks. Most often employers want to check references. They are interested in nuance, and what the reference has to say, or not say, about the candidate. Names of references are either provided on an employment application or provided separately by the candidate giving permission to conduct the reference check.

Kellie O’Shea, with Creative Services, Inc., which performs background investigations and drug testing programs, explains, “There are hundreds of different background search components. An employment background check will include at a minimum, a criminal background check and a social security trace which is a tool used to identify alias names and previous addresses of the candidate. The check will verify past employment (usually the last three employers or ten years of employment) and confirm education credentials. Where regulated or recommended because an applicant will be driving as part of their job, employers will run a motor vehicle driving record. In some cases, if an applicant is working in a financial capacity or with cash, employers will run a credit report.”


O’Shea notes that, “When a third party, a consumer reporting agency (CRA), conducts a background check, separate from the reference check, the employer and the CRA are subject to the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). If a CRA conducts the background check, a clear disclosure is required regarding the background check. These disclosures are usually accompanied by a release form that includes a wide scope of search types allowed in the background check.” There is a trend of states restricting the use of these credit reports for employment purposes.

Social media has offered new areas for recruiters and employers to screen potential candidates. According to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive, 45% of HR professionals are using social media sites in recruiting, including to screen out potential new hires. Publicly available information on social media sites can get you knocked off the short list.

So clean up your on line persona, ask about the nature and scope of the background search being done, read consent forms closely and request copies for your records. More than you imagine is available for an employment background check.

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