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There are many steps included in the job search process, and one of the steps we all have to go through but might not fully understand is the background check. This step usually doesn’t require any additional work from the candidate, the hiring company uses the information from the resume and application to run it, but what exactly does the background check tell employers?

What is a background check?

First things first, what is a background check? It’s a report of public and private records by individuals or organizations. Up to 95% of companies conduct some type of background check on candidates. The things that can show up on a background check include:

  • Identity
  • Credit history
  • Employment history
  • Work authorization
  • Education history
  • Social media profiles
  • Driving record
  • Medical records (with restrictions)

The two most common reports pulled are the criminal records and previous employment reports. It is important to note that the employer must ask for your written permission before getting the report done. Often times, this will be a check box you click while filling out the application. You can choose not to give permission, just be aware that the employer can reject your application.

What will each report show?

Criminal records

Starting with the most common report ran for a background check, this report will show the employer any criminal offenses at the county, state, and federal level. This can include any current pending charges, misdemeanor convictions, felonies, acquitted or dismissed charges.

If you have any of the above, that doesn’t immediately ruin your chances of getting hired, but you will most likely need to further explain the situation for the employer to decide whether you are the right fit or not for their company and the position.


Employers will run an identity check just to make sure you are who you say you are. They will check the social security number you provided, and make sure it matched the general contact information. Employers will use the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records for this report.

Employment history

The employment history verification will include all of the companies you have previously worked for or are currently working at, the job titles you held, and the dates of your employment there. Depending on your state laws, it may also include the salary you made.

This report can also help prove that you are eligible to work in the United States.

How can you prepare for a background check?

Although most of it is done without you needing to do anything other than fill out the application and send your resume, there are a few things you can choose to do beforehand.

Clean up your social media profiles

Although only 5% of companies say they run a social media background check, it doesn’t hurt to make sure all of your accounts are appropriate and up-to-date. Make sure to have your latest employer on your LinkedIn, and remove any images from your profiles that are inappropriate. If you shared any articles that speak badly about the industry or company you are applying for, make sure to delete those as well. You may also decide to make some of your profiles private to keep your work and social life separate.

Get copies of your records

If you are curious about what will show up on your background check, you can choose to run one on yourself. There are a few organizations you can contact to get information, such as financial services for a credit report, the Motor Vehicle Department for your driving record, and your state’s Department of Public Safety to access your criminal record if you have one. There may be charges for getting these reports.

Make sure to be honest

Employers will be able to find out any and all information they need to know to decide whether or not. You are a good fit, so it is best to be upfront and honest with any information. Employers will more likely be understanding if you explain situations before they find out through the background check. Often times, applications include a section to explain any criminal activity or identity information.

Research the rules and regulations

As a job candidate, know that there are rules and regulations and organizations that protect your rights during background checks and employment.

There are government agencies that  regulates employers being allowed to access your background. If an employer obtained your background without asking your permission or rejected you without sending you the required notices, you can contact the appropriate government agency.

Background checks ultimately help employers make sure that they are hiring the right fit for their company and the position, creating trust and safety for everyone in the workplace.

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