Can a Background Check Reveal Past Employers?

Crystal Love
Crystal Love

5 min read

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As the job market has become more competitive, a quality resume is more important than ever. Unfortunately, that may inspire some job candidates to be less than honest about their past.

In some instances, job seekers may omit crucial details about prior criminal history. Others may avoid mentioning some previous jobs and employment background–especially if they left on poor terms. Some may lie about why they left those jobs. Many simply believe that employers will never discover the truth. However, employee background checks may uncover undisclosed details, and that could cost you a potential job. But can employers check your past employment history?

In this post, we will answer that and other frequently asked questions. Here are the sections of this article:

Can an employer find out where I worked using employee background checks?

The bottom line is simple: yes, background checks can reveal past employers. These checks are most accurate when conducted by outside investigators, of course. Still, many larger companies have considerable resources and can provide thorough vetting. That’s important to remember when you create your resume.

The fact is that today’s businesses have many options for conducting employee background checks that can verify your resume details. Most of those investigations certainly check to see that you did work for the companies you listed. Some may delve even deeper into your prior employment, asking questions about your performance, attitude, and more. Such checks are always permissible under federal law, which does not restrict the types of questions employers can ask about your prior work.

Some state laws, however, may prevent employers from asking about anything more than the basic details of your previous employment. For instance, a prospective employer could verify your start and end dates, job title, and job description. In some jurisdictions, they can even verify job performance, ask about workplace concerns, and other relevant issues.

It’s generally best to stick to the truth about your employment history. As in many situations, honesty is the best policy.

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Can I conduct an employment history check on myself?

One way to avoid potential problems or omissions is to conduct your own background check. This is also a great way to accurately recreate your employment history on your resume. That enables you to avoid inadvertent job omissions and avoid any unintentional deception. There are several ways to recreate your work history and ensure its accuracy:

  • State Unemployment Office: This is an effective option if your work has been restricted to a single state and can get records dating back a decade. Simply submit a Self-Request for Records. 

  • Social Security: The Social Security Administration can provide a complete work history when you submit a Request for Social Security Earnings Information. You’ll have to pay a small fee, but will obtain key information about prior employer names, addresses, employment dates, and salary.

  • Tax Returns: This option can provide some details about employers and wages but won’t help you identify start or end dates for your previous jobs.

If it’s been a while since you’ve updated your resume, it may be wise to do this type of comprehensive review. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

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What if I forgot to list a job?

One common problem can occur when job seekers forget to list jobs on their resumes. Employee background checks almost always discover such omissions. Depending on the nature of the job, that omission could be held against you. That’s particularly true if you were fired quickly or had performance issues.

Obviously, some jobs don’t need to be listed on a resume. Jobs that aren’t relevant to your current career target can be removed, along with short term positions or jobs that were from long ago.

Most employers are satisfied with a job history that accurately lists jobs held over the last ten or fifteen years. However, you should generally make sure that your resume does not omit any jobs held during that period.

Remember that most companies automatically screen your resume with an ATS (Applicant Tracking System). Make sure you use a traditional resume format and keyword optimize your resume to get through these initial scans.

These guides can help you out:

What can prior employers say about me?

Sometimes, job candidates are concerned that previous employers will give them poor references during employee background checks. If that’s a concern for you, then be proactive about your endorsements. Actively encourage prior employers to provide referrals for you. That can help negate any bad reviews you might receive. 

In most instances, that won’t be needed. Since many employers want to avoid potential legal problems, they will only provide the most basic details about your employment, such as job titles and dates of employment. Still, positive endorsements during the employment screening can sometimes make the difference.


It’s vital to understand that employers can use employee background checks to verify your past employment history. As a result, you should always strive to be as honest and accurate as you can when you create your resume. That honesty will serve you well and help to avoid embarrassment and unnecessary rejection as you try to land a job.

Good luck with your job search!

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Crystal Love

Written by

Crystal Love, Certified Professional Résumé Writer

Crystal is an Editor and Content Writer with a background in business and 10+ years of experience developing resumes and cover letters for job seekers at various career stages. She is also a career coach and interview expert helping professionals find clarity in their career path and job search, and preparing for and navigating interviews with confidence. 

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