Employment History Background Check

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Ken Chase, Freelance Writer

10 min read

Employment History Background Check

There’s more to the job search process than simply creating a stellar resume and submitting it to companies in your industry that need employees. While that great resume might be enough to land you an interview offer, there’s a good chance you’ll also need to pass a background check before you receive that lucrative job offer. Many companies also include some type of employment history background check in that verification process, so it is important to ensure that your resume is accurate.

In this post, we will examine the employment history background check and explain its impact on the hiring process. We will also look at some of the ways employers conduct these checks and the type of information that a background check might unveil – as well as details that it typically won’t discover. Finally, we will offer some helpful tips to help you prepare for any employment background check.

What is an employment history background check?

An employment history background check is often conducted along with other verification procedures when employers are considering you for employment. Some companies conduct these background checks using in-house resources, while others hire outside companies to verify the information. No matter which option a company chooses, the checks have certain legal requirements that must be followed.

Some background checks focus on verifying your identity and legal right to work. Others search for a criminal record or analyze your social media. The employment history background check is used to verify the work history details you include in your resume. The process can include:

  • Ensuring that you were employed by the companies you list in your resume

  • Verifying the positions that you held at those companies

  • Asking for details about your performance, skills, and qualifications

  • Inquiring about the reason why you left a previous role

How do background checks impact the hiring process?

Though employment history background checks are often conducted to verify the work experience on your resume, passing the check does not guarantee that you will get the job. Employers may conduct these checks for several candidates as part of the process they use to determine the best person for the role. Sometimes, an employer will make what is known as a “conditional” offer of employment, though. In that case, you can reasonably assume that you have the job if you pass your background checks.

Types of employment history background checks 

So, how do employers verify employment history and other details in your resume? As it turns out, there are a variety of options available to employers who want to verify the information they see in a resume. It is important for job seekers to understand the many ways that resume inaccuracies might be discovered so that they can avoid those red flags on their applications and focus on other ways to enhance their resume qualifications. Below, we’ll examine some of the most common ways employers detect resume inconsistencies and lies.

Formal background checks

One of the easiest ways for any employer to catch your resume inaccuracies is to conduct a formal background check. Typically, these verification efforts include searching for criminal records and assessing other personal details that might be in question. And while traditional background checks don’t include employment history verification capabilities, they can sometimes identify inconsistencies in your work history – like if you were incarcerated during a period in which you claimed to work for a particular company.

Contacting employers to verify employment

But how does a background check verify employment or other key details in a job candidate’s resume? The answer is that they usually don’t provide direct verification of the jobs you’ve held. However, that doesn’t mean that employers have no recourse for verifying employment. In fact, they can easily verify your past employment simply by calling those employers.

Your previous bosses will always verify whether you worked for their company and when. They may not provide other details, however. For example, some state laws may prevent a prior employer from discussing your skill proficiencies, overall performance, or reason for leaving the firm. However, once you list your previous employers on your resume, you should assume that anything you wrote about those jobs can be verified.

Skills tests

In addition to using employment history background checks to verify details about your employment, prospective employers can also utilize skills tests to verify your core competencies. Sometimes these tests come in the form of a formal exam that allows you to demonstrate certain core skills. Other times, the interviewer may ask questions that are designed to assess your skill level. If you fail any of these assessments, it may indicate that you’ve been less than truthful in your resume.

Internet research

Employers also increasingly turn to the internet to conduct research into a candidate’s background, skills, and experiences. This can include reviewing your social media activity, searching for information about you online, and other research techniques designed to test the veracity of your resume and learn more about you as a person and job candidate.

During questioning at the interview

Good interviewers are often adept at separating fact from fiction at a job interview. If your resume relies on any untruths, there’s a good chance that a competent interviewer will figure that out during your interview conversation. Even the best storytellers will struggle to maintain a lie when questions are being asked in different ways. The best way to avoid that awkwardness is to make sure that your resume is as honest and accurate as possible.

What do background checks reveal?

Given that a failed background check could disqualify you from employment, it is important to understand the types of information that employers can discover. Again, this can be impacted by various state laws and regulations related to privacy. However, there are several common areas of focus that employers are interested in when they conduct these checks.

Verification of identity

A competent background check can help employers verify that you are who you say you are and that you are allowed to work in this country.

Details about your educational credentials

When educational qualifications are essential, an employer might contact your school or other education provider to make sure that your degrees and other credentials are valid. They may even ask you to provide school transcripts or other documentation.

Facts about your employment history

By contacting your previous employers, a company can verify your past employment and the dates you held those jobs. Some former employers will also verify things like job titles, notable achievements, and even your general character.

Credit status

When your desired job is in finance or a security-related field, employers may inquire about your financial or credit history. It is important to remember, however, that they cannot do this without your consent since credit inquiries can impact your credit score. Most companies do not bother with these kinds of background checks, however.

Social media history

Your social media history can provide clues about a wide range of issues that may cause concern for an employer. Employers who look at these posts may be uneasy about your candidacy if they see controversial comments, negative comments about your previous employers, or other materials that make you look unprofessional.

Driving records

If your desired job involves driving a fleet vehicle or any type of heavy equipment, the employer will want to ensure that your driver’s license is valid and up to date. In addition, they will likely contact the DMV in your area to check your driving record. Again, this is something that they can only do with your written consent.

Things employers cannot see with background checks

It can also be helpful to review some of the things that employers will not be able to see or use when they conduct these checks. For example:

  • Civil suits, arrests, and civil judgments from more than seven years ago

  • Contact names and information about your medical providers

  • Bankruptcies dating back more than a decade

  • Any satisfied tax liens from more than seven years ago

Prepare for an employment history background check

If you’re like most people, you may feel a little apprehensive whenever a prospective employer mentions the need for any type of background check. After all, nobody really enjoys the thought of a stranger combing through every detail of their life. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to prepare for a background check and maximize the chances that employers come away with a great impression of you.

Make sure that your resume is accurate

If there is only one of these tips that you’re going to follow, this is the one you should focus on. Change anything on your resume that could be considered a lie or an exaggeration bordering on falsehood. If an employment history or other background check reveals information that conflicts with the details in your resume, you’re almost certain to lose out on that job opportunity. Worse, that employer could mention your rejection to others in the industry, harming your reputation.

Go through every line of your resume and make sure that each detail is verifiable and accurate. Yes, you can still put your own unique spin on your achievements, but you should not say anything that can easily be proven untrue. Employers may be willing to overlook your failure to meet every one of their desired qualifications, but they are likely to be less forgiving and open if they feel like you’re trying to deceive them.

Be aware of your credit status

If you’re in an industry or occupation that requires a credit check, it is always best to know your history and credit score before the employer asks. You can obtain your credit report and check it to ensure that the information it contains is accurate. Make sure to challenge any inaccurate information before employers conduct their checks.

Always contact your references ahead of time

If you are providing employers with references, you should always ask for those people’s permission before you give their names to the company. That way, they can expect to receive an email or call from the employer and will be prepared to provide a great referral.

Clean up your social media

If your social media is at all questionable, clean it up. Remove any controversial photos, memes, or comments before you submit your resume. The last thing you need is for a sensitive hiring manager to be offended by some seemingly harmless joke or meme you posted online.

Be proactive

It’s also a good idea to maintain a file with the necessary documents you need to verify your employment history and other key details employers might want to see. That includes your social security documents, credit reports, and even W-2 records or 1099s.

Know your rights

Always remember that your privacy is protected and that employers need to tell you when they intend to conduct background checks – and obtain your permission in writing. These issues are governed by the provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which employers are required to follow. If a company ignores these protections, you should probably consider employment somewhere else.

Understand the processes to avoid hiring stress

Once you understand how companies conduct a work history background check and other types of verification processes, you can better prepare yourself for that scrutiny. That can enable you to more effectively ensure your resume contains the verifiable information employers need to see to offer you a job. So, make sure that you pass that employment history background check and land your next great job!

Is your resume accurate enough to pass an employment history background check and compelling enough to help you land the interviews you need? Get your free resume review from our team of experts and find out!

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Written by

Ken Chase, Freelance Writer

During Ken's two decades as a freelance writer, he has covered everything from banking and fintech to business management and the entertainment industry. His true passion, however, has always been focused on helping others achieve their career goals with timely job search and interview advice or the occasional resume consultation. When he's not working, Ken can usually be found adventuring with family and friends or playing fetch with his demanding German Shepherd. Read more resume advice from Ken on ZipJob’s blog.

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