What Does a Background Check Entail?

by Eric Feigenbaum ; Updated September 26, 2017
Background checks usually involve criminal history searches.

Employers strive to make a good choice on every hire. In many cases, employers -- including hospitals and airlines -- have to think not just about the interests of their organizations but the safety of their customers and clients. Background checks are one part of the screening process to help them ensure they add ethical, safe, qualified people to their teams. Depending on the company, the job description and their policies, background checks can include any combination of several processes.

Criminal History Search

A criminal history search is usually the core of any candidate background check. Because prior criminal activity has a bearing on the trustworthiness of an employee, this screening tool is used across numerous industries and job classifications. Some employers check only county and state law enforcement registries, while others conduct nationwide searches. A criminal record doesn't necessarily bar a person from employment. If you have a conviction on your record, disclose it when completing your job application and background check authorization. Employers often overlook misdemeanors, especially if they are not relevant to the nature of your work.

Credential Verification

Your credentials matter, and employers want to make sure you have them. That's why background investigations usually include verifying your education -- particularly any college and graduate degrees and special certifications. If you work in a field that requires trade or professional licensing, expect a prospective employer to check that, too. Some licensing boards disclose any disciplinary actions that a licensee experienced. Companies look for these as well.

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Employment History

Particularly when your experience is relevant to hiring considerations, employers want to know that you in fact did what you say you did. Moreover, they usually want to know how you performed in your prior positions. After all, people don't usually disclose their problems and weaknesses. That's why hiring managers and background investigations check references and speak with former supervisors whenever possible.

Credit Check

Credit checks are not used as widely as other background investigation tools. However, in jobs that have to do with finance, money handling and which require fiduciary duty, companies usually want to know about how prospective employees handle their own money. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires businesses to inform candidates who are not hired on the basis of their credit check. Candidates then have the right to request the employer share a free copy of the credit report and give them an opportunity to dispute and resolve any errors in it.

About the Author

Eric Feigenbaum started his career in print journalism, becoming editor-in-chief of "The Daily" of the University of Washington during college and afterward working at two major newspapers. He later did many print and Web projects including re-brandings for major companies and catalog production.

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