What do employers typically look for in a background check?

Employers conduct background checks on job candidates for several reasons – to verify the accuracy of resume details, assess character and integrity, evaluate qualifications, and mitigate legal liability. Background checks allow employers to make informed hiring decisions and avoid issues down the road. While the extent of background checks varies by employer, there are several common components that provide insight into a candidate’s background.

Criminal History

One of the primary purposes of background checks is to uncover any criminal history. Employers want to avoid hiring individuals who could jeopardize workplace safety or damage the company’s reputation. A standard criminal record check looks for any misdemeanors, felonies or other convictions at the county, state and federal levels. Charges for violent crimes, theft, fraud, or drug offenses are major red flags for employers. Details like the date, nature of offense and outcome help employers assess the severity and risk of hiring someone with a criminal past. For sensitive roles, some employers dig deeper into criminal history by searching sex offender registries or global watchlists.

Employment Verification

Most employers will verify basic employment details like company names, job titles, dates of employment and reason for leaving. This information is compared against the candidate’s resume, applications and claims during interviews to check for inconsistencies or fabrications. Gaps in employment will also be scrutinized. Falsifying credentials is grounds for immediate disqualification for many companies. For professional roles, employers may go further to confirm details like certifications, academic credentials, salary, responsibilities and performance. Candidates may be required to provide W-2 forms or pay stubs as proof. Frequent job-hopping or dubious reasons for leaving roles are red flags.

Identity Verification

Candidate identification is confirmed using a social security number trace. This helps employers ensure credentials match up to the appropriate individual. Education, employment and criminal checks hinge on accurate identity information. The trace can uncover potential issues like false identities, stolen identities or SSNs belonging to deceased individuals. Most employers will use the social security number provided on job applications to run identity checks. Some may take it a step further by validating identity documents.

Financial History

For positions that involve fiduciary responsibilities like handling company finances, employers often conduct credit checks. Poor credit can hint at risks for fraud, theft or embezzlement that could endanger company funds and assets. Bankruptcies, tax liens, foreclosures, judgments and delinquent accounts all raise concerns around candidate trustworthiness and integrity. However, credit reports also incorporate consumer rights protections under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Candidates must provide written authorization and adverse information cannot be used as the sole basis for denial.

Driving Records

Employers commonly verify driving records for positions involving vehicle operation – truck drivers, delivery workers, field technicians and more. Checks identify any moving violations, license suspensions, at-fault accidents and DUI convictions. Depending on safety sensitivity, some companies establish maximum thresholds for specific infractions. Candidates with major violations within a set time period may be restricted from driving on the job. Beyond safety, responsible driving correlates to overall diligence, risk-taking behaviors and conscientiousness.

Drug Testing

Employers may administer drug tests to screen candidates for use of illicit substances. Pre-employment drug tests are most common for safety-sensitive transportation, healthcare, military and manufacturing roles. However, any employer can legally establish drug-free workplace policies and conduct testing. Urine samples are tested for substances like cannabis, cocaine, opioids, amphetamines and PCP. Failed drug tests indicate risks for absenteeism, performance issues, hazards and legal liability. Some employers conduct random drug testing for existing employees as well.

Background Check Timing

Background checks are typically conducted after an initial interview, when the employer is seriously considering a candidate. Checks only proceed after the candidate has provided written consent on a disclosure form outlining the components to be verified. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, candidates must also receive notice if any negative information surfaces that influences the hiring decision. Conducting checks too early wastes employer time and effort. But late checks risk placing unsuitable candidates into roles. Many employers strike a balance by screening finalists before extending offers.

Candidate Rights

While background checks provide useful insights, employers must also respect candidate privacy and consent. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) outlines candidate rights and permissible uses for background check information. Rules include:

– Requiring informed written consent before running checks
– Notifying candidates if check results lead to adverse actions like rejection
– Providing candidates a copy of the background check report before action is taken
– Allowing candidates to dispute inaccurate or incomplete information
– Obtaining legally required state and federal notices and forms

Violating FCRA mandates can lead to regulatory penalties, fines or lawsuits. Maintaining compliance protects employer interests while respecting candidate rights.

Types of Background Checks

There are many different types of background checks employers can utilize:

Criminal Background Checks

– Checks county, state and federal criminal records for convictions, arrests, warrants and pending cases
– Uncovers felonies, misdemeanors, sexual offenses and incarceration details
– Reveals actual convictions versus dismissed charges

Employment Verification

– Confirms past employers, positions, dates employed, salary and responsibilities
– Checks accuracy of job titles, duration, reason for leaving
– Contacts past employers for performance feedback

Education Verification

– Validates academic credentials like degrees, certificates, institutions attended
– Verifies dates of enrollment, graduation, fields of study, honors/awards
– Checks accuracy of claimed educational background

Motor Vehicle Records

– Pulls driving history from state motor vehicle departments
– Identifies license status, driving violations, at-fault accidents
– Checks for patterns of dangerous driving behaviors

Credit History

– Accesses candidate financial background from credit bureaus
– Reveals bankruptcies, foreclosures, tax liens, judgments, delinquent accounts
– Highlights potential concerns around responsibility and trustworthiness

Professional License/Certification Checks

– Validates professional credentials like contractor licenses, medical licenses, financial certifications
– Verifies license status, issue date, expiration date, field/specialty
– Confirms credentials are properly maintained and in good standing

Drug & Alcohol Testing

– Screens candidates for illegal substances via urine, hair or blood tests
– Detects recent use of drugs like cannabis, cocaine, opioids, amphetamines
– Important for safety-sensitive transportation, healthcare and manufacturing roles

Social Media Screening

– Checks candidate online footprint across social networks, blogs and websites
– Assesses appropriateness of content, comments, affiliations
– Gauges judgment, character and reputation based on digital persona

Potential Red Flags

Background checks may reveal various red flags that give employers pause:

Employment Gaps

– Frequent gaps between jobs suggest instability, frequent changes or termination
– Gaps left unexplained can signal issues like incarceration, misconduct or non-employment
– Patterns of short stints at multiple employers indicates job-hopping

Falsified Credentials

– Discrepancies between background check findings and candidate claims
– Fabricated or embellished work experience, education, skills
– Fake identities, degrees, professional licenses

Criminal Convictions

– Serious, recent and relevant crimes indicate risks to workplace safety and integrity
– Multiple minor convictions demonstrate patterns of unlawful behavior
– Charges related to company property like theft or fraud especially concerning

Driving Violations

– Multiple moving violations and accidents show risky driving behaviors
– DUI convictions are major red flags, indicating dangerous judgment
– License suspensions or revocations suggest negligence and inability to operate vehicles legally


– For financial roles, bankruptcies and foreclosures reflect irresponsible financial history
– However, adverse financial events do not automatically disqualify candidates

Failed Drug Tests

– Confirms recent illegal drug use which increases risks for accidents, errors and policy breaches
– May necessitate drug abuse treatment before candidate can be deemed fit for duty

Benefits of Conducting Checks

Background checks offer numerous benefits for employers:

Reduced Negligent Hiring Risks

– Helps avoid legal liability for failure to conduct reasonable screening of candidates
– Surfaces “red flags” around past issues indicating elevated risk if hired

Improved Workplace Safety

– Detects candidates possibly prone to violence, crime, harassment or accidents

Greater Workplace Trust

– Verifies integrity, ethics and qualifications claimed by candidates
– Reduces risks of fraud, theft or misconduct post-hire

Superior Candidate Quality

– Filters out unqualified, dishonest or high-risk candidates
– Allows companies to make informed hiring decisions
– Saves employers wasted time, cost and turnover related to bad hires

Adherence to Statutes & Requirements

– Satisfies background check mandates for many regulated industries like airlines, transportation, healthcare
– Critical for complying with equal employment opportunity laws

Insight Into Work Habits & Reliability

– Previous attendance, performance issues and reasons for termination provide helpful insights
– Driving records check historical patterns of responsibility and safety


Background checks allow potential employers to thoroughly vet candidates and avoid unnecessary risks in making new hires. While checks should be tailored to job-relatedness and conducted professionally, they are an important screening tool for companies of all types and sizes. Typical areas of focus include criminal records, employment history, identity verification, motor vehicle records, drug testing, financial background and professional credentials. Information uncovered should be carefully balanced against fairness and candidate rights. With proper diligence, background checks can improve the quality and reliability of new hires, reducing legal liability for employers.

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