What is the most important part of a background check?

When conducting a background check on a potential employee, there are many different components to consider. However, the most important part of a background check is verifying the accuracy of the information provided by the applicant. This ensures that the company has a complete and truthful understanding of the individual’s history and qualifications.

Why is verifying applicant information so critical?

There are a few key reasons why confirming the details submitted by an applicant is the most vital part of a thorough background check:

  • It provides legitimacy to the candidate’s claims about education, work history, and other credentials. Unverified details leave room for embellishment or even outright fabrication.
  • It screens for potential red flags like employment gaps, firings, or criminal history that the applicant may have omitted. Relying solely on self-reported information risks missing warning signs.
  • It forms a baseline for assessing the candidate’s honesty and integrity. If parts of their application are found to be misleading or false, it calls their truthfulness into question.
  • It ensures compliance with laws related to due diligence in hiring. Negligence in verification can make an employer vulnerable to negligence lawsuits later on.

In short, verifying that an applicant has been forthcoming lays the groundwork for making an informed hiring decision. Attempting to shortcut this step undermines the entire purpose of performing background checks.

What methods are used to verify applicant details?

There are a variety of techniques that background screening services and employers themselves can utilize to fact check a candidate’s application:

  • Employment verification – Confirming past job titles, duties, employment dates, salary, and reasons for departure through records requested from previous employers.
  • Education verification – Validating claimed academic degrees, certificates, and transcripts by contacting the granting institutions.
  • Reference checks – Speaking with provided references to corroborate the applicant’s statements and assess character.
  • Criminal history – Running courthouse searches for any arrests, charges, or convictions not disclosed by the applicant.
  • Sex offender registry checks – Screening national databases to identify inclusion on sex offender registries.
  • Licensure/credential verification – Confirming proper licensure and standing with any claimed professional certifications or vocational licenses.

Utilizing a combination of these verification techniques provides a multilayered look into the candidate’s background and can flag any discrepancies needing further investigation.

What records are accessed for employment verification?

Checking an applicant’s stated work history involves contacting current and former employer HR departments to request relevant records. Commonly accessed documentation includes:

  • Employment applications/resumes – Comparing to applicant resume for consistency.
  • Dates of employment – Confirming the stated duration at each employer.
  • Positions held – Verifying job titles match the claimed roles.
  • Salary/pay – Checking that compensation aligns with position and experience.
  • Reason for departure – Noting if resignation versus termination or discharge.
  • Eligibility for rehire – Flagging if candidate is ineligible for rehire due to poor performance or misconduct.
  • Performance reviews/disciplinary records – Assessing if underlying performance issues were omitted.

If a former employer is unable or unwilling to provide documentation, credentials may be partially verified through pay stubs or W-2 forms issued to the applicant during the stated period of employment.

What questions are asked during reference checks?

Speaking with an applicant’s listed references is an opportunity to get third-party perspective on their capabilities and track record. Some common questions asked during reference checks include:

  • What was your relationship to the applicant?
  • How long did you work together?
  • What were the applicant’s responsibilities in their role?
  • How would you describe the applicant’s work performance and contributions?
  • What are the applicant’s greatest strengths? Weaknesses?
  • Did you directly supervise the applicant?
  • Would you rehire this person if given the opportunity?
  • Why did the applicant leave the position?
  • Can you confirm the job title and salary for the applicant?
  • Is there anything else I should know about the applicant?

Positive feedback helps reinforce the applicant’s claims while negative or inconsistent responses prompt further digging into the candidate’s record and truthfulness.

What are some resume red flags that may indicate fabrication?

When vetting an applicant’s stated background, several resume irregularities should raise scrutiny. Red flags include:

  • Employment gaps – Periods of unemployment omitted from work history.
  • Short job durations – Switching employers every 1-2 years could signal issues.
  • Vague or inflated job titles – Unverifiable titles like “senior strategist” versus specific roles.
  • Dubious degrees – Claiming degrees from unaccredited institutions.
  • Mismatched skills – Stating skills not aligned with the role and industry.
  • Refusal to provide references – Unwillingness to provide sources to verify experience.

Following up on these concerns during fact checking can identify exaggerations, fabrications, or attempts to cover up employment problems.

What industries require the most extensive background checks?

While thorough verification is advisable across the board, some industries require deeper diligence due to vulnerability factors. Fields demanding more rigorous checks include:

  • Healthcare – Access to sensitive health records and controlled substances.
  • Financial services – Handling of monetary transactions and accounting.
  • Security services – Entrusted with protecting people, data, or property.
  • Childcare/education – Working with vulnerable minors.
  • Defense contracting – Exposure to classified information.
  • Transportation – Responsible for passenger safety and mobility.

Given the risks, most regulators and employers in these industries will expect full verification of identity, work eligibility, education, criminal record, and other relevant background data points.

How does a criminal record check differ from a reference check?

While references focus on professional competency, a criminal record check provides personal legal history:

  • References – Verify work responsibilities and performance.
  • Criminal checks – Uncover undisclosed arrests, charges, and convictions.

Key differences include:

  • References come from provided contacts like former managers. Criminal searches check court system records.
  • References give qualitative information. Criminal checks provide factual, objective records.
  • Reference questions focus on competency and work behaviors. Criminal questions target illegal activity.
  • References risks omitted negatives. Criminal searches risks missing records due to jurisdiction limitations.

While both check types are relevant, criminal searches avoid dependence on subjective opinions.

Should criminal records found during a background check automatically disqualify applicants?

With criminal background checks, there are a few factors to weigh when assessing records that surface:

  • Relevance of the crime to the position responsibilities.
  • Length of time since the offense.
  • Number and frequency of infractions.
  • Age of the candidate at the time of offense.
  • Severity and nature of the crime.
  • Jurisdiction and changes to laws since violation.

For example, a single alcohol-related misdemeanor from over 10 years ago may not warrant disqualification for an accounting role. However, theft convictions from the past 2 years should bar candidates from cash handling jobs.

Automatic disqualification based on any criminal record may be overly rigid and risks discriminatory hiring practices. Assessments should weigh crime severity, relevance, and recency based on the role duties and business risk tolerance.

What is the FCRA and how does it impact background check procedures?

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) regulates employment background screening processes. Key requirements include:

  • Obtaining written candidate consent before running background checks.
  • Requiring screening agencies to verify accuracy of records.
  • Providing applicants a copy of collected records if requested.
  • Notifying candidates if a negative decision was influenced by screening findings.
  • Giving candidates a chance to dispute any incorrect or outdated findings.

Following FCRA procedures promotes fair, lawful practices and protects applicant rights when using background checks in hiring.

What precautions help avoid discrimination claims when conducting background checks?

Potential risks surrounding discriminatory hiring practices based on background checks can be mitigated through precautions such as:

  • Apply screening consistently across all candidates, not just some.
  • Disqualify based on job-relevant criminal records only, not extraneous infractions.
  • Evaluate candidates on a case-by-case basis instead of blanket exclusions.
  • Consider only recent criminal records versus decades old offenses.
  • Allow candidates to provide clarifying context on records.
  • Train staff on lawful use of background check data in hiring.

Avoiding unfair attribution or unjustified exclusions helps guard against claims of discrimination during the background screening process.


While a full background screening will include identity confirmation, qualifications validation, reference checks, and criminal record searches, the most important part is verifying an applicant’s stated history. Fact-checking education, employment and other claims safeguards against reliance on fabricated credentials and provides a reliable baseline for evaluating candidate fit. Diligent verification combined with fair consideration of flagged issues will yield the insights needed to make informed hiring choices and avoid preventable talent risks.

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