What You Need to Know About Background Checks

Line of recruits sitting in chairs for background check

Background checks are an important part of the hiring process. A survey conducted by Harris Poll for CareerBuilder queried both employees and hiring managers/human resource managers to reveal several myths and misconceptions regarding background checks.

The survey found that 43% of companies have made a bad hire in the past because they didn’t conduct a background check – and now, 75% are committed to doing background checks.

According to Revi Goldwasser, a Los Angeles-based recruiter and job hunting expert, companies conduct background checks because candidates can be dishonest about employment history and other work details, education, salary, and credit/criminal/drug history.

Employment Details

According to the survey, 13% of candidates estimate their graduation and employment dates because they don’t think it’s a big deal if the dates are incorrect. However, the report reveals that dates that don’t sync may cause the resume or application to be flagged, which could result in a processing delay – or may even disqualify the candidate.

Goldwasser says that employers will typically call the HR department at former places of employment to verify that the candidate actually worked for these companies, and also to confirm the start and end dates listed. However, she says they usually won’t verify titles and/or salaries unless the candidate signs additional consent release forms.

Companies also check the references provided by the candidate. David Perry, managing partner of the Perry-Martel International executive recruiting firm in Ottawa, and author of “Hiring Greatness: How to Recruit Your Dream Team and Crush the Competition,” says checking references can help employers verify the claims made on a candidate’s resume. “Can the candidate do the job? By checking references, companies can get a better read on the candidate’s real abilities—not just what the candidate says he or she can do.”

He says companies also want to know if the candidate would be a danger to others. “Answering this question is critical from a safety standpoint,” Perry says. “Hiring an unstable candidate can place a company, its employees, and customers in harm’s way, and leave the organization open to a negligent hiring lawsuit.”

John Malloy, president of the Sanford Rose Associates – Santee recruiting firm in South Carolina, cautions against putting too much stock in references from friends. “Does this reference really know the candidate and is the person a professional or social contact? I am only really interested in the business side.” Malloy also says he wants a reference who can provide information about the applicant’s work environment, and prefers current or former bosses. “I like to ask open ended questions like, ‘Tell me what the candidate was like when (fill in the blank)’ since these types of questions provide a wealth of information.”

The report found that many candidates don’t think it’s a big deal to notify people that they are being listed as references. However, when these individuals are called without warning, they may not be prepared to provide answers on the spot, and it’s not in the candidate’s best interest to have a reference stumbling and hesitant when responding.

Education/Salary

With candidates who have been out of college for several years, Goldwasser says firms may or may not check educational credentials. However, there have been several high-profile cases of employees getting fired for claiming degrees they didn’t earn, so candidates should never fudge their credentials.

Also, some candidates believe that exaggerating the amount of current or past salaries can result in a higher offer. “Most firms go by honesty and integrity when it comes to your salary history, and will believe what you tell them – but some can check,” While there can be some degree of grace for interview and body language mistakes fudging your salary history isn’t considered a nervous mistake, Goldwasser warns. “And if you get caught lying – well, no firm wants a liar.”

Credit/Criminal/Drug Testing

Another myth is that a background check will only include employment information, but employers are checking public records to find out where applicants have lived, in addition to driving and criminal records, according to Goldwasser.

Among companies that conduct background checks, a second CareerBuilder survey reveals that 82% perform a criminal background check, 60% want to confirm the candidate’s identity, 44% are checking for illegal drug use, and 29% are checking the candidate’s credit report. Goldwasser says there are several reasons employers want to know this information. “For example, if you’re hired in a role that incudes driving, companies want to be sure there are no DUIs; and if you’re working as a bank teller, they want to be sure you don’t have a history of theft.”

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