what is a background check for employment

Employment Background Check: How Is It Different From a Regular One?

Last updated on September 5, 2021

Employers often find themselves having to select between a number of perfect candidates for a position that needs filling within their organization. This is why up to 95% of them often undergo some sort of background check to ensure that the person chosen for that role is the right one.

For example, individuals that apply for financial positions may have their credit reports checked in order to make sure that the person in question is financially responsible.

What is a Background Check for Employment?

An employment background check helps employers screen their potential employees, new or already existing. These background checks vary from company to company and each process can look completely different depending on the position in question.

There are some employment checks which are performed at the company so that employees are able to supervise the process. On the other hand, some background employee checks require the help of a third party to find out the information needed about a potential employee or candidate. The screening process can use various resources so that the employer find the right information and make the correct decision for the position.

Whilst in the past, many employment background checks solely focused on confirming any facts that were presented by the applicant, today things are a little different. The screening process has expanded to include a lot more information than before so that the employer has an easier time selecting the right person for the job.

What are Employers Looking for in a Background Check?

Now that you know what is a background check for employment, there are a number of plausible reasons an employer might want to conduct background checks prior to employing someone. These include:


When it comes to running a successful business, one of the aspects that take priority when you’re an employer is safety. This includes the safety of employees as well as the safety of customers and other members of the public.

Realistically, if an employer creates an unsafe environment within the workspace, they are likely to be held liable and responsible for any situations that might arise. Other than avoiding possible liability claims, employers must make sure that their employees’ productivity levels are on point. Only a safe environment can ensure that employees feel comfortable enough to focus on their clients, customers, and work.

A truly successful business must be built on a foundation of trust, of which safety is a primary element. An employee background check is just part of the process that will prevent any threats from entering into the safe environment built so far.

Legal Compliance

Some employment background checks are performed because the employer is legally bound to. This includes government positions as well as jobs that deal directly with children. For positions such as these, the employer cannot choose not to perform a background check.


An employer will likely perform a background check for employment in order to avoid an obvious liability to the firm. If there is something discovered that could potentially be a liability, it allows the employer to discuss it further with other employees in the office or even chat with the potential application about whether this is likely to affect their business.

Company Fit

Obviously, it is in the employers’ best interest to choose a candidate which presents the right fit for the company. A pre-employment background check will let the employer get a sense of whether the potential employees’ values are able to align with those of the business. A background check will also give insight as to whether or not the new employee will be able to get along with the other co-workers in the office and whether they will work well with people in managing positions.

So, what are employers looking for in a background check? Well, that all depends on the position of the company. Employers usually perform background checks to discover any obvious red flags in addition to the reasons listed above.

If you want to get more specific when asking what do employers look for in a background check, a report from CareerBuilder states that those who complete a background check are typically analyzing these aspects:

  • Criminal background: 82%
  • Confirm employment: 62%
  • Confirm identity: 60%
  • Confirm education: 50%
  • Check for illegal drug use: 44%
  • Check licensing: 38%
  • Credit check: 29%

When it comes to hiring someone, as well as firing, these are the biggest factors that employers are wary of:

  • Derogatory Language
  • Sexually explicit materials
  • References to drug use
  • References to alcohol
  • Provocative talk about politics, religion, and race
  • Bullying
  • Violence
  • Disapproving comments about your current job, coworkers, customers, etc.

When it comes to the positives, employers are always looking for factors which include:

  • Visible interest in your field
  • Obvious contribution to your specific industry
  • A work portfolio
  • Accomplishments or awards
  • Proof that you shared the truth about previous professional experiences
  • Hobbies outside of work (like natural dyes)
  • Examples which prove your uniqueness

What Does an Employment Background Check Consist of?

What are employers looking for in a background check and what can they see in the results? There is a range of information that employers can seek when conducting a background check. This includes things like:

  • Verification of a social security number
  • Work history
  • Credit information
  • Driving records
  • Criminal records
  • Court records
  • Vehicle registration compensation
  • Bankruptcy
  • References
  • Property ownership
  • Drug test results
  • Medical records
  • Military records
  • Sex offender information

Most employee background checks are conducted in line with the job position at hand. For example, if you’re seeking employment in a bank, your criminal records will be searched so as to make sure you haven’t been involved in any type of robberies or embezzlement cases in the past.

Alternatively, those looking to find work in government agencies with high-security clearances can expect a very thorough background check.

What are the Legal Requirements of Performing an Employee Background Check?

How do employers do background checks? Prior to an employer conducting a background check for employment on you, they are legally obligated to notify you in writing. In return, they need to get your written authorization to do so.

On the other hand, if the employer is checking out information on their own, they are not legally required to ask for your consent. This includes calling your former employer.

If the employer doesn’t hire you due to a consumer report, they need to offer you a pre-adverse action disclosure. This will include a copy of the consumer report in question as well as an explanation of your rights.

You will also get an adverse action notice in which they state that you have not been hired, and also include the contact information of the screening company that has been used to collect information.

You will be provided with information as to how you can dispute the report in question.

How Far Back Does a Background Check Go for Employment?

There are some information that cannot be included in a background check. This includes time-sensitive information. So how far back does a background check go for employment? Any information regarding bankruptcies dating farther back than ten years cannot be included. Additionally, any civil suits and civil judgments, as well as arrest records after seven years, cannot be included.

Any tax liens, as well as accounts placed for collection for more than seven years, are not permitted in the employment background check. This doesn’t apply, however, if the salary is $75,000 or more.

It should be known that your potential employer is able to look into particular records with your consent. When it comes to school records, those are only available for release with the consent of the student.

A majority of military records are strictly confidential and are only released under particular circumstances. In saying that, though, the military is able to disclose facts such as your name, rank, assignments, salary and any awards you have received without your consent.

Although bankruptcy records are publicly available, you are not able to be discriminated against based on that.

There are also various laws on background checks which vary from state to state. In some states, you will not be able to be asked about questions regarding any arrests or convictions past a certain point.

Medical records are highly confidential, but employers might seek to find out information on whether you can physically perform a particular task.

How Does This Differ from a Regular Background Check?

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a law put in place in order to protect potential employees from discrimination. The law also determines which background checks are able to be used as well as how. Any non-FCRA background check cannot be used as a pre-screening for employment. This means the employer in question is prevented from making a decision prior to meeting someone.

Regular background checks are not illegal according to the FCRA. However, these types of checks are unable to be used in a professional setting. You can use them to check up on someone’s identity prior to heading out for a first date or checking up on a potential roommate.

How to Prepare for an Employee Background Check

If you have applied for a dream job and cannot think of anything worse than not getting the job due to possible information that can be dug up from your past, you’re in luck as there are a number of things you can do. Basically, you need to prepare yourself before this happens by taking the following steps.


The best way to scan for information already out there about you is to perform an online background check. this type of background check will include criminal records such as any arrests, court records, convictions of misdemeanors and felonies, warrants, sex offenses, and any incarceration records.

You will also find employment verification, credit reports, sex offender registry, SSN authentication, driving records, personal details, education information as well as social media profile information.

Whilst you could perform a simple Google search, you can be sure than it will not come up with as much information as an online background search.

When you sign up with an online background check service, you normally have unlimited searches for a set amount of time, so it is a great idea to search any variations of your name, and it might also be an idea to pay the add-on fees which will come up with extra information.

Clean Up Your Image

As soon as you know what it is you’re now dealing with and what your potential employer might find out about you, it’s time to start cleaning up.

Begin by removing any content within your control that could be a red flag to your prospective employer.

Everyone has had a messy night out with the gang, but do you really need photographic evidence of falling down the stairs of your local club from a few Saturdays ago? You do not need to delete those photos, but you should adjust the privacy settings on them.

Also, check your profile for any profanities or posts written in poor taste, either by you or your friends. After all, you are who you hang out with.

It’s important to remember that bad search results are known to happen to good people. The fact is, anyone can say whatever they want about you online, without fear of getting into trouble, no matter if it is true or not.

So, put your best foot forward and delete whatever Facebook post might put you in a bad light.

Build Your Optimal Profile

As soon as you have taken the necessary steps to remove any content which a prospective employer might see as a red flag, you should aim to build a brand that shows you in the best light. This means showing exactly who you are, what makes you great as well as what sets you apart from your competitors?

Do you regularly attend any expos that are related to your industry? Be sure to post photos of you and any other professionals you meet, as well as sharing any relevant articles to your field of expertise. Of course, the best way to do this is over a long span of time. Randomly sharing ten articles a day for the past week will make it obvious to the prospective employer what you’re trying to do.

While this is important while you are job hunting, it is important to remember that many employers, particularly on networking platforms like LinkedIn have been known to contact potential employees, offering them a position of work in their company.

This means that you should always focus on your profile. This is because there is a good chance you are being looked up by clients, potential employers, customers as well as co-workers and partners.

The best possible way to prepare for any unexpected employment background checks is to regularly scan as well as monitor your online presence. Stop posting things that could land you in hot water or deter a potential boss. In addition to that, make sure to deal with any negative search results instantly, the less time it’s up there, the better.

Make sure to constantly build your personal and professional profile by keeping in contact with other professionals in the industry and being active on social media. By showing your interest in your chosen field you are also showing initiative, which is a very attractive professional quality.

Another thing to remember is that you need to take advantage of any positive growth opportunities which might be presented through your online brand.

Conclusion To How Employers Do Background Checks

It’s important to ask “how do employers do background checks?”. Basically, background employee checks are performed not only to protect a company, its customers and its employees, but also to ensure that the potential employee is who they say they are. Most people will understand this and comply.

The most important thing to remember when dealing with a background check is to understand what will be uncovered and discussed with you during the interview. Make sure to conduct your own online background check and see what comes up.

Remember that no prospective employer wants to see profanities littering your social media accounts, or you looking like a hot mess on your last night out on the town. If there are images or posts that could deter a future boss, make sure to delete them or alter your privacy settings.

When you have removed any incriminating information on social media accounts you will need to build your professional and personal brand, which will put you in the best light for employment.

Being prepared means you will not be caught off guard and you will be able to discuss in detail as to how some possible elements will not affect your ability to complete the tasks required in your position.

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