How to Prepare for an Employment Background Check

Tips for getting ready for a background check for a new job

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If you're job hunting, you need to be ready for a potential employer to thoroughly check your background. It's always a good idea to be aware of any red flags that might be on your record, so you can plan how to handle them. The best way to prepare for an employment background check is to know in advance all the information an employer might discover about you. 

Especially if you've been in the job market for a while, it's easy to forget a previous employment glitch (or personal misstep) that will cast you in a bad light. The most important thing is that you don't wait until you're in the middle of a job search to prepare for a background check. 

How to Prepare for an Employment Background Check

When interviewing for a job, you may need to answer questions about your credit record, your driving record, and other items and situations an employer may consider relevant. Even if these things have nothing to do the job opening, they speak to an individual’s character. Consider all of the following when preparing for your background check:

Credit Report. Get a copy of your credit report. You can order a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (e.g., Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) for every year you think is relevant. If there is erroneous information (which can happen), dispute it with the creditor to clear your name. Be aware of the law in your state regarding employment-related credit checks.

Criminal Records. Some states don't allow questions about arrests or convictions beyond a certain point in your past. Other states only allow consideration of criminal history for certain positions (such as jobs in the financial sector or working with children). Here's how a criminal record impacts your job search.

Driving Record. Check your motor vehicle record by requesting a copy of your record from your state Department of Motor Vehicles. You may also be able to review your driving record online at the DMV website. If you have a history of traffic violations and you're interviewing for a job where a license is required, be prepared to answer questions about your driving record.

Drug Testing. The Society for Human Resource Management estimates that 90% of employers conduct some sort of drug screening for job candidates. Testing is typically conducted after employees have been interviewed and the employer is ready to make offers. Legal statutes vary by state but generally require a uniform process for all candidates for similar jobs.

Candidates should educate themselves regarding the time that various substances can be detected in drug tests and seek help from counselors and substance abuse agencies to modify any addictive behavior. The decriminalization of marijuana in several states has resulted in a trend where some employers no longer test for marijuana use. However, it remains illegal in many states and under federal law.

Employer References. There are no federal laws restricting what information an employer can disclose about former employees. Ask your previous employers for copies of your employment files and inquire what your references are going to say about you. Here's information on what employers can legally say about you.

Know Your Rights. When employers conduct a check of your background (including credit, criminal, and past employment) if they use a third party, the background check is covered by The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA defines a background check as a consumer report. Before an employer can get a consumer report for employment purposes, they must notify you in writing and get your written consent.

More About Employment Background Checks

Review the employment background check and employment verification information, including what information employers can, and cannot, find out about job applicants and employees.

Employment Law

Here's information on what you need to know about employment law when you're job searching or when you lose your job, including wages, background checks, required employment forms, unemployment, and other related information.

Should You Volunteer Information about Issues that You Know will Surface with a Background Check?

If you have an issue in your background that you are certain will surface in a background check, it may be advantageous to discuss this issue with your prospective employer so that you can help shape how they will perceive this information. Problems that you have been resolved or addressed in a substantive manner are usually the clearest items to volunteer. For example, if you have a low credit rating due to irresponsible spending by a former spouse and have since separated and resolved any debt.

If you decide to disclose any issues, the best time to do so will generally be after you have already made a positive impression through the interview.