Everything You Need to Know About Background Checks and Pre-Employment Screening

Katie Dec 11

When applying for a job in the past your prospective new employer may have told you that they were going to run a background check as part of the process. Many businesses use background checks as a form of pre-employment screening to find out about an individual’s criminal, financial and employment history.Background Checks and Pre-Employment Screening

Background checks aren’t just a part of the pre-employment screening process; they are also a part of the screening process if you're volunteering, purchasing a firearm, or signing a rental agreement. You can even run a self background check to make sure that the information that is connected to you is factual. This is a good precautionary step to take before starting off on a job search or looking for property to rent.

There are many different types of background checks which we cover in the guide below.

What Type of Information Is Available via Background Checks?

Background checks can include everything from criminal history to consumer reports and many other points of data. The type of information that is requested depends on the reason for why the background check is being run.

Common types of information that are requested during employment screening can include:

  • Criminal records
  • Sex offender records
  • Incarceration records
  • Legal working status
  • Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Driving records (if driving is a part of the job that is being applied for)
  • Education records
  • Prior employment records
  • Workers’ compensation records
  • Credit reports and bankruptcy records
  • Court records
  • Drug test records
  • Personal references
  • Military records
  • State licensing records

Depending on the type of job that you are applying for, the pre-employment screening process can vary greatly. Individuals applying for jobs working with children, elderly, or disabled are carefully screened for past criminal activity.

Those applying for jobs that could pose a threat to security will also be screened more thoroughly. These include law enforcement, airport and airline related, and national security jobs. Also, people who work in shipping ports will have to pass a more extensive background check.

Why Would Someone Run a Background Check on Me?

The most common reason someone would run a background check on you is when you are applying for a job. The extra steps in the screening process that are part of the background check give employers greater peace of mind when hiring new employees. Background checks can prevent employers from hiring employees who are not qualified or could cause problems in the workplace. Under federal law, and in some states, background checks are required for a person to be eligible for certain jobs.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) clearly defines what information can be accessed in a background check conducted during pre-employment screening. An employer that is using a third-party company to conduct a background check must disclose that they are running a background check to the applicant.

Certain pieces of information (education, military and medical records) must be requested via special permission by the applicant.

Landlords may also request a background check to screen tenants. These background checks include credit, criminal and employment history.

For the purchase of firearms and explosives, the federal government has created the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Buyers must fill out a form that initiates the background check process. It is usually a quick process, however, the FBI may take up to three days to process a NICS request. Once three days have passed, the buyer can purchase the firearm or explosive - even if there are no results received. Background checks and the sale of guns is controversial as no background check is federally required if the transaction is through a private seller (which is frequently referred to as the "gun show loophole").

How Long Does It Take for a Background Check to Process?

Depending on the amount of information that is requested a background check can take longer to process. In most cases a pre-employment background check will take anywhere from three days to one week. Some background checks can be instantaneous, but these often provide results that are incorrect or information that is incomplete.

What Is the Quickest Way to Get a Background Check?

The quickest way to get a background check is not the best way. It is best to request employment background checks from a FCRA compliant employment screening company, such as GoodHire. There are many different companies that offer pre-employment background checks. Reputable background screening companies will take you through the process of requesting a background check step-by-step to make sure that you as an employer are following regulations.

How Accurate Is the Information in a Background Check?

Instantaneous or free background checks are not reliable. A good, reliable background check from an FCRA compliant screening service can cost from $20-100 for one report depending on the amount of information that is requested. Some background check companies will offer discounts for background reports bought in volume.

Can I Get a Free Background Check?

Background checks that are free usually report information that is incomplete or inaccurate. Free background checks are not comprehensive and require you to look in several different places for the information that you want.

However, there is a free service that offers self background checks so that you can make sure that the information that shows up in your background report is correct.

Is There a Way to Do a Self Background Check?

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers Self Check, a free background check service. This tool helps you ensure that your background report will not prevent you from a potential job opportunity.

Under the FCRA, every person is also entitled to one free credit report every year. It is extremely important to check your yearly credit report and your credit score regularly. Changes in your credit report or score could mean that your identity has been stolen.

Where Does the Information in a Background Check Come From?

Some of the information can be accessed via public record. Arrest records and convictions, as well as the sex offender registry are all public record. Court records and bankruptcies are also public record.

A criminal rap sheet is not public record and requires permission to access. Consumer reports, medical records, military service, and certain educational records are all confidential.

Background checks can also provide information taken via social media. Employers will often check candidates social media as a first step in the screening process. It’s important to note that employers conducting their own investigation into social media do not fall under the FCRA. Be careful what you put online and avoid uploading information that could hurt your chances with a future employer.

What to Do When a Background Check Has Incorrect Information?

Luckily, the FCRA protects us from incorrect information. Employers who choose not to hire because of something on someone’s background report must first tell the potential employee why and provide them with the report. The job applicant then has the opportunity to dispute the information included in the background check.

If there is an issue in the consumer reports, you must file a complaint with the consumer reporting agency that has the incorrect information. The consumer reporting agency will investigate and correct any inaccuracies.

How Far Back Can a Background Check Go?

The FCRA states that an employer should not request arrest records that are over seven years old from the date of the pre-employment screening. Vice versa, consumer reporting agencies should not report this information.

Background reports also cannot include criminal records that have been expunged.

Can a Company Not Hire a Person Because of a Background Check?

Yes, but the FRCA closely regulates this. For example, bankruptcies, workers compensation and injuries cannot be held against you when applying for a job. An employer also has to tell you that they are not hiring you because of something they found in your background check. The employer must provide you with the report, the reason, and allow you to dispute it if the information is incorrect or should not have been included.

Some employers will simply say that it wasn’t due to the background report, but because there were more talented candidates, which exempts them from sharing the background report with you and allows them to bypass the regulations set forth in the FCRA.

Is There Anything I Should Do Before a Pre-Employment Background Check?

  • Run a background check on yourself! You can use a government tool, like Self Check, or use a paid background check service. IdentitySmart offers a self background report when signing up as a way to protect and monitor your identity.
  • Ask for a credit report to make sure there are no inaccuracies and that your credit is in a good state.
  • Request to see court records (if you’ve ever been involved in a lawsuit) and driving records (if the job includes driving) to make sure that they are accurate and don’t include information that is over seven years old.
  • Snoop on yourself via Google. Run a search on your name and make sure that nothing shows up that could hurt your chance of receiving a job offer.
  • Let former colleagues and neighbors know that they may be contacted for a personal reference.
  • Know your rights as protected under the FCRA.