Whether you’re looking to hire someone or you’re looking for a job yourself, background checks are a part of the processMost applicants and hiring managers usually feel pretty comfortable with each other after a couple of interviews - but background checks are an important part of hiring. They help employers confirm that a prospective employee has a history of being trustworthy, and would be a great (reliable) addition to the company.

Many of us have agreed to have a background check performed on us during an interview process without really knowing what information employers actually check, and many hiring managers have run background checks without really knowing what happens between submitting an applicant's details and getting the OK. 

In this post, we’ll break down some of the things employers will (and won't) find when performing background checks on applicants. Not every employer will perform every type of check - but it pays to be prepared, and to know your options

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1. Credit Check

These checks are done to look into someone’s credit history, and can only be performed with the express permission of the subject of the test. A person’s credit history is a compilation of reports by the three major credit agencies (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax), and can actually be had for free, once a year, by law.

Credit checks can be used to prove whether or not someone has the necessary means to pay rent on time, pay their car note, or handle someone’s money. Seeing a trend here? A credit check is a great way to check if someone is fiscally responsible - is able to manage their finances and live responsibly within their means.

Note: some states have made it illegal to base hiring decisions on a credit score - check to see if this affects you.

2. Driving Record

Are you a bit of a lead foot on the highway? You might want to steer away from positions with a heavy driving component. With permission, employers can run for a driving record check to prove that you have a history of being a safe driver. Everyone's driving record or MVR (Motor Vehicle Report) includes:

  • Status of drivers license.
  • Traffic accidents.
  • Driving record points.
  • Traffic law violations, convictions, and fines.
  • DUI’s in public record.
  • Whether a driver’s license is currently valid, suspended or canceled.

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3. Education Verification

Resume exaggerators beware! Potential employers have the ability to fact check your resume, including your education history. This check is primarily used to confirm or deny that you received the level of education you claim - and where that education came from.

Often this part of a check is not involved in a regular background check, requiring a bit of legwork on the part of the hiring manager to call the university in question directly and receive confirmation.

4. Reference Check

If you’ve ever applied for a job, chances are you had to supply references - and you had better not be banking on your potential employer not calling them. References are used by employers to get a feel for what you’re like in the office, your past performance, and to fact check what you’ve told them - so don’t lie on your resume, and try to be nice and professional to everyone you come across. Not everyone does this, but it’s good practice for applicants to reach out to their references to let them know they’re likely to get a call. This doesn’t necessarily mean that references have their responses coached - it’s more of a professional courtesy.

5. Drug Screening

Drug screening or tests are used to determine whether or not illegal drugs are present, and can only be performed with permission, and usually some amount of prior notice. This kind of check is pretty self-explanatory - if drug use has occurred, it will show up in the test (depending on the type of test and the type of drug). That's all there is to it. 

However, with new technology comes the ability to perform drug tests more discreetly, without the knowledge of another person. Forensic surface drug tests can identify trace amounts of substances on any surface, which is ideal if you think something is abusing an illegal substance and they aren't telling you the truth.

6. Social Security Number Trace + Employment Application Verification Checks

These are fairly straightforward checks used by employers to verify that the personal information an employee submitted is truthful.

The primary use of these checks is to determine whether or not someone is who they say they are. Employers do this by checking the social security number provided with the data at the Social Security Administration. By matching the information in an I-9 to the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration’s records, employers will also verify if someone is eligible to work in the US.

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7. County, State, and Federal Criminal Checks

These tend to be what people think of when discussing background checks in general - although not every background check is made equal, and almost every check requires the applicant's permission to run.

A criminal background check should show reveal any criminal history - or lack thereof. These are referred to as a “rap sheet” and will often contain offenses at the county, state, and federal level - although many background checks can be deficient in this area, as criminal databases are myriad.

Rap sheets usually contain a record of:

  • Misdemeanor convictions.
  • Felony convictions.
  • Past arrests.
  • Warrants.
  • Current pending charges.
  • Dismissed charges.
  • Acquitted charges.

This type of background check can get both employers and (prospective) employees in trouble, as many criminal checks do not check all databases and therefore may miss some out of state offences - or, they may match the wrong offenses with the wrong person, marking a clean individual with a conviction they don’t have.

Shameless plug: private investigators aren’t robots. When they conduct background checks, they check all relevant databases and make sure things match up, avoiding false positives and false negatives.

8. Liens and Civil Judgements Check

A lien is imposed by law on a piece of property in order to secure payment for a debt, while civil judgments are rulings in a court of law pertaining to non-criminal matters, employers will sometimes check to see if you have any judgments or liens. It is typical to check if an applicant is fiscally responsible, lives a ‘stable’ lifestyle, and has no outstanding judgments or debts to pay as a result of legal proceedings.

Not every employer conducts checks like this - but this doesn’t mean this sort of information won’t come to light. For instance, if someone owes money due to a civil judgment, it will come up in a credit report, or in any in-depth check of someone's legal records.


There you have it - whether you’re trying to get over that last hurdle and start working, or you’re trying to understand what a background check really tells you about that potential hire, hopefully, this post has helped you out.

Unfortunately, many background checks are quite shallow, only checking for major indiscretions or life events, like arrest, severe misconduct, civil judgments, or even identity fraud. If you need to know a little more about someone before you hand them sensitive information, or otherwise let them get involved in your business, you’ll need to go beyond a simple background and reference check. For that, you’ll need a private investigator from someone like, say, Trustify. If you need a deep background check for employment (or anything else) let us know.

Danny Boice
Danny Boice

 Tags: Business

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