Background checks for jobs: A step-by-step guide

Background checks for jobs: A step-by-step guide
Last Updated: May 14, 2024

Employment checks are a screening tool used to verify job applicant information through official legal records. Employers rely on background checks to verify the information provided by job applicants and ensure a thorough evaluation of their suitability for a position. A study by the National Association of Background Screeners (NABS) and claims that 95% of companies use different background screening methods.

The significance of doing background checks cannot be emphasized, as it has been discovered that a startling 70% of applicants fabricate information on their resumes. These background checks are normally performed in the last phases of the hiring process, frequently following the extension of a conditional offer of employment but before the start of official onboarding. Employers can use this strategy to find applicants who might not be a suitable fit for the organization or who lack the necessary experience, abilities, and certifications.

In the United States, background checks have become an integral component of the recruiting process; 72% of businesses regularly screen potential employees. The goals of this technique are to minimize legal risks, guarantee worker safety, and choose the best applicants. The data depicts the environment around background checks for employment.

A startling 82% of employers check candidates' criminal history, underscoring the important influence that a person's past can have on their employment opportunities. Furthermore, 43% of local regulations specifically permit or require background checks, underscoring the broad legal framework that backs this practice.

Key takeaways:

  • Background checks guarantee that the candidate you choose is qualified for the job while preserving the security of your clients, staff, and business.
  • Understand the law and make a policy before doing a background check on an employee.
  • Software and services for background check screening can save you time and ensure compliance.

Background Checks for Jobs: Common Types of Background Checks

  • Criminal record checks: Criminal background checks conducted by state, federal, and local authorities, in addition to national ones, record criminal convictions for felonies and misdemeanors, as well as ongoing court cases. Depending on the policies of your provider, charges that have been dropped during the last seven years might be shown. A person may be charged with vandalism, public intoxication, disorderly behavior, violent or sexual acts, fraud, and embezzlement, to name a few. Employers can use criminal background checks as a tool to assess whether an applicant poses a risk to their workforce or consumers.
  •  Civil court checks: If the candidate is named as a respondent in non-criminal litigation, claims, or decisions, you can find out more by checking county and federal civil courts. These could be particularly significant for jobs where staff members will have managerial or financial obligations. Examples of these include bankruptcies, small claims, restraining orders, and civil rights abuses.
  • Credit checks: A candidate's entire credit history, including payment history, civil judgments, tax liens, bankruptcies, unpaid bills in collections, and recent credit queries, is displayed in their employment credit report (albeit not their credit score). Certain employment may involve a credit history review; these tasks may be especially relevant for those where having access to financial resources, transactions, and decisions is a major duty.
  • Driving record checks: Motor vehicle reports, or MVRs, verify the validity of licenses and offer information about driving records, such as suspensions, moving infractions, and DUIs, for potential candidates. This could be crucial for jobs where volunteers, staff members, or outside contractors drive cars for work.
  •  Drug screening: Evidence of recent usage of a particular illegal and prescribed drug usage is provided by drug tests. Employers may be able to maintain a safer and more productive workplace by implementing routine drug testing programs.
  • Employment verification: Verify your candidate's employment history and work-related experiences. Verifying a candidate's employment history can help ensure that the information they have provided is accurate, that their work experience meets the requirements for the position, and that their prior titles, accomplishments, and responsibilities are legitimate.  
  • Education verification: Check the validity of your candidate's degrees, diplomas, and certificates, as well as their dates of attendance at school. You may reduce the chance of hiring someone with phony credentials and ensure compliance with industry, local, state, and federal requirements by doing an Education Verification search.
  • Healthcare sanctions checks: The medical history of a healthcare professional, including any fines, suspensions, or punitive or disciplinary actions, can be learned through an OIG search and background check on healthcare sanctions. This ensures that your healthcare providers are in good standing and helps you comply with federal requirements.
  • International background checks: Candidates living in the US who have previously lived, worked, or studied abroad can get foreign criminal records, educational qualifications, and employment histories through several forms of international background checks.

RELATED: Global Variances in Background Check Policies and Practices

Background Checks for Jobs: Step-by-Step Guide to Conducting Background Checks


1. Define the Scope of Background Checks

Establish the precise scope of checks needed for the particular employment role before starting the background check procedure. Identify what criteria are necessary to assess the candidate's suitability, such as reference checks, job history verification, education qualifications, and criminal records.

2. Obtain Consent

 To perform a background check, the employer or organization needs the applicant's signed Consent. This consent form should specify exactly what data will be gathered and how it will be used, and it should be kept separate from any other application or employment paperwork.

3. Find the Right Service to Conduct the Background Check

Once you have determined your unique requirements for the position, look for various background check services that address those requirements. For your employment process, you can choose from hundreds of different third-party background check services. The ideal ones are those that can integrate with your hiring platform to make your process more efficient and guarantee that everything is kept safe in one location.

4. Review the Results

The employer or organization should evaluate the background check results to see if the applicant is qualified for the role.
If unfavorable information is discovered, the employer is required to notify the applicant and give them a chance to contest the information by any applicable rules and regulations governing adverse actions.

5. Maintain Consistency

To prevent any potential discrimination or legal difficulties, make sure you treat all candidates equally when it comes to the background check procedure.

6. Provide Transparency

As mandated by regulations like the FCRA, be open and honest with the candidate if you decide to withdraw a job offer in light of the results of the background check.

RELATED: Credit Chronicles: Navigating Financial Histories Through Background Check Sites

Acknowledging Non-Discrimination Laws
Australia has several federal and provincial laws that forbid discrimination based on certain protected characteristics, including disability, race, and religion, to mention a few. This means that candidates cannot be unjustly excluded from consideration for background checks based on these protected traits; rather, the process must be fair and objective.

Applying job-related criteria to applicants and making sure the screening procedure is administered equitably to all candidates are two strategies to guarantee compliance with anti-discrimination legislation while performing background checks.

For instance, you need to be careful not to screen for background information that is either unrelated to the task at hand or that is a necessary necessity. Additionally, you must clearly explain to the candidate how the results of this specific screening check will be used to assess their fitness for the position.

Preserving Records' Confidentiality and Security
Employers are required by law to maintain the privacy of any sensitive or personal information gleaned during background checks and to destroy records appropriately. Data breaches or privacy violations could occur if this information is not protected.

Obtain Written Consent

Employers who contract with outside agencies to perform background checks are required by law to (i) notify job applicants of the existence of these checks in a written document that is kept apart from other employment or application materials and (ii) obtain the applicants' written Consent to conduct background checks (which may be included in the document as mentioned above). It would be wise for employers who run their background checks to adhere to the same guidelines.

Do Adhere to Local and State Regulations

Most employers are required to keep all personnel or employment records (including those of rejected applicants) on file for a minimum of a year or until any discrimination-related charges are settled. Certain jurisdictions may require additional retention time. Employers who dispose of background reports, paper or electronic, must do so in a way that renders them unreadable or inaccessible after the statutory retention term.

Dealing with Information About Criminal Records

Several countries have "Ban the Box" legislation that limits the time an employer can ask about a candidate's criminal background, usually not allowing the question to be asked during the initial application process. Companies must carefully analyze how any criminal convictions relate to the particular work responsibilities and refrain from making general exclusions that can be interpreted as discriminatory.

Background Checks for Jobs:  Benefits and Drawbacks of Running a Background Investigation for a Job


  1. Maintain compliance with local laws and regulations: You can make sure that everyone you hire complies with the law by running a pre-employment background check. Background checks can assist in confirming that information. You would not want to hire an esthetician without the necessary training or credentials.

  1. Reduce risk and liability: Conducting a background investigation on a prospective employee might be regarded as an employer's due diligence to reduce potential liabilities. You can demonstrate that you conducted your due diligence to check for problems beforehand if a problem arises in the future.
  2. Check credentials to prevent expensive hiring errors: If workers fabricate their education or work history, employers risk severe repercussions. That may result in severe penalties or maybe the closure of the company. Verifying the credentials and experience listed on a candidate's résumé with a background check can keep you out of trouble.

Drawbacks of conducting a background check

  1. Background checks can be costly: Performing a background check may not be feasible or within your budget if your company is very tiny. If this is a problem, it is possible to perform the majority of a background check on an individual basis; it just requires more time and work.
  2. Legal consequences if background checks are not done correctly: You may be subject to discrimination claims if your firm does background checks improperly or does not have a uniform background check policy in place. It is crucial to carry out background checks in a fair manner and without violating a candidate's right to privacy.
  3. Slows down the recruiting process: It takes time to gather all the data for a background check. Losing a candidate because the process was going too long is the last thing you want to happen. Talk to your candidate about the start date of the check procedure and provide them with a precise estimate of the duration. Your candidate will then be able to prepare for a possible response.


Background checks are an essential step in making informed employment decisions. By verifying a candidate's background, employers can mitigate the risks of hiring the wrong candidates.

Ashleigh Masiko
This article was written by Ashleigh a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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