How You Can Prepare For A Background Check

by Ron Haynes

You’ve clawed your way to the top of the candidate list by polishing your resume and doing well in the interview. As a matter of fact, you made it through several rounds of interviews and secured a job offer that’s contingent on passing a background check. But there’s that gnawing concern something will pop up to ruin your plans. Don’t fear a background check, prepare for it.

Background checks are quite the norm these days as employers strive to insure that they’re getting everything that’s been advertised in a candidate. If you’re like me, you’d much rather know what someone will see in that background check than get surprised. To make sure neither you nor your potential employer are surprised, take these steps:

Order your credit report

It doesn’t cost anything if you use Annual Credit Report.com and you can get one each year free of charge from each of the three credit bureaus. It really is the first step in preparing for a background check. If there is anything you don’t recognize or disagree with, dispute the information in writing (certified mail) with the creditor and/or credit bureau before you have to explain it to the interviewer. It’s a good idea to get your credit report each year anyway to help detect identity theft.

Look at old background checks

If you’ve been the subject of a previous background check, you may be legally entitled to receive a copy from the employment screening company (state laws vary). If you don’t know the name of the company performing the background check, ask the employer who requested the investigation. Of course there probably isn’t anything in there if that employer hired you, but it could give you some insight into what is included in a background check.

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Check your DMV records

Request a copy of your driving record from your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, especially if you are applying for a job that involves driving. A thorough background check always includes driving records.

Ask to see your personnel file from your old jobs

State law might enable you to see your personnel file – even if you don’t work for that employer anymore. For example, under California law, you can access your file until a year from the last date of employment, and you are allowed to make copies of documents in your file that have your signature on them. Ask your former employer if there is a policy about the release of personnel records. Many companies limit the amount of information they disclose, mostly for fear of legal reprisals.

Check court records yourself

If you already know you have an arrest record or if you’ve been involved in any court cases, go to the county courthouse where the records are stored and ask to inspect those files. Make sure the information is correct and up to date. Reporting agencies have been known to report felony convictions when the defendant truly believes the crime was reduced to a misdemeanor. Court records are not always updated correctly. If the needed signature to reduce the charges wasn’t obtained or wasn’t recorded by the court, those inaccurate records could thwart your employment plans. Don’t rely on what an attorney may have told you. If you think the conviction was expunged or dismissed, get a certified copy from the court saying so.

Do it yourself reference check

If you have a friend who can sound professional on the phone, ask him or her to act as an HR manager and call your job references, your old employers, old colleagues, and even your neighbors to see what they will say. Sneaky? Sure, but what gets revealed might surprise you. This is potentially dangerous so be careful.

Clean your digital room

Search your name, in quotations, on all the major search engines to see what comes up. If you find anything objectionable, contact the website to ask how to get it removed. I’ve had people make comments on this blog and later ask me to remove them because they were coming up in searches!

Read your Facebook, MySpace, twitter, LinkedIn, or other shoal media profiles from your potential employer’s perspective. Have you written something that puts your previous employer in a bad light? Have you mentioned that you’re sick and tired of your boss? Have you said that you plan to quit your job? Remove or edit postings that could damage your job-seeking efforts before you begin your job search. Don’t remove content that shines a light on your positive achievements, though. If you’ve been listed as a volunteer or if your race times in the United Way’s 10k Run are listed, those could actually help!

Many times, companies will ask you to submit to a background check when you fill out the application. The background check authorization has to be on a separate form. The only other information this form can include is your signature and information that identifies you such as a Social Security or driver’s license number. No form in the application process is allowed to ask questions like “race,” “sex,” “full date of birth,” or “maiden name.” Such questions violate the federal Equal Employment Opportunity laws. And, you should NEVER sign any document that waives your right to sue a screening company or the employer for violations of the law.

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About the author

Ron Haynes has written 987 articles on The Wisdom Journal.


The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.