What is an employment background check?
An employment background check is a screening process for potential, new and/or existing employees. Employee background checks are not one-size fits all. Background checks for employment vary from company to company and the process can even look different within a company based on the position itself.
Some employment background checks are performed in-house, meaning employees at the company oversee the process. Other background checks for employment use the help of a third-party to research the employee or candidate. The actual screening process can involve a number of tools and resources to help the employer find relevant information about the employee or candidate.
In the past, background checks for employment typically focused on confirming the facts presented by the applicant. Nowadays, the process is expanding to include more information and help confirm that the candidate will truly be a great addition to the company’s culture.
Some of the most common reasons that employers conduct employment background checks include:
Safety: When it comes to creating a successful business, one of the most basic things that employers have to keep an eye on is safety. The safety of the customer, employees and other vulnerable populations. On a practical level, if an employer creates an environment that is unsafe for any of those groups listed above, then the employer will likely be held liable and could face all sorts of consequences for that. In addition to avoiding liability claims, employers are compelled to provide a safe environment so that their employees can focus on their work, clients and customers have a positive experience and vulnerable populations have an ally. Building trust is a foundational component of becoming a successful business, and employers cannot build trust with their consumer or their employees if safety is not a top concern. Therefore, an employee background check is viewed as part of the process to prevent any threats to that sense of safety.
Legal compliance: Employment background checks are routinely performed because legally the employer must. For example, government positions and jobs that deal directly with children or minors typically require an extensive employment background check. The employer cannot opt out of conducting or procuring a background check in cases like this.
Liability issues: Similar to safety, liability is a common reason that an employer will conduct a pre-employment background check. An employer will perform a job background check so that they aren’t blindly hiring someone who is an obvious liability. And if the employer finds something that could make this employee a liability, they can at least discuss this with their team or even ask the employee about it directly.
Company fit: A pre-employment background check also lets the employer get a sense of whether or not this candidate will be a good company fit. The employer can use the background check as a way to see if the employee’s values align with those of the company. Performing a job background check gives employers some insights into how a new employee will get along with co-workers and managers, and how the employee will likely adapt to this new work environment.
Again, what it is that employers are looking for when they perform these searches can vary based on the company or the position. In addition to the content listed above, employers performing an online screening are typically searching for red flags that suggest the candidate or employee may not be a good fit, as well as positive reinforcing factors. The majority of employers (72%) make sure that every single potential employee undergoes a job background check prior to hiring.
According to a study from Careerbuilder, here are even more specific things that employers look for, and the percentage of employers that use employment background checks to get this information:
- Criminal background: 82%
- Confirm employment: 62%
- Confirm identity: 60%
- Confirm education: 50%
- Check for illegal drug use: 44%
- Check licensing: 38%
And it doesn’t stop there either. Below are red flags that employers look for to decide whether or not to hire or fire a candidate or employee:
Common red flags include:
- Derogatory Language
- Sexually explicit materials
- References to drug use
- References to alcohol
- Inflammatory talk about politics, religion, and race
- Disparaging comments about your current job, coworkers, customers, etc.
Luckily, employers are also actively looking for positive reinforcing factors to confirm what they already know/hope to be true about you:
Some positive reinforcing factors include:
- Demonstrated interest in your field
- Demonstrated contribution to your industry
- Work portfolio
- Hobbies outside of work
- Evidence of accomplishments/awards
- Evidence that you shared the truth about your past professional experiences
- Examples that show what makes you unique
When do employers perform an employee background check?
Many people think that they’re only undergoing employment background checks when they are applying for jobs. While a pre-employment background check is a standard part of the online screening process – it’s not the only time that employers will perform a job background check. Many companies continue background checks even after they’ve hired an employee. The frequency and extent of the background check for a current employee will likely vary based on the company’s policies and based on the nature of the employee’s position.
These kinds of background checks are often conducted:
- Every 5 years
- As a part of regular reviews
- As part of the promotion process
What information is out there?
While pre-employment background checks are a standard part of the professional vetting process, it’s important to be aware of what it is your potential (or current) employer is likely to find. Remember, these screenings often combine government records as well as information from social media. When employers perform background checks, they’ll often enlist the help of third-parties for part or all of the process. And there are tons of options to choose from, many of which are fully automated and essentially function as databases that aggregate information and produce profiles for individuals based on this.
This combination of social media, yellow pages, public records and more show up on sites like:
Remember, in addition to the databases that gather information and create hubs of accurate information about you online, you will also be dealing with information about people who share your name online.
That means that employer background checks may turn up information about you that is inaccurate. If you don’t have a strong personal brand online, then a background check for job might disqualify you just because of a mistaken identity. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what happened to BrandYourself’s co-founder, Pete Kistler.
To learn more about the pre-employment background check and to fully answer the question, “What does a background check show for employment?”, read this article from the Society for Human Resource Management.
How to prepare for an employee background check
Whether you’re still in school, applying for jobs, or comfortable in your current job, you need to be prepared for an employment background check before it happens. You are subject to formal employment background checks as well as informal scans at any point as a professional. That’s why we suggest you take the following steps:
Scan: Find out what is currently out there about you online by doing a Google search for your name. Look through the first 10 pages of results to identify any search results that could damage your reputation. Make sure that you repeat this for any variations on your name or other keywords that people may use when looking you up online. Sign up for BrandYourself’s free DIY online reputation management software and our software will flag this automatically for you.
Clean up: Once you know what it is you’re dealing with, it’s time to get to work. Start with the low-hanging fruit. That is to say, start by removing any content that you control that could be a red flag to current or future employers. Once you’ve taken care of everything that you control, start addressing other types of negative content. We wrote a whole guide on dealing with negative search results.
Build and optimize your personal brand: Once you’ve taken all the steps you can to get rid of content that an employer might look at as a red flag, it’s time to create a brand that showcases who you are, what you’re great at and what makes you different from competitors. Your personal brand should show people why they want to work with you.
BrandYourself’s DIY software is built with your background check for employment in mind. So if you haven’t yet, sign up for free and our software will automatically scan your current web presence and show you the next steps you need to take to improve it.
What to do when you aren’t looking for a job or getting an employment background check
It’s easy to focus on how you look online when job-hunting, but you should focus on your brand when you don’t “need” to. First of all, there’s a good chance that you’re being looked up by clients, customers, partners, co-workers – and even your employer when you are employed and not actively seeking a new job. And why not help your future job-seeking self out when there’s less pressure?
The easiest way to prepare for an unexpected employment background check or an informal online screening is to:
- Regularly scan and monitor your online presence
- Deal with any negative search results as soon as possible
- Consistently build your personal brand by being active on social media and keeping your website up to date and connecting with others
- Take advantage of positive growth opportunities presented to you through your online brand
By consistently taking the steps needed to improve your personal brand, you not only help yourself in the future when you’re looking for the next job, but you open doors to opportunities that you might not have gotten otherwise. As you work towards building a strong personal brand today you’re creating a hub that shows others who you are and what you do. You also create the opportunity to demonstrate your industry knowledge and share your valuable experiences with others.
By intentionally developing your personal brand, you also make it easier for others to get in touch with you. Not only does this increase your chances for opportunities like speaking gigs, conferences, interviews, partnerships, etc – but it shows your current (and next) employer that you are truly engaged in your industry and someone worth investing in.
And remember, a pre-employment background check is only one kind of online screening.
You will undergo online screenings during just about any application or vetting process, such as:
- School/training programs
- Applying for loans/mortgages
- Renting/Buying Property
- Admission to service groups, etc
- Meeting someone new
- Networking events
- New Friends
- Interest Groups
- And much more
But don’t let any of this scare you. This just shows you why you need to work on your personal brand whether you’re actively undergoing employment background checks, or are subject to the informal background check. Screenings or a constant part of life today whether you realize it or not, so let that fact work in your favor by building a strong personal brand.
How BrandYourself can help
At BrandYourself, we believe that everyone is entitled to the tools and knowledge needed to successfully manage their personal brand online. That’s why we’ve spent years developing cutting-edge software and world-class managed services and a commitment to transparency. Taking control of how you look online is a necessity if you’re applying for a job, but it’s also critical even if you aren’t. Whether you use our free DIY online reputation management software or work with our Managed Services, BrandYourself can help you build a reputation online that you’re proud of.
There’s no need to worry about your next employment background check or casual Google search from your next date. Sign up for our free DIY software or talk to a Reputation Advisor today to learn about your options. Give us a call at (646)-863-8226, or schedule a consultation.