What can an employment background check entail?
June 29, 2010 11:18 AM   Subscribe

What can an employment background check entail?

I'm a recent college graduate and I'm on the search for my first job. I'm concerned about background checks that employers occasionally choose to perform. What does it include? Can they check for the exact dates of my employment? The semesters that I've been in school? I graduated this past November but I have not been employed since December of 2008. Is it as bad as it sounds? I do have one chance of cover up and that's with a volunteer position that I've been involved with since February.

Other things I fear of being revealed: Transferring to a school for one semester and withdrawing from all my classes (I was pursuing a completely different degree and I realized it was a big mistake), and a leave of absence (due to a health issue, though not life-threatening).
posted by AngryTypingGuy to Work & Money (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A background check is generally a criminal background check. It will probably have zero information about where and when you went to school or where and when you were employed -- it will have information about things like how many times you've been arrested.
posted by brainmouse at 11:20 AM on June 29, 2010

Your employment history and education history should be pretty evident on your resume. Things you have to wrory about on a background check tend to be criminal history and increasingly your credit history.

Other things I fear of being revealed: Transferring to a school for one semester and withdrawing from all my classes

Unless your applying to gradschool (and not even really then, transferring and doing a complete exit are incredibly common), your future employer does not give a shit how you performed in your anthro 1002 class.
posted by Think_Long at 11:23 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for your response, brainmouse, but I have read that background checks can include (and I apologize for not mentioning this in my initial post) information beyond criminal records, such as academic transcripts (with my permission, of course, but how could I ever say "No" to them?).
posted by AngryTypingGuy at 11:24 AM on June 29, 2010

When I applied to Boeing a few years back, I was sent a copy of my background check, which had information going back since my freshman year of college.

It had a criminal check, a credit check and a list of my prior residences and aliases (shorter form of my given name). It had my school history and GPA, but no employment history.

Generally, prospective employers will ask for references from previous employment, if they want to hire you. These will be contacts from your prior job(s).

It's highly unlikely a prospective employer will care about the transfer or leave of absence — unless the interviewer asks and the issues are related in some way, I wouldn't even bring it up. It's almost certainly not going to be in your background check report, in any case.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:26 AM on June 29, 2010

They're really only concerned about things like felony convictions. And right now, blocks of time where you've been unemployed are not at all uncommon, especially if you were in school for part of that time.

The overwhelming majority of employers could not care less about what you were doing in college unless what you were doing involved committing crimes.

Don't worry about it.
posted by corey flood at 11:28 AM on June 29, 2010

Since you mentioned employment history, most HR departments will make at least a half-assed effort to confirm that you were employed at the places you say you were during the times you said.
posted by radioamy at 11:31 AM on June 29, 2010

They probably won't care about your school history, as long as you came out in relatively decent shape.

Employment background check, as you call it, consists of you listing your previous employment on a resume and/or application form and your prospective employer maybe bothering to actually verify that information, and also possibly asking your previous employer if you're a total jerk or anything.

A criminal background check (which the term "background check" usually refers to) consists of you giving the prospective employer permission to ask the police if there's any reason you shouldn't get a certain sort of job (e.g. childcare). This is a yes or no question, and around here (Canada, YMMV) it will get a yes or no answer and nothing more.

Yes, volunteer work counts as a job.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:34 AM on June 29, 2010

Keep in mind they don't usually run checks like this until after they've decided to offer you the job. In many cases they will offer you the job before, on the condition they don't find something awful.

So it's not really part of the decision process, as far as "oh his grades weren't good enough, let's get the other guy." The only way it will really cost you is if you have a serious criminal conviction, OR if you get caught in a lie.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:41 AM on June 29, 2010

They can check for any of the things you asked about. There's no law that prevents them from calling your previous employers or your university and collecting whatever information those sources are willing to give out about you. Your university may be bound by privacy laws that prevent it from giving out information about you without your permission, but your potential employer may request that permission from you.

My advice would be simply not to lie, ever, on any document you submit to them or in any conversation you have with them. Withdrawing from school for health reasons and being unemployed in the worst economy in decades are not shameful and they're not reasons that an employer would pass on a candidate they otherwise like. Lying, however, might make them change their minds about you. So be candid and forthright, and you'll most likely be fine.
posted by decathecting at 11:46 AM on June 29, 2010

I had a background check and fingerprinting done when I took a job at a school - even though I was in the administrative offices and never even saw a kid, legally, it had to be done. To echo what everyone else is saying: They are looking for felonies and (often) bankruptcies, that sort of thing. They are NOT looking at classes you dropped/flunked out of, leaves of absence, transferring to a different school or the like. I had a VERY checkered academic past and got the job anyway because my fingerprints cleared.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:48 AM on June 29, 2010

I've seen a few of the background checks my company does. If it is, in fact, a criminal background check it comes back with either your criminal background (convictions definitely, not sure about arrests) or blank.
posted by griphus at 11:49 AM on June 29, 2010

corey flood:
And right now, blocks of time where you've been unemployed are not at all uncommon, especially if you were in school for part of that time.
One would hope prospective employers would indeed take that view. Sadly, however:
posted by vsync at 12:25 PM on June 29, 2010

I am on the credentials committee where I work, and for certain levels of healthcare workers we look at all of the things you mention. We contact schools and previous employers. We are generally looking to verify that the person was there when they said they were, got the degrees they claim to have, and are eligible to work there again (i.e. weren't fired for cause). A red flag is a >2 month gap in work history; if we see that we ask for an explanation. Typically people will have a reason like "I was caring for a sick relative" or something similar and that is fine. We also do a criminal background check and look at a number of healthcare related databases for such things as Medicare fraud. In your case the lack of employment since 2008 would not be an issue if you were in school since then. Changing schools and/or fields of study would not be an issue at all. Note that this is in a hospital, so the background checks in your field may be very different. Finally (as others have noted) we don't do that level of due diligence until well after the decision to hire has been made; it is not used to weed out applicants.
posted by TedW at 12:37 PM on June 29, 2010

A guy at my gym works for Radio Shack and he was just telling me how hard it is for them to hire anybody these days, because corporate HR rejects any candidates they send in, he didn't know why; but he also said they don't do drug testing anymore, apparently because the info corporate can get as part of their background checking reveals all -- he thought it was illegal, what they could find out about people. I thought it was surprising because I'd guess the people applying for a job at the Shack were guys right out of (or even still in) school, guys too young to have a history.
posted by Rash at 5:17 PM on June 29, 2010

FERPA regulates what information schools can disclose about your student records.
posted by Menthol at 5:22 PM on June 29, 2010

The answer is mostly it depends.

Are you applying for a job at a regular, privately owned company? Expect the following:
- Criminal Background Check
- Call to past employers to check dates/salary
- Reference checks
- Possible credit check
- they MIGHT (see how that word is all big) confirm your degree/graduation year with the school.

Remember these thing are all expensive and time consuming, so they have to actually want to hire you before they do any of this. If you've kept your nose clean you really shouldn't be concerned about this, don't lie about things and you'll probably be fine.

If you are applying for a government job, or a job with a government contracted company expect all of the above plus more. If you are applying for a job with security clearance expect to have no privacy.

As for time of unemployment - yes there are some asshole companies out there only hiring employed people but they are no where near the majority. Just be honest about being out of work and they won't really care.

Rash - as someone who used to see all the background checks that came through at a couple of different companies... You'd be surprised what even an 18 year old can rack up on their (non-juvenile) record.
posted by magnetsphere at 11:04 AM on June 30, 2010

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