Employer wants me to begin work without completed background check
December 5, 2018 2:59 PM   Subscribe

I received a job offer from a job in another state contingent upon a background check. I start this coming Monday (yikes), but the background check will take three weeks to complete. I feel like I am being put in a precarious situation and I'm not sure what to do.

Well, I finally landed my dream job (yes!), so of COURSE there are some issues already. Company X wants me to start in a few days (yikes) but my background check was just ordered today. This could take up to 3 weeks to complete. I asked HR if it could be expedited or my start date pushed forward as I am, I'd like to think understandably, uncomfortable moving across country to start a job that still hinges on a clean background check. Their response was "don't worry about it, get out here, we'll work with you when it comes back." I am...not comfortable with that answer.

I don't have a criminal record, my credit is extremely good, and my references are glowing, but I have a few blots on my employment history that may turn up if they decide to check or interview my former supervisors: a firing that, to this day, blind-sided me (and actually cost me a job offer soon after due to that very reason) and a subsequent job hop because I had to leave an extremely abusive environment to save my sanity. I have no idea if these are being considered in the background check and they won't give me any insight into the process.

I suppose my question is...well, do I just take the risk and dive into this new job with this uncertainty hanging over my head? Why would an HR tell me to not take a background check seriously as though it could leave me jobless in a new city? I want this job, and I want to live in this city so bad it hurts, but this is seriously throwing up red flags and adding to my already high anxiety.
posted by Young Kullervo to Human Relations (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
IME that kind of job history stuff does not flag on a background check unless you are working somewhere where security clearances are a thing. I think you are good to go. Congratulations!!!
posted by Hermione Granger at 3:02 PM on December 5, 2018 [12 favorites]

Regarding your employment history, I wouldn't worry about it much so long as you didn't misrepresent anything about those old jobs on your application. If you're clear there, I'd go ahead and take the risk, particularly if this is your dream job.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:03 PM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I don't have a criminal record, my credit is extremely good, and my references are glowing, but I have a few blots on my employment history that may turn up... I have no idea if these are being considered in the background check

That kind of job history is not what's covered by a background check.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:04 PM on December 5, 2018 [34 favorites]

So what is the risk, exactly? Are you giving up another job? Are you selling your house or breaking your lease? It sounds very unlikely that you’ll lose the job based on the background check, but even if it did, would you be in significantly worse shape than you are now?

(ETA I’m not saying there aren’t any risks, I’m just seriously saying what exactly are you worried about?)
posted by mskyle at 3:07 PM on December 5, 2018

It's typically a criminal background check, maybe a credit check (that only turns up major adverse events, like bankruptcies), probably employment verification but in my experience that's pretty much limited to dates, title, and eligibility to rehire. Having been fired once or having had a bankruptcy or an interesting lawsuit typically won't affect your hireability unless it shows a pattern or is directly related to the job at hand (like you probably don't want a CFO with a bunch of personal bankruptcies.) It is ok not to list a job on your resume.

However, although I too have a clean criminal record (although I was once cited for an illegal lane change), unremarkable employment history and decent credit, I'm always fucking terrified that they'll come back with someone else's felony murder by mistake, or that one of my previous employers will misspell my name when they're searching and say I never worked there. So while I think you will be fine, I myself am so risk-averse that I would probably say "sorry, I have a hard and fast rule not to quit my job until a non-contingent offer is made." That is an extremely reasonable thing to do, and I think it's weird for the hiring company to be so blithe about it!
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:09 PM on December 5, 2018 [10 favorites]

I agree with previous responses that this isn't something to worry about.

Further, I will note that if I had a candidate that refused to work until a background check was completed, I'd view the candidate fairly suspiciously - and I'd probably direct HR to make the background check more comprehensive, assuming the candidate is hiding something.
posted by saeculorum at 3:11 PM on December 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

Not thread-sitting but to clarify my worries, I suppose: I'm selling my car, leaving my source of income, and leaving my currently cheap apartment, so I suppose I am concerned about being stranded in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. without income and no family or connections to help me out. It's just me out here, so I'm a bit high strung on the self-preservation at this point in my life. I also am paranoid from the past where a job offer was rescinded because the HR department decided to interview the supervisor that fired me. I'm not naive enough to think HR departments don't check on employment history since it did in fact happen.
posted by Young Kullervo at 3:19 PM on December 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Why would an HR tell me to not take a background check seriously as though it could leave me jobless in a new city?

Well, it sounds like they want and need you pretty badly, since they don't want to delay your start date. That HR says they'll "work with you" indicates that, short of something unexpectedly dire (like Actual-Crimes-levels of dire), the check is something they're treating as a necessary formality. They could capriciously rescind your job offer as a result of the check, but to be honest, any employer could capriciously rescind any other job offer for any other reason, or fire you after you start. It doesn't sound like the company you're joining is very likely to do that, though.

Could you just keep that current apartment in your current city and stay in a temporary situation in the new city until the background check clears? I know that may not be financially feasible, but it's early in the month, and maybe you've already paid rent at your current place anyhow.
posted by halation at 3:28 PM on December 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

What does “contingent” mean here exactly, do you have an offer letter? Does it mention the background check?
posted by STFUDonnie at 3:37 PM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I also am paranoid from the past where a job offer was rescinded because the HR department decided to interview the supervisor that fired me.

OK, now I understand better why you're so paranoid, but that is a really unusual situation. You're literally the first person I've heard of outside of security-clearance-required or child-care jobs where anyone spoke to supervisors at a previous company. The background check is not about whether you did good work at your old job--they've already evaluated your ability to take the current job, which is what that would be relevant to--it's about whether you're some kind of menace to society otherwise. These days, in fact, many companies have a policy of only confirming employment dates.

I guess I have to say the caveat here, which I only even mention because of the previous recission, is that if you did something super freaking awful at that job--stole from the company, sexually harassed coworkers, violated safety regulations, showed up visibly intoxicated--then that may leak out in some way and may require that you be more cautious. Otherwise--if it's just that your old boss thought that you were really lousy at your work--I'd say the risk is minimal. (I've done this pre-check move myself for jobs that actually did entail a somewhat higher degree of invasiveness in the check, so I'm not just idly theorizing.) The risk entailed in turning down your dream job over this issue seems significantly higher to me!

(The real problem with pushing back here is that (a) these checks can go very slowly, for no good reason at all, thus leaving you medium-term unemployed and your employers unhappy and (b) you won't be able to move, etc. at the drop of a hat once the check came back--you'd still need to add on several days to do it, so it'd be more like a month before you could start. Thus you can't just say "oh I need two weeks for personal reasons between jobs," which most companies would not find unreasonable.)
posted by praemunire at 3:40 PM on December 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

This...resonates with me. Do you have a good connection with the person who interviewed you? Can you talk to them and say that you would prefer to have your finalized hire done before you move? It's a very reasonable ask, and they've invested some money and effort into hiring you at this point.

I did this exact thing, from a slightly stronger position (moving jobs within a university) even though I, like you, did not really expect the check to turn anything up.

I am not impressed with this type of move by an employer. "We'll work with you" is not something I would trust. "We hire people who have criminal records and we do not consider financial history" would be something I might trust.

(Still, background check is for a criminal record and credit check (if you're in the financial industry or insurance, and they should have told you if it includes this).

Seriously, vive la revolution; this whole type of thing is bullshit.
posted by Frowner at 3:50 PM on December 5, 2018 [8 favorites]

I think it's very strange that they want you to start before the background check clears. I've worked multiple companies that do background checks and we don't even expect candidates to sign final offer letters until the checks are cleared.
They want you to start but you can't until the check clears. This shouldn't even be a big deal conversation and it's weird that they are pressuring you. If they want to put you up in temporary housing until the check clears and let you take time off once it does to finish your move, fine. But expecting you to move in a few days before a background check has cleared... It just seems very unusual for a company big/regulated enough to care about background checks. You will probably be fine, sure, but know that them putting you in this situation at all seems like a red flag to me
posted by ch1x0r at 3:59 PM on December 5, 2018 [12 favorites]

I agree with everyone up above who says that you are very unlikely to lose the job due to something that comes up in the background check. However, the stakes for you are very high! In your shoes, I would absolutely say, "I'm very sorry, but I cannot quit my current job and relocate to another city based on a contingent job offer. I am very excited to work at your company, but I can't start until after the offer is finalized. Thank you for understanding."
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:08 PM on December 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

Just to clarify again, unless someone makes a huge mistake and brings up someone else's history, nothing criminal or financially off will show up. I was fired from said job for being a bad fit for the team (and I was, honestly, so whatever, it happens, my job history before that job is stellar). The rescinded offer was with a private university and went down like this: I was offered the job by the department lead after an interview contingent upon a background check. I signed an offer letter and had a start date. The HR rep of the company called me and asked me if I was terminated from previous job even though this did not come up in the interview nor was it asked on the application. I was honest and said yes, having been mentored that honesty is the best policy. She called my former supervisor. I then had to explain the firing to the department in a second interview. OK. They still wanted to hire me. The HR rep then called me in to her office to talk to her. Ok. Then a few days later the freaking provost called my supervisor to ask why I was fired and I had to come in and explain my side to her. Then my offer was rescinded. This was all over a 6 month job that is barely a blip in my employment history.

I am currently being offered a job by a public university.
posted by Young Kullervo at 4:14 PM on December 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


re: The offer letter says employment is contingent on a successful background check.

re: Connection with interviewers. Not really. I honestly thought I bombed both interviews and couldn't get a read off of any of them initially, but the person who will be my manager seemed really excited to offer me the job. Not sure if she was excited about ME or just having the role be filled because it will basically free her up to do the projects she wants to do.
posted by Young Kullervo at 4:25 PM on December 5, 2018

I think it's important to recognize here that in the United States, with very few exceptions [*], all jobs are conditional and all job offers are conditional. Even if they didn't have the statement of employment being contingent on a background check, they could still revoke your offer before you arrive, or after, for pretty much any reason (other than certain categories protected by law). Further, they could run a background check before or after your employment starts and terminate you for the results of that background check (unless it involves certain categories protected by law). After you start, they could fire you for the heck of it, because they don't like the color of shirt you wear, because they are experiencing financial difficulties, because they think you're not competent, or because they hired too many people for the work you're doing.
posted by saeculorum at 4:30 PM on December 5, 2018 [10 favorites]

Does Dream Job know that you were fired from Bad Old Job? It really sounds like Rescinding Job was shocked to discover from a third party that you'd been fired and (whether that's fair or not) that undermined their trust in you in a way that you ultimately couldn't recover from. If Dream Job already knows, then that situation is unlikely to recur. If they don't...given that they will be running the check, and Bad Old Job apparently will be running its mouth (so that Dream Job will be finding out unless you reject the offer entirely), I would consider going ahead and disclosing it directly now. "I want to make sure you know in advance that I was fired from [x job] for being a poor fit and for no other reason. Is that going to be a problem?"

For people mentioning it, public-sector jobs often make offers contingent upon checks and expect you to start before the check is completed. I expect it's partially for the applicant's benefit--you could be waiting around quite a while for the results to come back, and most people can't finance a six-week vacation between jobs (IIRC, my last one took almost that long!).
posted by praemunire at 5:18 PM on December 5, 2018

> The offer letter says employment is contingent on a successful background check.

I wouldnt’t sign such an offer. I sympathize with your position here, it feels wrong.
posted by STFUDonnie at 5:44 PM on December 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

Wow. I don't understand how you could possibly start a new job on Monday if doing that requires a cross-country move including selling your car, giving up your apartment, and giving notice on a current job! (You say "leaving my source of income," which I assume means quitting an existing job.) So I am a little confused. Do you have housing lined up in the new city? Will you be given time later to go back and close up your old life in the current city?

But setting that aside. If you want the job and it is in fact possible for you to start on Monday, personally I wouldn't let the background check hold me back. I understand you feel burned by having a previous offer rescinded, but I don't think that'll happen here.

Background checks can include serious digging. For example I know one firm that's made up of former investigative journalists, who do serious digging for CEO hires for public companies. They interview everybody and they are looking for stuff like addictions, domestic violence, cheating on taxes, non-normative sexual histories: the whole gamut. But most background checks are either purely criminal, or criminal + credit. You need to sign a form to give permission for this kind of check: if you signed a form, it should have specified what type of check you were giving permission for.

The ordinary type of check is straightforward: the company pays a couple of hundred dollars to have a database searched for your name at the address they have for you plus any previous addresses linked to that name. Normally checks will turn up any arrests and convictions. They are automated and not very deep. They miss a lot of stuff and they also pull up false positives (like what by chesty_a_arthur was worried about), but those are usually easy to resolve when they happen.

Most companies that do background checks have policies for how they are used. Many (but not all) will ignore things like an arrest at a political rally, or a single DUI. Most companies will rescind offers for people in positions that touch money, if they have a money-related conviction (like check fraud), and many will rescind offers for people with a history of violence. For credit checks it's similar: serious problems might get an offer pulled, but a poor credit rating usually would not.

I think it's extremely unlikely something called a 'background check' would include talking to former employers. They would just call that a reference check, not a background check.

My advice to you would be different if you were being offered a job somewhere that seemed sketchy, or if you actually had arrests/convictions in your background. But if I were in your shoes, with an offer from a public university, I'd take HR at face value and not worry about this.
posted by Susan PG at 5:56 PM on December 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

Nthing that background checks are to look at things like credit history and felony convictions. If they were concerned about your employment history, that should've been shaken out during the interview phase. I understand the nervousness, but in your case, I think you should go ahead and take the job and assume things will work out all right.
posted by Aleyn at 11:00 PM on December 5, 2018

I'm not a lawyer but from what I understand, contingent on a clean background check means no criminal record and no terrible credit, so provided that doesn't happen, it sounds like you have a contract and they're acting like there's nothing to worry about because there isn't, it's routine. At the very least talk to someone who actually knows before you refuse to proceed, which could raise some red flags about you if it is in fact a routine thing.
posted by namesarehard at 11:21 PM on December 5, 2018

Their response was "don't worry about it, get out here, we'll work with you when it comes back." I am...not comfortable with that answer.

I wouldn't do this either. I'd try finding the most relatable person you've talked to so far (the supervisor?) and lay it on the line and either ask for the specific scope (credit check only? then why three weeks?) or simply say you can't move across the country on 'probably fine' despite the fact that you are deeply enthusiastic about the job.

You don't know what they're looking for and everyone has some embarrassing moments and it is impossible to tell whether or not a thing or two is a big deal to a hypothetical audience.

I think I might be okay with it if they specified 'criminal background check' and explained why that takes three weeks (maybe you moved a lot or one has to inquire through multiple agencies or something.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:54 AM on December 6, 2018

Don't do it. Something doesn't have to be wrong about your background for this to not work out. Consider the risk at 5%. Things should work out but your concern is real with too much at stake. I wouldn't recommend doing this even if the job were in the same town.

They can expedite the background check if they really want to.
posted by cacao at 8:17 AM on December 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

I’m surprised so many responders are unaware of employment verification background checks that cover more than criminal background and credit checks. I’ve experienced these at many of my jobs, and theyre a) not uncommon and b) more comprehensive than most responders seem to comprehend. My most recent job start was delayed because the background check company had difficulty finding the right person to confirm my employment more than 10 years prior, at a university I had attended - the university HR had changed tracking systems and it was an absolute mess. I had to track down my former boss, who had retired in the interim, to vouch for me and confirm that I had been an employee.

So, poster, I understand your concern, especially given your having been burned in the past. But I think that as long as the firing was in the distant past, and all of your past (at least 3? up to 5?) employers can be reached and relied upon to confirm the dates of your employment, you should be all set.
posted by amelioration at 9:10 AM on December 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yes, I signed two documents. One regarding a criminal and credit check and another document that stated the company 'may' have requested a package that involves employment verification (including employer interviews) but I don't know if they did. The firing and subsequent job hop was a year and a half ago...so it's still very much a recent burn.
posted by Young Kullervo at 9:48 AM on December 6, 2018

Under these circumstances I would not move. Can you go out there and AirBnB until things are resolved?

On another note: Could there be something weird or false about what your old boss is saying? The idea that you'd get fired and then have an offer rescinded just because you were a bad fit - that seems so strange. Was your old boss the kind of person who would just...lie in order to screw you or something? Could your old boss have been friends with the provost? (The facts that this job is cross-country and that you've had another one in between make this less of a risk, of course.)

My bet is that everything will be fine. I think it's unlikely - even if your old boss badmouths you - that they've recruited someone from across country rather than from local talent/existing university staff and are going to just write them off for a comparatively trivial issue. I think it's most likely that there was some weird bad break going on before - the provost and your old boss know each other socially, the provost promised your job to the Dean's daughter, budget cuts were coming down the pike, the provost and the hiring faculty member fought over money, etc, just because it seems extremely bizarre.

But at the same time, I would not take the risk under these circumstances. Can you borrow enough to keep going for a month out there without giving up your apartment?
posted by Frowner at 9:58 AM on December 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

It really sounds like you are shouldering all the risk here. The company has no problem telling you to start immediately and without the background check because it doesn't really cost them anything.

Just because the company wants you to start immediately doesn't mean much. Are they offering a signing bonus or relocation package? Otherwise those are just words in an email, and it doesn't cost them anything. It doesn't cost them much to get rid of you later either.

If HR is so inflexible about your starting date, what indication do you have that they will be more flexible later on, when there may be some surprises in your background check? (Also the job candidate generally chooses the starting date so I'm not sure what is special about this case)
posted by meowzilla at 10:06 AM on December 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Can you clarify the business reasons why you need to start now versus in two weeks, etc?

In my most recent position I asked to not pick my start date/give notice until the background check came through. I didn't expect anything but was being very cautious since I already had a job. Due to company mergers one position was difficult to verify so I had to pull all my old W-2s. Fortunately I was able to find W-2s from 10 years back. Routine checks can have hiccups just due to the nature of going back several years.
posted by typecloud at 10:11 AM on December 6, 2018

I’m surprised so many responders are unaware of employment verification background checks that cover more than criminal background and credit checks

Of course these exist--I've been through several of them myself and had to talk to FBI agents in connection with them for friends. But the latter is way more common. The thing is that more extensive checks cost the company both money and time, so they don't tend to do them unless there is a significant reason to do so--usually involving responsibility for children, finances, or classified material. I agree with Frowner that what happened to OP is very likely to reflect some genuinely unusual circumstances (or, as I suggested, that HR escalated the check when they discovered that OP had been terminated and hadn't told them).

explained why that takes three weeks

You can really tell the people in this thread who've done time in the public sector versus those who haven't...
posted by praemunire at 2:34 PM on December 6, 2018

Can you just tell them that you need your start date pushed back because you need to give appropriate notice to your current job/landlord and that you have to coordinate a cross country move?
posted by donut_princess at 3:09 PM on December 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Forgive me if I lack proper job hunting ettiquette but no one has asked about that job or the circumstances surrounding it so why would I volunteer that info? Even in the case of the odd private university drilling and job offer revocation neither the original application nor the interviewers brought up my reason for leaving. Is it somehow adventageous to just talk about the jobs you were fired from if no one asks?
posted by Young Kullervo at 3:15 PM on December 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I work at a university that does background checks on all employees, even our student workers. It's pro forma.

However, universities can be big machines; in any case, universities are experts at exploiting workers. So I would be very wary of a "we'll work with you" statement. They'll have no problem rescinding the offer if they decide they want to do so for any reason. I wouldn't move across the country and sell my car without a guarantee, which they can't give you until they finish the background check.
posted by sockermom at 5:23 AM on December 7, 2018

I think it'd be a bit different if you were local -- I've worked for a few universities and at least two required the background check be completed/pass before they'd even schedule a start date, while my most recent one began the background check on my first day. (And yes, ya'll, they can take several days to several weeks....) In my experience, HR always says "don't worry about the background check, we'll work with you" to reassure nervous candidates, but it's not a guarantee of anything. The fact that you have to conduct a cross country move on very short notice would be a huge issue for me even without the employment being contingent on a background check that they aren't willing to give you any insight on.

If no one asked about it in the interviews and you weren't required to disclose the firing in any of your candidacy materials, I don't think there's any advantage to bringing it up. I previously worked in recruiting and while I have seen folks get their offers yanked for not being honest, I've never experienced anyone gaining some significant benefit by being that transparent about their employment history.

Also, like others I'm wondering if in your case, the offer was pulled because something concerning came up when they spoke to that previous supervisor that either you didn't address or didn't address to their satisfaction. The mere fact that you were fired (for a bad fit) doesn't seem like it should have generated so many additional conversations. Frankly, in your position I'd be concerned about it too; it likely would not come up in the background check, employment verification, but that doesn't mean that it will never come up. Higher ed can feel like a very small world sometimes.
posted by sm1tten at 10:32 AM on December 7, 2018

Can we get an update? How did this work out?
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:50 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

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