Goals of this post…People holding question mark signs
  1. To make you (the applicant) far more prepared to answer the questions found on a background check form.
  2. To make it easier for the background screening company to obtain the information needed to expedite your background check.
  3. To inform you of your basic rights as an applicant undergoing a background check.
Are Pre-employment Background Checks That Common?

You will likely be required to undergo a background check if you haven’t already. In 2020, a survey by the
Society of Human Resource Management estimated that 92% of all organizations conduct background checks on their employees.
Ban The Box Movement
Ban the Box is an organized movement working to make it unlawful to ask an applicant if they have been arrested or convicted of a crime on a job application. Supporters behind this movement believe that asking the “Have you been arrested or convicted” question on an application for employment results in the disqualification of many applicants without any real facts about the arrest or conviction. Facts such as…
    • The nature and gravity of the offense or offenses.
    • The time that has passed since the conviction and or completion of the sentence.
    • The nature of the job held or sought.

In many cities and states, including Illinois, Ban the Box is the law and applies to ALL businesses that employ more than 15 people with the exception of some federally regulated employers.
Have You Ever Been Convicted/Arrested…
This does not mean that an employer cannot ask the “Have you been arrested or convicted question” it just changes the time at which they can ask. The employer can no longer ask on the employment application but the question may still appear after the potential employee has been notified of an impending interview. Typically as part of the background check process.
While you may wonder if the “Have you been arrested/convicted” question really affects that many people, you may be surprised to hear that over 45 percent of American men will be arrested before their 23rd birthday. Based on this statistic from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Statistics, you quickly realize the impact of this question.
How do I Answer the “Have you been arrested/convicted” question?
    • Should I disclose the possession of alcohol charge I got when I was 17?
    • Will that resisting arrest charge I received at a protest march in college hurt my chances?
    • Does the domestic violence charge that was dropped before I went to court still count?
    • What if I received supervision? Is that still considered a conviction?
    1. Be up-front. You have a far better chance of being disqualified if you leave information out that you were asked to include. Unless you are certain that, for example, a criminal case was NOT a conviction or was expunged, and the employer asked specifically if you have been CONVICTED, as opposed to arrested or “charged with a crime”.
    2. Pre-screen yourself. If you have a recent criminal conviction, assume it is going to show up on a background check. Even if you have an old (7+ yrs) criminal record, don’t assume that it won’t be important. Furthermore, realize that a case in which the disposition recently changed to a non-conviction status will show up as such on the background check. Court records are not always 100% up-to-date. Once again, you are better off explaining the situation rather than taking the chance of the employer finding something you did not disclose.
Insider tip: When you sign the authorization and disclosure form, it will list the name of the background screening agency along with a toll-free number to contact them. Use it!  Call them and tell them if you legitimately have an old criminal case that should NOT show up as a conviction. A good screening agency will ask you for documentation, if available, as well as pulling the court file to verify what you have stated. They do not want to provide incorrect information any more than you want that old case to tarnish your image.
The Scope of the Background Check
Let’s fast forward a little and say you’ve received a job offer in which passing a background check is required. You sign a piece of paper, or click an “I agree” button online, authorizing an employer to peer into your past. Authorization forms may be very specific in describing what the screening company is going to check, but some are very broad and vague. The form may state that you’re giving the company’s agent (the background screening company) permission to look into just about everything such as…
    • Social Security Trace and Validation
    • Residential History Trace from Social Security Number
    • 50 State Sex Offender Registry
    • County Criminal Records
    • Ordinance Violations
    • Outstanding Warrants
    • Federal Criminal Records
    • Motor Vehicle Driving Records
    • Verification of Education
    • Verification of Past Employment
    • Personal References
    • Professional References
    • Credit History
    • Civil Litigation
    • Bankruptcies
    • Professional License Verification
    • Reputation via Public Social Media
To process all of these searches on every applicant’s background check isn’t realistic in terms of budget or need. However, unless the potential employer tells you specifically what searches they are going to process, you often won’t know what the background check will include. In most cases, the higher paying the position of employment is, the more in-depth the background check will be.
Background Check Examples:
A background check for an ENTRY/MID LEVEL management position will often include…
    • Social Security Trace and Validation
    • Residential History Trace from Social Security Number
    • Nationwide Criminal Record Database
    • 50 State Sex Offender Registry
    • County Criminal Records Search (County of Residence)
    • Federal Criminal Record Search
And sometimes the following…
  • Past employment verification (Most Recent or Current Employer)
  • Professional Reference questions (Two to Three)
  • Education verification (Highest Level)
A more in-depth background check for a MID LEVEL TO C-SUITE level of employment might include.…
  • Social Security Trace and Validation
  • Residential History Trace from Social Security Number
  • Nationwide Criminal Record Database
  • 50 State Sex Offender Registry
  • County Criminal Records Search (All Counties of Residence for 10 years)
  • Federal Criminal Record Search
  • Civil Judgments
  • Past Employment Verification of all employers in last 20 years
  • Professional Reference interviews
  • Education Verification (All college-level degrees)
  • Reputation, Social Media, News Archives
  • International Verification when applicable
In most cases, an entry to mid-level position is not going to look into much more than those listed above. The employer has to weigh the cost of the background check against the risk of the PAST position of employment. Drug tests may also be included based on company policy.
Gaps or Negative Employment History
Should I leave that employer off my resume because I got fired or they don’t like me?
No, most employers are not going to say negative comments about you. Especially if it is a large company. The screening agency almost always goes through the Human Resources department or a third-party database such as “The Work Number” and they will generally verify:
    • Dates of employment
    • Position held
    • Hourly pay or annual salary (weh
    • Reason for leaving (rarely)
    • We’ll ask about disciplinary actions but the answer 99% of the time is “Per company policy, we cannot release that information”

Exception to the rule: Small businesses. Small companies typically don’t have Human Resources departments and will often provide us “the real dirt” on why someone left or was fired. It’s more personal with a small business and they often don’t have in-depth policies and procedures in place to prevent them from “letting loose” with comments. If you were at a small business and left on a bad note, be up-front. It’s far better if an explanation comes from you first rather than the company.

Always list the staffing agency. If you worked through a staffing agency, you should provide the name of that agency along with where you were employed to the screening agency when filling out the Background Survey, or Background Check authorization form. Otherwise, the screening agency will contact the company you were placed at only to find that they have no record of you. The employment record is with the staffing company.

Should I include a company I worked for that is no longer in business?
Yes, provide as much information as possible on the company and note (if known) when they went out of business or if they were bought by another company. While the employment records may not still be available, we do look to confirm that the company existed through state corporate filings, information about it closing, etc. The screening agency will often ask you for copies of tax information, pay stubs, etc. to prove that you were employed there.

What if I was self-employed? Self-employment is one of the things that we, as a screening agency, must look very closely at. It’s a common way for applicants to cover up large gaps in employment that may have an underlying reason. Expect a screening agency to do their research along with asking you for proof of self-employment via tax documents, business license, corporate filings if incorporated, etc. We’ve seen many claims of self-employment with no evidence available to back it up, and our report must state that. An applicant is better off explaining why a large gap of employment existed. Most employers will understand if someone simply could not find work for an extended period of time, especially during times of recession or pandemic.

Professional Reference Preparation
Not to be confused with a Past Employment Verification which verifies FACTS of your past employment as recorded by the Human Resources department such as.
    • Dates of employment
    • Salary
    • Title
    • Reason for leaving (when available)
Professional References are more personal in terms of the questions and can be your best friend or your worst enemy. They are the most personal aspect of your background check and the one part that can change in an instant. Your dates of employment do not waiver, your education will not change overnight, your criminal record does not change quickly, if ever. But a professional reference is a person talking about their opinion of you. That opinion can be affected by their last impression of you, their mood that day, and/or how much they remember. Because of this, you have the opportunity to influence their response by giving them a heads up.
Professional Reference Insider Tips!
When you list a person as a professional reference…
    1. Let them know in advance.
A quick email or phone call to let them know they may be contacted by a background screening company in regards to the job you’re applying for will go a long way. Ask them if you may provide their direct work phone number or work email address. While a mobile number is also very helpful, it may be too intrusive depending on your relationship with the reference. Some screening companies will not accept a mobile number as well unless they are able to verify the reference is associated with the company provided.
    1. Use references that make sense.
Just because you know the name of the CEO, doesn’t mean you should list them as a professional reference. I’ve seen Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon.com) listed as a reference on a background check for a customer service representative along with the toll-free number to Amazon.com. Needless to say, they didn’t put us through to Mr. Bezos. A direct supervisor is your best bet. That may be the owner or CEO of a smaller business. If you were self-employed, a client might be your best option. Make sure it is someone that is accessible and someone that remembers you. Anything else will likely delay the background check and may look negative on the final report.
    1. We’re not writing a book but we do want important details
Background checks are a time-consuming process, and unless the background agency is screening a high-level executive, the questions are going to fairly simple. In addition, there should only be around five questions. The employer doesn’t want to read a novel, they just want to know that your references hold you in a positive light. Don’t worry about refreshing their memory about every detail of the work you did for them. You’re better off telling them you listed them as a reference because of the positive experience you had working with them and you felt they would have a good take on how you can be an asset to the potential employer.
Here are some examples of what a screening agency might ask during a professional reference verification.
    • In what capacity did you work with him/her? Where and for how long?
    • How well would you rate his/her verbal and written skills?
    • What were the applicant’s position and job duties?
    • Do you consider him/her to be trustworthy and reliable, if not, why?
    • How well did he/she get along with associates?
    • Are you aware of why he/she left the company? Do you know if he/she is eligible for rehire? If not, why?
    • How would you describe his/her job performance including strengths and weaknesses?
    • How did he/she show initiative in his/her job?
    • When he or she begins a task would you say he/she carries it through to completion?
    • What can/could he/she do or have done to improve his/her job performance?
    • What qualities do you feel he/she has that they bring to an employer?
    • Given the opportunity is he/she someone you would want to work on the same team with in the future?
Education Exaggeration
Verifying your education can be a grueling process, but the end result is usually the same. The screening agency will either obtain a confirmation that you did or did not receive your diploma, degree, etc.

Can I say I earned my H.S. Diploma if it was through a GED program? The employer most likely does not care if you have a GED or Diploma to meet an education requirement of their company. However, the screening agency will be on a wild goose without specific information about the GED. This will often result in a report saying that the school has no record of graduation and that can cost you the job. When filling out the background screening survey, you must put down that you received a GED and where so we can request verification through that specific Department of Education or School District. College Education One of the most common education discrepancies we come across is when applicant lists a college degree and we find that they attended but did not graduate from that institution. If you are a credit short, or a year short of graduation, don’t be tempted to “round up” to the nearest degree. It could cost you the job. You’re better off listing your dates of attendance and any reason as to why you didn’t finish at that time.

What Do All of These Educational Institutions Have In Common?
What Do All of These Educational Institutions Have In Common? Barrington University, Mobile, Alabama Belford University Humble, Texas Beloved Community Seminary, Oregon, Hawaii Bennington University (not to be confused with Bennington College) Berean Bible College in Poway, California Berne University, Pennsylvania, Virginia, St. Kitts Bernelli University, Virginia (United States) Bethlehem Christian University, Culpeper, Virginia Bettis Christian University, Arkansas The Bible Doctrine Institute, Jacksonville, Florida Bienville University Woodville, Mississippi. Bircham International University (formerly Oxford International University) Blackpool University Blacksmith University, Nigeria Brainwells University, United States and Canada Brazilian Law International College Brethren Bible Institute, Pathanamthitta, India Breyer State University Bridgewater University Bridgewood University Britain College of Management and Science British West Indies Medical College of Naturopathic Medicine and Surgery Brixton University, British Columbia Brookside University, Barbados Bronte International University Burnell College, United Kingdom Burnett International University, Haiti, St. Kitts Buxton University
  • They all begin with “B”
  • And, they will all sell you a degree of your choice without taking so much as a single course! 

Beware of Diploma Mills!

Diploma mills are unaccredited and mostly outright fake high schools and colleges that sell degrees for a price. To varying degrees, they will offer degrees, transcripts, even class rings without having to attend a single class. Some operate as novelty degree providers while others state that they award real degrees for life experience and general knowledge. This means that once you answer a few questions about life experience and pay a fee, your diploma arrives days later in the mail.  I am not talking about online schools such as Phoenix University. There are many legitimate online degree programs. If you’re not sure, check it through the Department of Education via the link provided on your handout. Many people see this as a quick fix to meet an employer’s requirement of a high school level education or a college degree. And some people think it is actually a legitimate way to receive a degree in this age of the Internet. They are often shocked when we inform them that the degree they received online is not worth the paper it’s printed on.

Know your rights as an Applicant when it comes to Pre-employment Background checks!

In your folder, you will find a copy of “A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act”. This document, supplied by the Federal Trade Commission, summarizes the rights of an applicant when undergoing a report credit screening, or another report. One very common mistake that both employees and employers make, is thinking that the Fair Credit Reporting Act applies to only credit reports. This is not the case. While credit reports are covered by the FCRA, so are pre-employment background checks that don’t involve credit reports. Important Rights (summarized) Provided to You by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)
  • You can request a copy of your background check from the CRA. In cases of adverse action, one should be provided to you by default.
  • You must give your consent for reports to be provided to employers.
  • An employer is required to get your written permission before processing a background check on you. This permission should be in the form of an authorization and disclosure form which you signed either electronically or by hand.
  • You must be told if information in your file has been used against you.
  • A pre-adverse action notification must be issued to inform you if your background check may negatively impact your chances for employment.
  • You have the right to know what is in your file.
  • You have the right to dispute incomplete or inaccurate information
  • A pre-adverse action notification should include a copy of your background check for your review. You can and should dispute any information that you believe is not incomplete or negatively impacted you.
  • Consumer reporting agencies must correct or delete inaccurate, incomplete, or unverifiable information.
  • If you believe any part of your background check is not accurate, you have the right to ask the background screening company to re-check that information and update any misinformation.
  • Consumer reporting agencies may not report outdated negative information.
  • Background screening companies must follow rules in regards to what they can and cannot report based on state and federal laws. Most negative items can only be reported for a seven-year time frame, while criminal conviction information can be reported indefinitely in most states.
Please note: This summary is not intended to replace professional or legal guidance.
Questions? Please feel free to call our offices. We’re here to help! 800-578-8600 x100 or email us at bjones@safescreener.com.

About the author:
Brad Jones is the Founder and Director of Operations of SafeScreener.com, a background screening agency that has been providing corporations of all sizes with applicant screening services since 2004. Brad is an active member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) and serves on the Chicago Chamber of Commerce’s Workplace Well-being Committee. For more information on applicant screening services or a free F.C.R.A. Compliance Checklist, please call 888.578.8600 x113 or email bjones@safescreener.com.                                                                                                                                                                                                             
Please note: Any person or entity utilizing a third party to conduct applicant background checks for employment or leasing purposes must follow applicable federal and state laws including but not limited to EEOC Title VII, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and all applicable state laws. Articles, blogs, newsletters, and other materials issued by Brad Jones or any employee of Background Screening Consultants LLC (DBA SafeScreener.com) should not be regarded as or substituted for legal advice.