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Background Checks: What to Expect and What Might Hurt You

If you ask most people what a successful job search looks like, it starts with a resume and a few interviews, and ultimately ends with an offer in hand. While getting the offer would seem to be the culmination of events for job seekers, more often than not a line of “small print” within the offer reads something like, “This offer is contingent upon successful completion of a background check.” Nothing to worry about, right? It’s just a formality. Well, the truth is that the idea of completing a background check can be stressful even for the most confident of applicants.

background checks

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First, not all background checks are equal—there are various levels of scrutiny and turnaround time depending on the service the organization has contracted. If the thought of a background check has your level of anxiety skyrocketing, here’s what you can expect and how the results could affect your newfound opportunity.

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  • You Are You. At a minimum, the most basic function of any background check is going to be a verification that you are indeed, well, you. This may seem like a low-hanging fruit—simply provide your driver’s license or Social Security number and voila, you’re verified, right? Most of the time this is the simplest hurdle in the process, but there are a couple of things that could trip you up. Be accurate when providing your information—a wrong number here or there will definitely add time to the check process and in some cases could cost you the job. Additionally, it’s the age of identity theft, so make sure you’re proactively monitoring for signs that someone else may be using your identity.
  • Rap Sheet? Beyond your identity, a criminal background check is fairly common. Does having a mar on your record mean you won’t be considered? The answer isn’t a simple yes or no. First, the organization likely has asked you to list any offenses within a specified period of time, and omitting a particular record will likely be the quickest way to get an offer revoked. Secondly, the type of crime in relationship to the position you’re being hired, as well as the amount of time that has passed, will all go into consideration.
  • Credential Check. If the role requires a specific type of degree, license, or certificate and you’ve indicated you hold such, know that the organization will likely verify this. In terms of verifying your college education, most employers will ask for your permission (this will be buried within the acceptance of the background check). As far as licensure (nursing, educators) or certificates, most of these credentials can be easily verified on public databases. If you didn’t earn or finish it, don’t put them on your resume. Again, lying will be the death of your opportunity and not worth the burnt bridge.
  • Got Credit? Not every organization will run a check of your credit, but if they’ve requested it, here is what they are looking for: defaults on loans (think student loans) and other items that have gone to court or collections. You will need to authorize a credit check, so if you’re being asked and you’re unsure of what your report says, go ahead and pull it ahead of applying—it’s free and something you should be reviewing annually.

Landing a new job should be an exciting time in your life—don’t let the fear of a background check ruin your moment. In today’s world, background checks are relatively common, and understanding what’s being investigated and the information contained in reports about you will be the key to alleviating any unnecessary anxiety.

Michelle Kruse has more than 10 years of hiring and recruiting experience and a background in coaching and leadership development. At?ResumeEdge, Michelle recruits and hires résumé writers, provides training and ongoing support, manages strategic partnerships, and serves as a subject matter expert on the job search process.

Michelle Kruse
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