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As the Internet encroaches more and more into our private lives, it has become exponentially easier for an employer to run an employment background check on prospective employees. This practice has been known to strike fear into the hearts of applicants. Will that youthful run-in with the law or five-year-old bankruptcy torpedo your chances of being hired? The honest answer is that it could. There are definitely means available for those kinds of incidents to be located and analyzed. The bottom line is that, if there’s something to be found, it likely will be. Your best bet is to know what employers are looking for and have a logical defense ready to go.

Why Background Checks?

There are many reasons an employer might run a background check as part of the hiring process. Some are related to mandatory requirements, especially if the new hire will be working with children, the elderly, or disabled populations. Job seekers should also realize that it’s expensive to hire and train an employee. The employer will likely expend thousands of dollars in additional costs before seeing a single dollar returned on the investment. It makes sense that they want to make a good choice and hire people who don’t have waving red flags in their background.

Another popular reason for the increased frequency of background checks is that it has become quite cheap to do so. You no longer have to hire a private eye for $500 a day plus expenses. With the average American probably already listed on dozens of databases available for perusal to anyone with a few dollars to spend, one would wonder why every employer doesn’t run a background check of some kind? Add to the mix the reality that a tight job market leads some applicants to claim education or professional license credentials that they simply don’t have. Once again, it’s easy to check for this so why not?

What Shows Up On a Background Check?

The obvious question becomes what information can an employer find out there? Beyond the basic checks that you have supplied a proper Social Security number and your work history and references stand up in the face of simple phone calls, there are plenty of other sources an employer might choose to examine. A few likely targets:

Driving and vehicle registration records: Do you run around with expired tags or rack up dozens of speeding tickets? It’s easy to find out. If the job you want requires substantial time behind the steering wheel, you can bet a sloppy driving record will not work in your favor.

Legal records: Every state keeps records of current and past court cases that have been adjudicated. Any sort of intersection of your personal life and the court system can be uncovered. If the potential job requires handling money or other types of serious responsibilities, it’s not hard to guess that a demonstrated lack of ability to obey the law will not work in your favor.

Other record sources: If the employer chooses to do a deep dive, expect to have any or all of the following perused: property ownership records, medical records, military records, credit check, state licensing records, drug test results, incarceration dates, sex offender lists, education records, arrest records, etc. By this time you should be getting the idea that past actions can have a very real impact on your present and future.

Can I Check My Record?

Not only can you check your record, if you suspect there might be some issues lurking in the past that could affect your job application, you should check it but you should know how to check your criminal record too. While some incidents will garner an automatic reject, others, especially if they are in your distant past and not related specifically to the job duties you would have, might be compensated for with a superior job interview that proactively addresses the issue(s) head on. If you can explain that you learned a valuable lesson from a mistake and have never repeated it, there’s a chance you could turn a black eye into a feather in your cap. The bottom line is you can’t prepare a defense if you don’t know what the offense is. In answer to the question, “Can I run a background check on myself?” we say heck yes!

Bad Credit Scores

It’s no secret that many employers pull a credit report on potential employees as a matter of course. Is it legal? The short answer is, yes, it is. As long as they don’t hire a third party to do the check, an employer can run in-house credit checks on any applicant. The good news is that there are limits to how long certain financial deficiencies can be reported by a credit agency. For example, after ten years a bankruptcy falls off the radar. A seven-year limit applies to things like arrest records, tax liens, and collections. A strange little exception is that these limits don’t apply for jobs with a salary in excess of $75,000.

Final Thoughts

Before you have a panic attack at the idea of a stranger running nilly-willy through your past, keep in mind that some records require permission before they will be released. Specifically, we’re talking about education, military, and medical records. These are considered confidential and not a matter of public record. Hopefully, this article has shed some light on a sometimes poorly understood topic. If you have more questions, the Federal Equal Opportunity Commission and state-level employment agencies would be likely candidates for answers.