What Is A Background Check? (With Details About The Process)

Updated 8 September 2023

Some hiring processes include multiple steps before a company may offer you a job. Filing a background check is a common practice that may lengthen the overall hiring process. Many employers require you to submit relevant personal information for a background check, so it is important to understand this process. In this article, we explain what is a background check, the main reason to do one, what employers may look for in a background report, the difference between a background check and a reference check and what to do while you wait to hear from the employer.

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What Is A Background Check?

What is a background check, can be described as a screening process through which an individual or company can verify your identity. Prospective employers commonly request background checks during the job interview process to ensure you would not be a liability to their organisation. Both police departments and private companies perform background checks.

Most background checks provide information on an individual's education, employment history, criminal record and other past activities. While there are several types of specific background checks, employment background checks are some of the most routine. It is common for employers to request one before offering a position to a candidate.

Related: What Does Checking References Involve? (Plus Helpful Tips)

What Is The Main Reason To Do A Background Check?

Employers conduct a background check to ensure they are hiring the right candidate for their organisation. Candidates may make false claims in the job application, thus background checks help the employer verify the claims the candidate has made are correct and make sure the candidate is trustworthy. The outcome of the background check also helps them to make informed decisions.

What Do Employers Look For In A Background Check?

In the background check process, there are different types of background verification conducted. Through a background report, employers look to verify these details about an applicant:

  • Work history: An employer may check which companies you worked with and verify the work details that you performed there.

  • Educational certificate: In this check, the employer verifies the genuineness of the degrees you have mentioned in your job application.

  • Credit history: This check verifies if the applicant is financially responsible. This test is important if you would have access to the company's funds to perform your work duties.

  • Motor vehicle record: Via a motor vehicle record check, the employer can attempt to verify if you have a clean driving record or have some history of accidents. This is especially important if your role involves driving.

  • Criminal record: With this background check, the employer often wants to verify if there is any criminal record against your name or if there are any outstanding warrants.

  • Social media use: Employers may check the applicant's social media account to understand how you are in your personal life and if you would be suitable for the organisation's work culture.

  • Drug screening: This check helps the employer verify if the applicant uses drugs and can be of any harm to other employees of the company.

Anything questionable found in the background check can serve as a red flag for employers. However, it is important to note that employers cannot usually request information that is more than 10 years old. Some careers that require specialised clearance might include further information. For example, if you are applying for a role in the finance industry, your potential employer might request information to verify your relevant certifications or analyse your personal financial history.

Related: How To Share Your Education Background

How Do You Fail A Background Check?

You may fail a background check based on the below parameters:

Not clearing a criminal background check

During your criminal background check, if you have a criminal record that does not make you fit for the job you have applied for or the organisational work environment, you may fail the background check. You may also fail the background check if you have major criminal records. Having a criminal record does not imply you can never get a job, but it is something that some employers may consider when determining which candidate they want to extend an offer to.

Poor credit history

In a credit background verification, organisations check your credit report in which they may look at your payment history, bankruptcies, credit inquiries, unpaid bills or any frauds. If they find that your credit is poor or you have significant debt, they may choose to offer the role to another candidate. Many employers look at your credit history to determine how responsible you are.

Related: How To Give A Reference (Plus Tips And Importance)

Inconsistencies in your resume

If the resume you have submitted does not accurately reflect your qualifications, certifications or employment history, you may fail this background check. Inconsistencies often implies that you have lied about your candidacy and qualifications. Employers who believe this to be the case may be wary of hiring you for their open position, so it is important to be as truthful as you can when writing your application documents.

Related: Tips for Writing a Writer Resume (With Template and Example)

Bad driving history

This background check is considered if you require to drive a lot because of your job role or you have access to a company car. If you have some major driving claims against your name, you may fail the background check. However, with a clean driving history, an employer can know that they can trust you with a company vehicle or to safely do things like take clients to lunch.

Failure in a drug test

Most organisations have strict policies related to drug use. Because drug use often hinders performance, employers typically fail candidates if a drug test comes back positive. To prevent any false positives, be sure to disclose prescription drugs you are taking under the advice of a doctor to the laboratory technician.

Related: How To Write A Professional Background (Details and Tips)

How Is A Background Check Different From A Reference Check?

Though employers can file for background checks at any point in an employee's career, most background checks are conducted at the end of the hiring process. Comparatively, an employer may complete a reference check in the first or second round of the recruiting process. Reference checks help the employer decide if they are required to conduct further rounds with candidates. Background check gives a lot of information about the candidate but employers want to know more to hire the best candidates for their company, thus they may undergo a reference check as well.

The reference check helps to gain this information about the candidates:

  • Knowledge about the previous jobs the applicant has held

  • The candidate's performance in their previous role

  • Actual job description and roles and responsibilities of the candidates

  • The behaviour of the candidate with their colleagues and clients

  • Reliability and loyalty of the applicant

  • If the candidate is a right fit for the company's work culture

  • How positive and motivated the candidate is at work

Related: How To Put References on a Resume (With Template & Examples)

What To Do While You Wait To Hear After The Background Check?

Here are a few things you can do to remain proactive while you wait to hear about a background check:

Be patient

It is important to remember that background checks are a standard part of the hiring process. Many reputable organisations want to verify a candidate's identity to ensure workplace safety and security. Many steps in the hiring process may not be visible to you, so it is important to be patient with the process.

Do your own research

While hiring managers look into the intricate details of your background, you can take time to do your own research about the company. For instance, you can research reviews and testimonies from former and current employees to better understand what working there would be like. This way, you may feel more confident in your decision to work for the organisation if they offer you the job.

Related: Recruitment Process: A Step-by-Step Guide

Clean up your social media

Social media can be an important deciding factor in the hiring process. While most hiring managers understand that social media accounts are not a fully accurate representation of who you are as a person, consider making your profiles private, professional and employer-friendly. If you would not want a hiring manager to see something you have posted, consider removing it.

Remain in contact

Do not be afraid to check in with the hiring manager or recruiter you have been in touch with throughout the background check process. If you want to be helpful, you might even consider offering them contact information for references or former employers. Additionally, checking in on a hiring manager's progress with your background check is a great way to remain proactive and show your enthusiasm for the opportunity.

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