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Reading through resumes and applications can be like reading the abstract of a novel or watching a movie preview. You can get the highlights and snapshots of the best content but still be left with a bad experience once you commit to reading the book or viewing the show.   

Fortunately, today’s technology and data resources afford cost-effective options to solely relying on resumes and interviews to gain a clear picture of a potential employee's history and qualifications. 

Enter the pre-employment background check.

This simple process, when conducted properly, helps HR managers gain a more complete picture of a potential employee, including any important details the person may have omitted from their application or left out of their interview. It is a valuable risk management tool. However, in an ever-changing legal landscape of employment protection and privacy legislation, how background checks are procured and what can be done with the information that is gleaned from reports is constantly evolving, so it’s wise to approach employment screening with the support of qualified experts. 

Criminal Record 

The extent to which an employer can consider a person's criminal history in a hiring decision varies by state and employment setting. The “Ban the Box” movement is part of this changing landscape. It refers to having job applicants check a box if they’ve been convicted of a crime. Several states and local jurisdictions have current or proposed Ban the Box legislation.  

Resource: List of States and Municipalities with ban the box laws

The scope of a criminal background search should be customized to the needs of the employer and the type of positions they fill.  

One common practice is to check for both state and federal criminal records for any record of wrongdoing. Violations of state penal codes are often found in record searches at the county court of record or in the state's criminal database, while convictions under federal jurisdiction are found in the federal criminal database, PACER. Most criminal prosecution happens on a state level, however only checking a state's criminal database or limiting records searches to county courts will fail to show any federal crimes that may have been committed. 

Limiting a criminal record search solely to states and counties where the applicant has previously resided may potentially miss crimes committed in another state or jurisdiction. This is why a national criminal database check, one which checks for crimes committed across counties, jurisdictions, states, and territories, performed in conjunction with a federal criminal background check is considered the gold standard. 

Credit Reports 

A credit report for employment purposes has several key differences from a financial credit report used to determine consumer creditworthiness. Financial credit reports contain a FICO or creditworthiness score. Obtaining this type of credit report can have an impact on an applicant’s overall credit score.

Employment credit reports do not contain credit scores. They serve the purpose of providing insight into an applicant’s character, reputation, lifestyle, and trustworthiness versus their creditworthiness.  

This in-depth background check may contain information about the person's risk as far as their level of debt and responsibility in managing their own financial affairs. Several states have enacted legislation limiting the use of credit reports in employment decisions, often restricting use to specific job roles and salary levels. Employers should familiarize themselves with local legislation both in their state of operations and in the applicant’s state of residence prior to use.    

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires an employee's consent to perform an investigative report and mandates that any information found over the course of an investigation be made available to the subject of the report. 


Many people feel compelled to embellish their educational accomplishments in order to obtain a job. While the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act requires a student’s or parent's permission to release transcript records, they can release dates of attendance, honors and awards, and any directory information the student provided while they were in attendance. 

A more detailed license verification background check may be necessary for jobs that require specific certifications for licenses. 

Military Service 

Many companies want to hire former military personnel and there are often incentive programs to do so. However, like employment verifications, it’s important to have details about an applicant before they begin working. By law, any background screening must take place post-offer and pre-completion of onboarding. Generally, employers extend a conditional offer and then complete the background screen. In addition, gaining a release of military record details requires an applicant’s consent. The information you can obtain includes the service member's name, rank, salary, awards, and duty status. 


While many people list references who will offer only glowing reviews of their past performance, many people are still under the impression that past employers can only confirm dates of employment and titles the person held. 

While many companies have policies in place that prohibit managers from providing detail on past performance, many will share some additional information in the process of verifying past employment. 

Phrases like, "I have never heard of them," or "I'm surprised they added us as a reference" are telling of a person's character as well as the circumstances surrounding the termination of prior employment. 

Simplifying The Process 

While the pre-employment background check process seems daunting and time-consuming, it offers information a candidate may be reluctant to divulge that can have a profound impact on their experience with your organization. 

It may seem like a full-time job to simply perform background checks, but it does not have to be a task HR managers shoulder alone. 

Background checks should be outsourced to competent professionals who can obtain information by following appropriate legal channels. 

In addition to professional knowledge and subject matter expertise, a strong employment screening partner can also support workflow integration with your existing applicant tracking system (ATS) or human capital management (HCM) software.  This can help streamline the work and speed up the time from inquiry to job offer.  

Advancements in both technology and processes not only increase screening accuracy, but they also help support compliant report results, ready for use in hiring decisions.