My Background Check Sucks, I'll Never Get the Job!, -OR- What to do When You've Made Some Mistakes Along the Way

DSC_2180When you apply for a job, chances are the employer will have you sign a form allowing them to run a background check on you before deciding to hire you. They want to make sure you can be trusted not to run the company into the ground. Do you know what the background check consists of? It could contain the following:

  • Criminal history - Almost every background check includes this one. Often it goes just seven years back, but I've seen checks that pull data as far back as Noah's ark.
  • Work verification - Validates your prior dates of employment with a company, plus potentially your title, salary history, and other minutiae.
  • Education verification - Validates your time at MooseJump University, including dates attended and whether you graduated.
  • Credit history - Some companies run this one across the board. Others limit it to those positions where employees handle money. Employers may view your credit history as a reflection of how responsible you are as a person.
  • Motor Vehicle reports - If you drive a vehicle for the company, they will want to see if you have a clean record. Tickets, accidents, and other citations of note will show up.

Companies can run other things, too. Like whether you have civil litigation against you. Or a Social Security Number search to validate all the addresses you've lived so that they can ensure you're the person you claim you are.

Invasive? You bet.

Part of applying for a job today? Absolutely.

You know there are things in your background which may come back to haunt you when your background check is run. You got into trouble, and your hijinks could prevent you from getting your dream job. What do you do? PLEASE NOTE: I am not an attorney, and I'm not giving legal advice. But assuming you have your ducks in a row, I have found these strategies to be effective in managing a potentially difficult situation.

  • Accept that there are some jobs you may never qualify for due to your background check. Certain law enforcement positions may require a clean criminal record, which you may not have. A truck driver position requires a clean driver's license. A bank teller role may require a good credit report. Learn about the obstacles you may face based upon your personal situation. Don't waste your time applying if you know you won't get the job due to a legitimate reason which will emerge through the background check results.
  • Never lie. Never. Never ever. Not on a resume. Not on an application. Not in an interview. An employer will find out if you fudge dates of employment, a fake degree, or a hidden criminal offense. And you will be blackballed when lies or deception come to light.
  • Own your mistakes. The first step in building trust with the employer is to own the fact that you made an error in judgment in the past. Own up to your mistakes in a proactive manner. In the case of a criminal matter, for example, it's often best to disclose what happened, indicate what you learned from the situation, and that you (hopefully) have stayed out of trouble since then. By the way, even if a court tells you that a conviction was sealed or expunged (as if it never happened), that doesn't mean it won't necessarily show up on the background check - be prepared for this, as more and more court records wend their way across the internet.

By taking control of the situation up front, you may or may not get the job, but nobody can accuse you of hiding anything.

I've seen candidates sell themselves wonderfully through the interview process to the point of background check, then the check itself conflicts with the candidate's story. As much as the hiring team loves the candidate, as soon as HR find's the candidate lied about having a degree (which, by the way, they may not even need for the job) or didn't disclose a recent felony, they're out.

The candidate (by law) has an opportunity to rebut what's found on the background, but unless the candidate can prove the records are incorrect, trust between candidate and employer has been destroyed.

Scott Singer is a Human Resources professional and staffing expert with almost 20 years of in-house corporate HR and staffing firm experience. He has expertise in the intricacies of the hiring process, corporate staffing strategy and the intricacies of the HR department.

You can reach Scott at