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Passing Employment Background Checks - Everything You Wanted to Know!

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

Previously, I made a video blog post about how to ace your background checks without hassle. Many of you told me you liked the video, and I received a lot of questions on this topic. So I decided to create a follow-up post for those who want to know more about the intricacies and how it works behind the scenes.

Another reason I decided to work on it is because I have been seeing an increasing frequency of online advice recommending people to actively lie on their resume saying there will be no consequences. Based on my professional experience observing close to 1,000 offers and background checks, this is dangerous advice that can cause immediate dismissal from your job or offer rescindment. My hope is that after reading this post, you will understand the risks involved more accurately so that you won’t have to find yourself in an unnecessary predicament.

  1. It all depends on the employer.

Many of the questions I receive have to do with what information and how much information will be verified. And the reason why you may find conflicting information on the Internet is because it all depends. Except for minimum information such as criminal records, employment verification, and education, how much detail your particular background check will include ultimately depends on the employer.

Most companies hire 3rd party background firms to conduct their checks. And there are options that these employers can choose from. For example, how many years of employment history should be examined, how far back should they go in terms of criminal records, should financial histories such as bankruptcy or credit rating be included, what kind of proof documents are necessary, should the documents be directly verified by the bg firm…

Basically how comprehensive a pre-employment check will be depends on the individual firm’s choice. Throughout my career, I’ve seen huge discrepancies, even among similar-sized companies in the same industry, regarding how strict their verification processes can be. Even the slightest misinformation could raise flags and significantly delay the offer process with some companies. However, with other firms, we just had to send one email with an apology, and everything was smooth as butter.

Therefore, it’s perilous to make a general blanket statement, especially about what you can get away with. Just because someone happened to pass a background check, even with some misinformation in the past, it does not mean you can do the same and expect to have the same luck every time.

  1. It depends on the jurisdiction.

Another essential point to consider is what jurisdiction your new job will be under.

Let me explain. Different countries and even states have distinct employment laws that govern bg checks. For example, employers are forbidden to ask about previous salary information in some countries and locations. Obviously, compensation details will not be part of the verification process in such places. However, in many other countries especially in Asia, there is no such law, and information about salary will definitely be part of bg checks – in fact, it will be one of the most crucial pieces of information.

Also, different locations have different laws about how long certain records, such as criminal or bankruptcy history, can show up, and they can vary greatly. Some employment laws forbid employers to conduct checks beyond a certain number of years (such 3 or 5), whereas other laws do not.

Again, all of these differences will have an impact on what will be asked during the checks and the outcome. And this is another reason for conflicting information. If you want the most accurate facts for your situation, it would be useful to know about the legal requirements of the location where your new job will be based.

  1. How long does a bg check take?

This is a widespread question, and understandably so. With most companies, one can only start after the check is completed. So if it takes too long, your actual start date could be delayed.

Ultimately, it depends on 3 factors – the employer, the bg checking firm, and the candidate. As I mentioned, how thorough a check is will depend on the employer. If the new employer wants a lot of information going back many years, the process will take longer than otherwise simply because more items need to be gathered and verified.

And then, during the actual check itself, how quickly the previous employers, universities, courthouses, and other organizations will return with the requested information will impact the duration.

Lastly, it depends on the candidate. The sooner you can provide required documents for confirmation, the sooner the process should conclude (though it may not always be the case…).

  1. How about criminal or financial records?

I am not a lawyer, nor am I an expert when it comes to criminal records or bankruptcy. So if these matters apply to you, I would advise you to seek legal counsel from a lawyer who specializes in the employment of law of the jurisdiction of your new position if you can.

Having said that, there are several factors you may want to consider such as

  1. Misdemeanor vs convicted felony: in most cases, a minor misdemeanor, especially one from many years ago, may not be a big issue, whereas a felony is a different story.

  2. How long ago was the record? Because in some locations, records over a certain number of years are no longer valid.

  3. Also, depending on the nature of the record, it’s possible to have it expunged or removed.

  4. Lastly, for financial records such as bankruptcy or default, certain arrangements may be available for you to make whole on your financial obligations retrospectively. This is an effective way to clear your history, which is a worthwhile option, if applicable.

  5. And lastly, #5, can I lie on my resume or during my bg checking process?

My answer is “Do not do it.” It’s straightforward for professional verification companies to authenticate the information you provide. All it takes is one phone call or one email. Many bad advice claims no one is really going to check, and you can say whatever you want. But this is a terrible recommendation. For any company that performs bg checks, it’s only a simple matter to find out if any content is false. And intentionally falsifying information is a well-accepted reason for rescinding the offer. It’s just not a wise move.

Another question I often get is: Can I OMIT previous employment details?

This one is a bit tricky. And the answer depends. Suppose the previous employment was something completely unrelated to the position you’re applying for (for example, an entirely disconnected industry, or a short-term freelancing gig that is meaningless to the position). In that case, it may be justifiable (though still risky if it was a recent work). But if the previous employment was a relevant experience, removing it would be considered hiding information on purpose.

Now, omitting certain information is harder to check than an incorrect detail on a resume because if something is not there, they may not know to dig it up. However, it’s a lot riskier than you might think.

For example, if there is a long unemployment gap (presumably because you chose to omit the in-between job), the HR may wonder what happened and decide to dig deeper. Another possibility is that if the bg checking company has your data from prior checks, they may have records of where you worked. Lastly, employment verification companies can ask for tax documents containing details about where your previous compensation came from, which are real-life examples of how concealed information can be discovered.

Having closely observed numerous offers and bg checks my entire career, I can conclude one thing. And that is when it comes to pre-employment verification, it’s always better to disclose information upfront than to be found out.

When the process starts you will need to confirm or sign a document that says all the information you provide is 100% accurate to the best of your knowledge. And if that’s not the case, it will work against you. Even if it’s something that would have been a non-issue (and completely harmless), they will most likely pull the plug if the employer feels that you were trying to lie about it.

Based on my own personal experience (I’m not saying it will always be the case), but based on my own professional experience, I have never seen anyone who honestly disclosed certain information upfront (such as financial default, or missing employment experience, etc.) who ended up failing the background check. Of course, for everyone who worked with me, I helped them draft really good reasons and explanations that are as palatable to the HR as possible which helped. And some of these situations dragged on for a while, but they all worked out in the end.

The only few times I have personally witnessed failed background checks were when discrepancies were discovered by the background checking company, whether done intentionally or by mistake. Again, if something is picked up during the verification process, it just becomes that much more complicated because it could become an HR issue.

And this makes sense when you consider the fact that one of the main intentions of a bg check is to see if the potential employee is a reliable person who can be trusted – trusted to be honest in his/her work and dealings with other people, which will have an impact on the team and company’s performance.

To clarify, I’m not saying you should disclose everything about yourself. That’s not right either. It’s probably wise not to bring things up if you do not have to.

But what I am saying is, at least, do not intentionally falsify information, especially during the background process because the risk is much higher than you may think. Doing this could seriously put yourself at a disadvantage much more than you signed up for. Also, once you start down this path, you need to continue distorting the facts, which can become extremely tiring.

Personally, I’d like to suggest that this issue is more than just about getting a job.

It’s also about integrity. Integrity is who we are as a person and our choices.

Every time we choose honesty, we become more of a person of authenticity, and it will be that much easier to make ethical decisions in the future. On the flip side, every time we choose to lie or cut corners, we will likely continue to resort to further dishonesty in all areas of life, leading to even more negative consequences.

Which path do you want to be on?

Thank you for reading!

Elevate Your Career, Elevate Your Life! Matt

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