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Employment Verification

How to do a background check?

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

To make sure they’re getting a proper return on their investment, employers should be as thorough as possible when evaluating a potential new employee. Resumes and references may provide cursory information on a candidate’s work history and performance, but they uncover little about someone’s criminal history, creditworthiness, or motor vehicle record. A background check is what’s needed.

When conducting a background check, follow proper protocol to avoid violating local laws and, ultimately, making a poor hiring decision. And be sure to use a reputable background-check provider.

Inform the candidate of the background check

Be sure to inform an individual in writing that you’re seeking information on their background, and why. Most states have laws preventing employers from running background checks on employees and others without explicitly getting their consent in advance. Explaining why you need the information will help the employee better understand your motivation. Finally, retain a copy of the consent form for your records, in case the legality of the background check is questioned.

Now that you’ve got clearance from the individual in question, you can move on to deciding what information you’re seeking.

Determine what candidate information you need

The focus of a typical employment-verification request is an employee’s work history and past responsibilities. A background check includes more personal, less professional information.

Education verification

This usually includes all information about a candidate’s past higher education and ensures the accuracy of a candidate’s claims about their educational achievements.

Credit report

Requesting a credit report is common when conducting a background check for candidates applying for jobs in financial services. Employers considering loaning an employee money or providing a line of credit — for expenses, for example — may also need a credit report.

Social Security Number validation

A Social Security number verifies a candidate’s eligibility to work in the country and is necessary to set up proper tax withholding once a candidate has been hired. U.S. law requires that all employers verify an employee’s Social Security number within three days of hiring, with penalties ranging from ( steep fines to imprisonment for failure to adequately secure proof.

Criminal history

Learning about potential employee’s past involvement with the law is necessary when hiring for jobs in schools and other organizations entrusted with the care of children. This includes determining whether a candidate has never been convicted or otherwise charged with sexual crimes. Employers can usually conduct free criminal background checks on the web, but they rarely dig deeply into county records, which often contain more details about past transgressions and convictions.

Civil records report

Not all disputes or crimes result in criminal charges. A Civil Records report can give further information on an employee’s character or background. This includes domestic disputes, personal bankruptcies, and other financial troubles, such as small claims disputes.

Motor vehicle record report

When hiring for roles that require driving, employers must request a report of a candidate’s driving history to qualify for insurance. This includes driver’s license information, tickets, violations, convictions, and other statuses on someone’s driving record.

Military records

Many employers actively hire veterans and must verify that a candidate served in the branch and position that they’re claiming. U.S. laws, such as the Stolen Valor Act (, prohibit employees from lying about the extent or nature of their military history, so employers are protected when requesting the military history of a prospective hire.

Address history

Sometimes it’s necessary to verify a candidate’s past physical mailing addresses. A candidate may omit parts of their background that they see as undesirable, so it’s helpful to see whether there’s a period of residence that they’re hiding as part of their resume or other claims. Some employers only hire in specific regions, so an address history can also help make sure that an employee is a resident of a particular state or region.

Substance abuse

To comply with local laws and prevent damaging disruptions in the workplace, most companies will want to ensure that their employees don’t have any active substance abuse issues. Drug testing is becoming more complicated as states legalize previously prohibited substances, like marijuana, but substance-abuse checks are required by federal law for positions that necessitate certain kinds of security clearance.

Once you’ve decided what information is relevant for completing your background check, you can move on to selecting the best provider for your needs.

Evaluate the background-check provider

Most modern background-check providers are online tools that conduct a search based on information that employers provide. But not all are created equal. A strong background-check provider will have earned a good reputation, deliver results quickly, and offer its services at a fair price.


Reviews from past customers can assure employers that they’re selecting a background check service that meets the needs and expectations of users. Trustpilot ( aggregates reviews for different web services, and Google’s business pages and other social media platforms typically gather ratings as well.


An average background check procured through a provider should be delivered in two to three business days. If an employer opts to obtain the information on their own, they may experience a surprising amount of up-front work and serious delays in reporting.


Confirm that the provider you’re considering allows you to select only the information you need. Common background-check providers may inadvertently deliver more information than an employer needs — or less. If employers don't get to specify exactly what information they're seeking, the background check may be slowed down, and unnecessary charges may be incurred.

Employee visibility

Employers should give as much visibility into the process as possible to help relieve any anxiety and give potential employees reassurance that employers are seeking only the information needed to make a prudent hire. If candidates don’t know what their potential employer will learn about them during a background check, the process can be stressful. Will past transgressions like traffic tickets jeopardize their chance to secure a new position?


A typical background check will cost $100 or more, because it costs money to query individual databases like state or country records. Be wary of services that charge far less than others. Many services may even offer “free” checks that rarely uncover any information that employers couldn’t obtain on their own through a cursory web search.

For more information about costs associated with common elements of a background check, visit here (

How to do a background check that benefits everyone involved

Background checks require querying a wide range of local and national databases, so employers are advised to partner with a reputable verification service to save time and money. A thorough background check can help employers avoid costly terminations in the future, along with headaches caused by hiring someone of questionable character.

But don’t choose the first service that appears in your search results. Thoroughly research the providers you’re considering to ensure that you understand what information to expect, when, and in what format.

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