A background check is an essential part of the candidate selection process. A background check is the most accurate way to verify the credentials of a candidate. It also allows hiring managers to learn about any less than desirable information that many candidates won’t share on their resumes.

Every hiring manager wants to make sure that they find the right candidate for the job. A candidate’s credentials are only one piece of that puzzle. Employers want to hire people that they consider responsible and trustworthy.

While background checks are a great way to confirm a candidate and prevent any hiring mishaps, hiring managers must follow a set of guidelines to protect both the candidate and your company. There are many local and national laws in place to protect the privacy of people who are looking for jobs. Background checks should be reasonable and are best done when they are aligned with both the job profile and local laws.

How to Perform a Background Check of a Job Candidate

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Here is a guide to performing a thorough and successful background check on a future employee. In this article, I will explain 1) the starting point for every background check, 2) basic background check, 3) do background checks that fits your job description, 4) access denied: information you can’t have, and 5) background checks on job canditates: be careful and wise.


You should always begin with a basic background check that is informative but not intrusive. The candidate will have sent you the information about themselves that they believe is valuable, and you should begin there. You should start by reviewing the resume, cover letter and references provided to you in the candidate’s job application. However, it is important to remember that nearly 56% of people are likely to inflate their resume to make it stand out. As a result, you should review the information with a healthy amount of skepticism.


  • The resume is a standard application requirement. It should include relevant information regarding a candidate’s education, employment, skills, and any volunteer positions that the candidate feels fit the role. You should examine the resume carefully in search of any inconsistencies. This may include irrelevant positions or large gaps of missing time.
  • As the job market becomes more difficult, job candidates seem to be submitting more misleading resumes than ever before. Surveys suggest that the longer people are unemployed, the less accurate their resume is. Hiring managers should approach resumes with a watchful eye. Common fibs include listing universities that a candidate attended but did not graduate from or writing misleading job titles for previous positions. In 2008, the Wall Street Journal published a guide on how to spot resume fraud. They suggest that hiring managers always ask for the exact circumstances regarding changes in employment. Employers should also enquire about gaps between employment. Some applicants may be fibbing to help their careers advance, but it can be hard to distinguish between little lies and resume fraud. The best way to tell if a statement is questionable is if the candidate answers specific questions with broad and evasive answers. This is usually a warning sign that the inaccuracy on the resume is more than an embellishment and that the candidate does not have the skills to perform the job they are applying for.

Cover letters

  • Cover letters are a very useful tool to get to know a candidate. Where a resume is a list of facts about a person, the cover letter will allow a hiring manager to get to know the person behind the list. When reading a cover letter, ensure that the topics that are mentioned reflect the work listed in the resume. It is not difficult to write colorful prose in a cover letter, and sometimes the facts get carried away. Also, be wary of irrelevant information in the cover letter. Letters that have little to do with the job posting are usually the result of one of two issues. The first is that the candidate has not carefully read the job posting. The second is that the candidate is trying to hide the fact that they are not qualified for the position.


  • A good candidate will provide you with several references to attest to their past work experience and their personal character. However, a candidate will rarely send the name of a reference who would speak ill of them. You should contact the references the candidate supplies you. You should also consider asking those references for further references. Try to be sure that you speak to direct supervisors as well as colleagues. Taking the reference checks one step further will help you to ensure that you are getting a well-rounded perspective of this potential future employee.


When you have gone through the first phase of the background check and have decided to take your investigation into the applicant, further you should progress with a basic background check. While background checks used to involve calling former employers and references, background checks now include spending time on the Internet looking at publicly posted information about the potential candidate. More and more candidates today are learning to expect potential employers to check up on them but a select few either do not believe this is true or do not think it affects them.

Employment History

  • Confirming a candidate’s employment history is an essential step when you are screening a candidate. This step should be easy to perform. However, red flags may begin to appear if the process becomes unclear and you begin to receive information that does not match the data provided by the candidate. If there are discrepancies in the candidate’s former job title, dates of employment or listed salary, you should proceed with caution.
  • You should also verify any relevant university degrees. If you are searching for a young engineer, you will want to be sure that they have completed a degree in engineering.

Online Screening

  • Most online checks begin with a Google search. A Google search can tell you a lot about a person, but you must make sure that it is thorough. Do not just look at the headlines and make judgments. If there is something that is either interesting or concerning to you, you should click the links and investigate. No one wants to be charged for a crime that they did not commit so you should be sure that you do not make discriminatory decisions based off of this information. You cannot believe everything you see on the Internet. If you like the candidate but find something questionable online, you should ask them about it. Google may have found you the wrong ‘Joe Smith’ or the information may be the result of identity theft or an elaborate hoax. Stranger things have happened on the Internet.
  • LinkedIn In is the second place to go to check up on a candidate. LinkedIn is an informative tool because you can see who the candidate is connected to. Their online profile may also include references from current or former colleagues attesting to their skills and personality. LinkedIn requires some verification, but the line of accuracy can still be blurry. The same rule applies on LinkedIn in as it does on Google, if you run into trouble but have a generally good feeling, give the candidate a chance to explain themselves.
  • Facebook is another common stop for online screening. While many employers find Facebook valuable in the recruiting process, hiring managers should approach it with caution. As people post more and more personal information on social networks, you can gain better insight into people you don’t know. However, social media is just a snapshot of their lives, and it is not their full biography. But, if you see behavior that company policy does not tolerate such as drug use or excessive alcohol consumption, it may be fair to make a decision that a candidate is not right for the position.
  • It is legal to check whatever a candidate freely posts about themselves in a public forum, but it is legally questionable to circumvent privacy features or ask candidates for their social media passwords.


When you are performing background checks on potential job candidates, a good rule to follow is to only perform checks that are relevant to the job. Unless it is in your company’s HR policy, avoiding superfluous checks will not only save the company money but it will save the HR process time and energy as well. This will also leave a positive impression on the candidate. Intensive screening for jobs that do not have high salaries or levels of responsibility will often feel intrusive. This kind of irrelevant screening may also alienate possible candidates from the position.

  • Drug screening: Around 60% of companies conduct pre-employment drug screens. A drug screen is essential in situations where a candidate will be working with heavy machinery or in dangerous environments.
  • Driving Records: Checking a candidate’s driving records is appropriate when the position involves driving or the use of a company car. There are two good reasons to launch a driving record check on a potential employee: to encourage safety in the workplace and for insurance purposes. It is important to protect both your employees and the company’s physical investments.
  • Credit Check:
    • It is responsible practice to request consent to perform a credit check when the job profile requires handling money. Employers like banks and accountancy firms would do well to ensure that the candidate can be trusted with money.
    • Ensure that you are using a reputable credit check service. Some of these services buy up vast amounts of public information but do not update it or make the relevant changes to it. As a result, there is a lot of misinformation in public records.


There is certain information that you cannot request access to as an employer. Many governments and local authorities have enacted laws to protect people’s privacy. Things like old arrests or bankruptcies will be left off of public records and be inaccessible. It is best to only request pertinent information. You should also be aware of the current laws surrounding discriminatory hiring. By following the law, you can protect your company from potential lawsuits. The following is a list of records that either require the consent of the candidate or are inaccessible.

  • Consumer Reports: You must for written consent before you check any kind of history. If you decide not to hire a candidate based upon information from a consumer report, you must provide the candidate with a copy of the report and the exact reason. The laws in some areas are stricter than in other areas regarding hiring decisions based on personal consumer reports. It is important to keep in mind that there may be extenuating circumstances for a candidate’s financial situation. Conversations about the report findings should happen with both empathy and tact.
  • Bankruptcies: The privacy protection laws in effect have stipulated that consumer reports are not to include bankruptcy filings over 10 years old. Looking for and finding bankruptcies in the past of a potential candidate should have little effect on your hiring decisions as an employer cannot discriminate against an employee if they have filed for bankruptcy.
  • Criminal Records: A consumer report will not include an arrest record over seven years old unless the job position pays a salary that meets or exceeds $75,000. This is designed to protect the privacy of people who are looking for jobs so that the process is not made needlessly difficult. Any conviction records will remain on the record for over seven years. The amount of information available about the conviction will depend on the age of the conviction and whether or not the court documents are sealed. The laws regarding the use of criminal reports in background checks for hiring purposes are different in many areas.
  • School Records: Federal law does not allow schools to release their academic information on a student without the consent of a student. This is to protect the privacy of students, especially those who were minors when they attended the school. If it is imperative to see relevant academic information, hiring managers must submit a formal request to both the candidate and the school that it wishes to request records from. A student’s consent is essential in this process. Without the proper paperwork, the attempt to gain information will be rebuffed by an academic institution.
  • Workers’ Compensation Records: An employer may only check a candidate’s worker’s compensation records if they have strong evidence to believe that the candidate cannot perform the essential duties of the role. The information granted to an employer is only the information available in the public record. If the candidate has made a workers’ compensation appeal, employers may review this information.
  • Medical Records: Employers may not request an employee’s medical records nor may they make hiring decisions based upon the medical history or disability. If the candidate can perform essential job functions then hiring, managers may not take the disability into account in decisions. It is advisable to become familiar with the laws surrounding disability to avoid making any discriminatory decisions.
  • Genetic Information: Employers are not allowed to make decisions about jobs based on a candidate’s genetic information. They are not entitled request this information through medical records. Even if the candidate freely mentions this information, employers may not make hiring decisions based on a candidate’s health.
  • Military service Records: The military is able to share names, ranks, salaries, awards and duty status without the consent of the service member. However, most military service records are private. Any detailed service records are only released under necessary circumstances, and their release requires full consent from the candidate.


Hiring new employees in today’s market can be challenging. A background check can help ensure you choose the right candidate for the position. Hiring managers should use the information at their disposal wisely. You should never make critical decisions based on information that is either arbitrary or inconclusive. You should also be cautious to avoid making any discriminatory decisions based on a candidate’s health or finances. Employers should maintain a healthy level of skepticism. Whether you are reviewing an ambiguous resume or information you have discovered on the Internet, you should be careful about which information you decide to be an accurate representation of the candidate. While it is tempting to check a candidate’s personal and public records to gather information, all of this information should be treated with tact and respect. By carefully considering all of the relevant sources at your disposal, you can make the best hiring decisions for your company.

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