Background checks are one of the many necessities during the hiring process that help mitigate unnecessary risk to the organization and ensure the right person is being hired.
While most countries permit background checks, there are differences in what they look for, how intensive they are, and whether the prospective employee needs to provide consent. In this article, we'll go over everything you need to know about what a background check is, how it works, and other frequently asked questions.
What Is a Background Check for Employment?
A pre-employment background check is one of the final stages of the hiring process, during which a person or organization verifies a candidate's education, employment history, criminal record, and other relevant information. Background checks are not always mandated by law but are often left to the employer’s discretion.
How they’re performed can also depend on the industry. Candidates for a government position, for example, will most likely endure extensive background checks, while someone in the construction industry may experience far fewer checks. However, in most jurisdictions, the final decision regarding whether to pre-screen employees is always left to the employer or industry regulations.
Why Do Employers Run Background Checks?
Employers run background checks for three main reasons:
- Verify education, employment, and identity: Once interviews are complete, employers may want to double-check the veracity of an interviewee's education and employment history to ensure they are, indeed, the right person for the job. This can also help prevent fraud and verify any industry certifications or accreditations that are listed on a resume.
- Determine liability: Employers also conduct background checks to see if a candidate has a criminal conviction, pending cases, or history of incarceration. If a candidate has been convicted of a crime, a background check will show its severity, allowing the employer to determine whether the candidate is a liability.
- Stay compliant: Certain jurisdictions and industries have rules and regulations that potential employees must meet to perform the job, and it’s up to the employer to confirm their suitability. For example, employers may need to determine if the employee has the right to work in their base country.
In summary, performing background checks can help employers mitigate risks and save money in the long run.
What Do Background Checks Show?
There are different types of background checks at your disposal, depending on the information that is being sought. Here are the most common types of information shown in pre-employment background checks:
- Right to work
- Employment history
- Education history
- Professional licenses and certifications
- Identity verification
- Criminal activity
However, employers may opt for more extensive background checks if the job is high-risk, requires trust, or is specialized. An in-depth check may also include:
- Global watchlist (common for government jobs)
- Driving record (common for driving-intensive jobs)
- Credit history
- FBI and/or local law enforcement records
- Fingerprint records
- Social media checks
How to Do a Background Check
Depending on the information required, manually running a background check on your own can be highly risky and not recommended since information floating around online can be inaccurate or outdated. Relying on such methods could pose significant legal risks later down the line.
Instead, it's best to enlist the services of a legally compliant organization specializing in pre-employment background checks, such as our partner Veremark. Such services simplify the background check process and ensure global regulatory compliance. This last point is particularly important for organizations that deal with international teams because jurisdiction plays a significant role in what a background check shows and how it can be conducted.
For example, in Canada, a candidate must give consent for a check to be performed, and the information sought must be pertinent to the role that's being hired. So, hypothetically, an employer cannot check a candidate's driving record unless the position requires the candidate to drive.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the phrase "background check" is culturally insensitive, so it’s referred to as "information verification" instead. Such pre-employment screenings must also have the proper consent and be proportionate to the candidate's position.
Each country has its own laws surrounding pre-employment background checks, so be sure to research your jurisdiction's regulations or get in touch with a global employment services partner like Omnipresent for expert support.
How to Do a Free Background Check
While there are services that perform free background checks, companies should be wary of using them to pre-screen employees. Free background check services often have incomplete reports, data gaps, or unreliable information, which can open a business up to lawsuits or hiring a high-risk employee. It’s far more advantageous to rely on premium services to collect accurate data so you can make informed hiring decisions.
Additionally, background check services that have a cost-free appeal tend to provide publicly available data and then charge a premium for the more pertinent information.
Any business that is serious about conducting employee pre-screenings should steer clear of free background check services entirely.
Background Checks FAQs
Here are some frequently asked questions about pre-employment background checks:
How Long Is a Background Check Good For?
In short, a background check is valid in perpetuity once it's conducted. Most employers only screen candidates before hiring, but some may run background checks every 2-5 years. Generally speaking, this is unnecessary since background checks cover an employee's entire history; and chances are an organization would be aware of any criminal convictions that happen while a team member has active employment. But some businesses have begun running continuous checks to avoid claims of negligence or violence in the workplace.
How Far Back Does a Background Check Go?
A background check's look-back period depends on the type of check as well as local regulations. In the U.S., for example, seven years is the most common period for criminal checks, although some allow for up to a decade. Even these can vary depending on whether the candidate has already served jail time.
Are There Different Types of Background Checks?
Some jurisdictions have more intensive checks, depending on the industry. To continue using the U.S. as an example, some states use a "Level 2" background check that is much more intensive. It pulls and analyzes fingerprint information, FBI records, local court and law enforcement records, and more. "Level 2" checks are reserved for jobs that require high levels of personal trust, such as those who work with children, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations.
How Long Does a Background Check Take?
There’s no single answer to how long a background check takes. This is because the time it takes to perform a check will depend on the scope of information that’s being verified.
For example, a background check focused solely on basic information like employment history, right to work, and identity verification can usually be completed within a work week. However, background checks that go much more in-depth, such as “Level 2” checks in the U.S., may take longer.