I’ve just been given a great job offer that I like, but the employer said they are going to do a background check. What are they doing?
I’d like to start out by offering my congratulations on getting the job offer. Background checks can take a few different forms and they are becoming increasingly common. For example, I once worked in a school canteen and had to undergo a “working with children” background check.
The background check an employer does on you could be a qualification check, a criminal background check and, as well as checking references, a check of your work history. There could also be a clause in your contract or letter of offer that says that your continued employment with the company is subject to a background check. This is important because background checks can take weeks and you might have started the job. You might also already know that drug, alcohol, and medical checks may be required for some jobs, such as operating heavy machinery. Now I don’t know what kind of job you’ve been offered, so let’s assume it’s something in an office.
Don’t feel singled out by the way; background checks are becoming more and more common for a range of different positions and for several different reasons. Most of it is due to organisations not wanting to provide references anymore. As such, prospective employers have to resort to different methods of checking a prospective employee is on the up and up. The vast majority of people have absolutely nothing to fear from a background check. I’m sure that you are one of those people with nothing to worry about, but it can take a while for a background check to complete if you have a fairly common name; even if you do have nothing to fear.
For example, imagine how many John Smiths an employer would need to sift through before they find the right one to even start their check. The only check that most people should worry about is the history and qualification check. You might remember the recent high profile case where employers were spooked by the publicity surrounding the alleged overstatement of experience and qualifications. This case involved a senior executive, but embellishing your experience, omitting some of your previous jobs, and hiding short-term employment as a “contract” are all fairly common practices.
Fabricating qualifications and lying about them, while less common, still happens. Lots of people think it's worth trying their luck with this, feeling confident that a background check won’t be performed and they are taken at their word. You shouldn’t be too worried about a background check though. Just be sure that what you put in your resume is the truth and will be verified by any check. If you do feel that there is something from your background that should be brought to light, it’s best to do it yourself and discuss it with a prospective employer.