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How to Conduct an Employment Background Check the Right Way

July 21, 2020


There’s something to be said about finding the perfect candidate for a job.

After all of the hard work in creating a job description and interviewing applicants, it’s almost time to extend an offer. But before you can, it’s in your company’s best interest to run an employment background check.

It’s crucial to run an employment background check on everyone you hire. As part of the pre-employment screening process, they can help confirm that you’re making a smart hiring decision before you start onboarding.

You may also choose to run annual or semi-annual background checks on current employees as a continued effort to safeguard the company and make sure that staff members continue to have a clean record, whatever your company defines that to be.

There’s a lot to know about conducting employment background checks, and chances are good that you’ll have to answer some questions posed by the candidate. Dive into the details below to learn everything about employment background checks.

What is needed to run an employment background check?

To run a pre-employment background check, you’ll need certain details from the candidate, including:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Current or past address
  • Consent to run the check

Pay special attention to that last point. The Fair Credit Reporting Act holds all employers accountable to comply with specific regulations to ensure that the process of running a background check is done fairly.

For instance, you as the potential employer must get permission in writing from applicants and current employees to run a background check. Employers also must let them know how the information may be used when it comes to making decisions regarding their employment.

As an employer, you may choose not to hire someone based on information found within a background check. If this is the case, you must send the candidate a notice that includes a copy of the report that was used to come to that hiring decision.

Also, all employers must keep in mind that it is illegal to run an employment background check based on an applicant’s:

  • Race
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • Age
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Genetic information

As an employer, you may also decide to conduct a character check, which involves speaking with personal acquaintances or references of the applicant.

What is included in an employment background check?

The information that will appear on a completed employment background check is going to depend on what type of search is ordered since several different sets of records and data can be pulled. Typically, an employment background check includes information from records based on the last seven years, although some states allow for this so reach up to 10 years.

Information found with an employee background check include:

  • Identity verification
  • Work history
  • Education confirmation
  • Credit history
  • Driving record
  • Criminal record
  • Medical history
  • Use of social media
  • Drug screening

If the position being applied for is specialized, it’s possible that the applicants will undergo further screenings. For example, if the position being applied for is a financial advisor, public accountant, or any sort of job at a bank, the employer may also check their financial history, as well as if they have the appropriate certifications and licenses needed for the job.

Drug screening isn’t always a part of an employment background check, but it is required for many jobs that involve operating motor vehicles, hazardous equipment, and any role that is related to the general safety of the public.

It’s also important to keep in mind that specific state and federal laws can limit the information listed on employment background checks based on an annual salary.

If you are dealing with a job opening that pays less than $75,000 as its annual salary, information on government sanctions, civil judgments, and disciplinary measures related to any professional licenses will not be present in the results of a background check. If the salary for the open job pays $75,000 or more as its annual salary, this information may be present in the results.


of all job applicants contain inaccurate information.

Source: Society of Human Resources Management

Employment background checks and criminal records

One specific area within the employee background check that employers should pay special attention to is the criminal record (which also could include an applicant’s driving record).

What appears in this section of the background check may help to safeguard a business owner by revealing histories of an applicant’s criminal convictions. It could also make a big difference in protecting your company, other employees, and customers.

Results of the employment background check may show criminal offenses at the county, state, and federal levels. Some offenses that may be reported in the background check include:

  • Current pending charges
  • Dismissed charges
  • Acquitted charges
  • Felony convictions
  • Misdemeanor convictions

What is a fingerprint background check?

Fingerprint background checks first launched in 1999 by the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), which stores over 35 million sets of fingerprints. A fingerprint background check, or Identity History Summary, is used in part with a variety of background checks but is most often part of the pre-employment screening process.

This type of employment background check is mandatory for roles in government-run institutes, including:

  • Public schools
  • Airports
  • Law enforcement agencies
  • Hospitals
  • Fire departments

This type of background check is sometimes considered mandatory, depending on the state, for professional licenses within real estate, finance, medical care, pharmacies, and casinos.

What is a Level 2 background check?

Within fingerprint background checks are a specialized type of check, referred to as a Level 2. This background check is for candidates applying for jobs that involve working with vulnerable individuals, like people with disabilities, children, or senior citizens. These can also be required for those applying to volunteer at schools, daycares, or senior centers.

A Level 2 background check will screen applications against specific databases for information regarding arrests, convictions, or any incarceration-related behavior, as well as crimes against children. Employers should be aware that Level 2 checks will reveal records that have been sealed by the courts related to juvenile convictions or detention.

How long does an employment background check take?

There’s no denying that the hiring process can take a long time, but most business owners want to find the best employees as fast as possible. The way you go about conducting an employment background check is going to depend on your needs and timeline, but most employers have the mindset of “the sooner the better”.

When it comes to how long an employment background check takes, it’s going to depend on the service and background check software you decide to use. You could get results anywhere from a few minutes to over a week.

Of this process, Alyssa Kowalczyk, Human Resources Coordinator at Control Solutions, LLC, said, "You should always run a background check on a new candidate before they start on the job. Before they can start, both the background check and the drug screen need to clear." 

“This can take some time, so I provide an anticipated start date so they’re aware as a way to encourage clear communication on both sides of the hiring process.”

Alyssa Kowalczyk
Human Resources Coordinator at Control Solutions, LLC

Traditional background check services typically offer a variety of reports within the background check, which is why it could take over a week to get the results back. If you choose to go the route of an online screening option, you can get a fast and comprehensive view of the applicant’s background.

There are many reasons why a traditional background check can take over a week to come back. Some include:

  • Inaccuracy within the forms: When the employer makes an error when filling out the form.
  • Incorrect identifiers: When a job candidate makes a mistake on the form, like listing a nickname instead of their legal name.
  • County-level criminal checks: Depending on what the employment background check reveals, it may be required for a person to visit a courthouse to view criminal records, which can take up to 30 days to return results.
  • Required information: Depending on the type of role needing to be filled, a more extensive screening may be necessary. More information means more reports, which also means taking more time.

How often should you run employment background checks?

While an employment background check typically takes place when someone applies for a job, they shouldn’t be a “one and done” sort of check. For instance, it’s not uncommon for an employer to require annual or semi-annual drug tests or criminal background checks in order to maintain a safe working environment for all of their employees.

Since your background checking practices and compliance standards shouldn’t stop at the point of a job offer, it’s in your company’s best interest to implement a policy regarding post-hire background checks. Make sure to specify what will be part of the post-hire screening, like if it’ll include an updated check on criminal records. Determine how often and when these screenings will take place.

Keep in mind that just like with pre-employment background checks, consent is needed. If you’ll be implementing ongoing employment background checks, consider evergreen language in your initial consent form, if your state allows it. Make sure to mention it in the employee handbook, too.

No matter how often you decide to run employment background checks, inform all current employees and new hires of this policy, especially if it’s new. Employees should know who to contact, how often they’ll be occurring, and that communication surrounding the background checks will be ongoing.


of employers conduct at least one background check before making a hiring decision.


Employment background checks and adverse actions

When running employment background checks, chances are you may encounter something less than ideal, resulting in a decision to turn down an applicant or dismiss a current employee. When this occurs, federal law states that you must let that individual know in a document called an adverse action notice. If you fail to comply, your company could face a financial penalty or even encounter an unfair hiring lawsuit.

This notice will allow you to inform a job candidate as to why they won’t be hired for a specific role within your company based on findings in a background check. Or it will let a current employee know that their employment, job status, or promotion is under review.

It must also inform the applicant or employee of their right to dispute the decision, as well as give them a chance to get a copy of their background check report within 60 days of receiving the adverse action notice. In order to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, employers must also dispose of all sensitive documents related to the background check, whether paper or digital copies.

Background check software

Background check software provides companies a way to streamline the screening process for both new hires and volunteers, while also helping to organize the data collected. Software within this category usually conducts employment, credit history, education, and criminal background checks, while some also facilitate drug screens.

* Below are the top five leading background check software solutions from G2’s Summer 2020 Grid® Report. Some reviews may be edited for clarity.

1. Paycom

Paycom is a full HR system contained in one database. This means that the technology used to hire new employees is the same technology used to pay the company’s workforce, comply with regulations, train employees, and more. Users of Paycom have the benefit of all of the organization’s workforce data in a single system, eliminating redundant data entry and the integration of multiple interfaces.

What users like:

“I love having access to so many different reports. They aren’t always easy to find but once you figure it out there is pretty much a report for everything. Having a dedicated client service representative has been nice, as well. It’s nice knowing that when I call and have questions or I am confused I have a person to talk with. There is always someone available on the team that is assigned to help with all of the questions.”

- Paycom Review, Karey L.

What users don’t like:

“Some of the processes are so thorough that parts of certain aspects seem bogged down with repetition. There's set up required for any new venture, person, or project, but improving accessibility to add new people or aspects at a point further down the flow path would be a nice addition."

- Paycom Review, Megan D.

2. GoodHire

Users of GoodHire are delivered an easy end-to-end background check workflow, while also having features that assist HR professionals in getting their background checks done quickly, affordably, and in a way that minimizes the hassle of compliance.

What users like:

“We are able to easily integrate Goodhire into our hiring process via our ATS and the results are always quick to return and very easy to read. If something does pop up as a red flag then it has an automatic system to let the candidate give you more information without you prompting, which helps deter those awkward conversations.”

- GoodHire Review, Sara C.

What users don’t like:

“It would be nice to be able to download or print multiple reports at one time. Our company has to run annual motor vehicle reports and having to download and print the reports one by one is a bit of a nuisance. On the grand scheme of things, this is minor compared to all that GoodHire offers.”

- GoodHire Review, Elizabeth C.

3. Checkr

Whether your company is a small startup or an enterprise, Checkr provides simple, fast, and compliant background screenings. Users of Checkr will have advanced background check technology along with innovative hiring and risk products to help customers make hiring safer, more efficient, and more inclusive.

What users like:

“It’s extremely helpful to have a team put in place as support from start to finish. Integrating a new product into an existing operation is no easy task but the support team was there for us almost the entire way. Each bump along the way was given undivided attention.”

- Checkr Review, Shayna Q.

What users don’t like:

“Drug screens can be slow and not as transparent. We often need to get workers verified in days, not weeks, and if there is typically a road bump it’s about drug screens. Sometimes we’ve had drug screens that never produce any result even if the candidate completed the drug screen. I'd also like to see that Checkr follow up at the county levels, otherwise we have had some checks that just sit as an open status.”

- Checkr Review, Jennifer B.

4. VICTIG Screening Solutions

VICTIG Screening Solutions is an innovative and widely integrated employment background check, drug testing, verification, and I-9 provider for recruiting and HR professionals. This tool excels in ease of use, FCRA compliance, and quick turnaround times. It’s also accredited by the Professional Background Screening Association.

What users like:

“VICTIG's background checks come back very quickly and accurately. Their customer service is helpful and is always available to answer questions when needed. They have great additional products to supplement all of my company's screening requirements.”

- VICTIG Screening Solutions Review, Amy H.

What users don’t like:

“One thing I would change - it would be great if VICTIG would display the expected results date. That would be extremely helpful so that I could let my clients and candidates know a more accurate expected start date.”

- VICTIG Screening Solutions Review, Tate J.

5. HireRight

HireRight is a provider of on-demand employment background checks, drug testing, Form I-9, and employment and education verifications. They specialize in helping organizations of all sizes and locations efficiently implement, utilize, and refine their background screening programs with over 150 unique background check services.

What users like:

“HireRight allows us to contact a nominee to complete and provide its personal data without paper checks. I find it especially useful for pre-employment inspections and training verification. I also like that HireRight has an instant chat feature available so, when we need feedback, we will receive it immediately and keep up with the environment, making it easier for our clients to track the tests.”

- HireRight Review, Sid P.

What users don’t like:

“The time it takes to complete checks for international candidates and pre-employment screening can take some time if you make a mistake on the candidate application. The customer service support could be faster, but otherwise, I'm quite satisfied. Sometimes when our candidates enter their information incorrectly, it takes a while to get updated spreadsheets and it is a waste of money because the candidate completed an incorrect form.”

- HireRight Review, Sylvanna B.

The more you know!

Finding the right candidate for the job is no simple task, and running an employment background check doesn’t need to be a complicated step in the hiring process. With the right software, it’s easy to make better hiring decisions that will benefit your company in the long run.

After the candidate passes the employment background check, make use of these three training and development ideas to speed up ramp time.

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