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How Employers Use Background Checks

Sending out resume after resume, but not getting any calls back for interviews? Wondering why your stellar experience and qualifications aren't getting you past the initial interview process? If either of these scenarios is familiar, you may want to conduct a background check on yourself, because chances are, a potential employer already has - and they may not like what they've found.

In the digital age, more and more employers are using the internet - as well as third-party background checking services - to find out everything there is to know about you before they ever consider hiring you. Financial companies may, for instance, wish to know if you've ever been arrested for theft before bringing you into their employ. A business which works with children in any capacity would want to be sure that any potential employee has never been suspected of or convicted of any child-abuse-related crime.

In most states, the only information required to conduct a criminal background check on an individual is that person's name and address. However, there is a down side to this - a person with a similar name, who may possess a criminal record, could be mistaken for you. There have been documented cases of this happening, and when it occurs, it can be devastating to the job seeker.

Effective January 2013, all employers conducting background checks are required by law to disclose their intentions to do so, and to seek written permission from the potential employee. The new guidelines fall under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which is administered by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Employers who fail to abide by the rules of the act are subject to fines from the FTC.

There is a difference between a criminal background check and a regular background check. A criminal background check will focus solely on a person's arrest and/or conviction record. Some states only permit convictions to be included on a person's record, so for employers conducting a background check, if a potential employee was arrested but never convicted of a crime, it will not be indicated on their record. A regular background check provides more thorough information about a person, including (but not limited to) birth and marriage records, a compilation of previous addresses and whether you've ever filed for bankruptcy.

Aside from a criminal history check, employers may research other information about potential employees.

Next to a criminal conviction record, the most popular form of information to obtain on potential employees is a credit report. Like a background or criminal background check, a credit report check can only be conducted with your authorization. A potential employer would have to seek your permission before doing it, thereby making you aware that the process is happening.

According to a report issued by EmployeeScreenIQ, 21 percent of the 738 respondents said they conducted credit checks on potential employees - a 15 percent increase over the previous year. However, four states now limit the use of credit checks during the hiring process. They are Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon and Washington.

Employers also like to check a person's education and work history to ensure they truly meet the qualifications for the job. With cases of "inflated" resumes on the rise, employers want to be sure that you truly have the education and experience you say you do. However, some states have confidentiality laws which prohibit the release of education records, military service records and medical records without a person's express written permission. If an employer intends to conduct such research, they will be required to seek your permission first.

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