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The Importance of Background Checks

Do you have something in your past that is embarrassing, like being arrested for protesting for an environmental cause during your college years? Ever fail to pay a series of speeding tickets in a state in which you no longer reside? Think no one will ever find out about these things? Think again.

In the digital age, secrets are no longer safe, especially from potential employers. Vetting a potential employee is not only a smart thing to do - it's becoming the standard for hiring practices.

There are two kinds of background checks most commonly being used today: a general background check and a criminal background check. A general background check is comprehensive and reveals information such as birth, marriage and divorce records, as well as a history of every residence a person has ever had. It also can contain such information as whether a person has ever filed for bankruptcy. General background checks also include a conviction record. Because of their complexity, a general background check often is expense to conduct.

A criminal background check focuses solely on a person's criminal convictions. In some states, arrests are not permitted to be included on a person's criminal history. Only if a person has actually been convicted of a crime will it be included in the history.

According to a 2012 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management, 69 percent of all employers are now conducting criminal background checks on all employees. The same survey indicates that only 14 percent of employers admit to not running background checks on potential employees at all.

While it may seem unfair to potential employees to have a virtual stranger prying into their history, there are many benefits to background checks for employers. For starters, it protects the company. A childcare agency that would hire someone convicted of a child sexual offense not only risks the possibility of losing all its clients - but also of being sued if that employee engaged in any misconduct while on the job. Or what about the security firm who hires someone previously convicted of robbery? I think you can see where this is going. Background checks may seem invasive, but from an employers' perspective, are a part of the hiring process that should never be excluded.

Background checks also can protect employees, first and foremost by providing a safe work environment. Imagine how it would feel to discover your office mate had been convicted of sexual assault, and you were now alone in the office with him after hours? How would you feel if you learned the information officer at your job - the person who had access to all of your personal information - had been convicted of identity theft? Background checks can not only protect the employer in these instances, but also the other employees within the company.

While using third-party background checking agencies is common, employers today also are simply Googling a candidate's name to see what they may find. For this reason, social media such as Twitter and Facebook could end up costing you a job with a company if you're not careful about what you post. A recent CareerBuilder.com survey revealed that 37 percent of employers have checked out a potential employee on social media sites such as Facebook. Another 11 percent of employers said they would have checked social media sites prior to hiring a candidate except that their companies had strict policies against it. So even if you feel secure in knowing your background is squeaky clean, be careful what you tweet and post, because it, too, can come back to haunt you.

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