Helping you get the FACTS on Pre-employment Background Checks.

The blog is a valuable information source for human resource professionals and those seeking employment alike. We provide employment screening to hundreds of corporations and organizations throughout the United States. In doing so, we have an ongoing duty to stay abreast of changing trends as well as state and federal legislation. Here we bring you straightforward information on the how's, why's, do's and dont's, of applicant background checks.


Have a question? We're more than happy to evaluate your current processes or answer questions regarding employment screening procedures, best practices, how to get started and F.C.R.A compliance. Give us a call, we're here to help! 888.578.8600 or email

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Surviving a Background Check: A Job-seeker's Guide

Goals of this post...

  1. To make you (the applicant) far more prepared to answer the questions found on a background check form.
  2. To make it easier for the background screening company to obtain the information needed to expedite your background check.
  3. To inform you of your basic rights as an applicant undergoing a background check.

Are Pre-employment Background Checks That Common?

Percentage of Companies that Use Pre-Employment Background ChecksYou will likely be required to undergo a background check if you haven’t already. In 2015, a survey by the Society of Human Resource Management estimated that 68% of all organizations conduct background checks on all employees.  Another 18% conduct background checks on select employees. Only 14% of employers do not perform any background check on new hires.   

Ban The Box Movement
Ban the BoxBan the Box is an organized movement working to make it unlawful to ask an applicant if they have been arrested or convicted of a crime on a job application. Supporters behind this movement believe that asking the “Have you been arrested or convicted” question on an application for employment results in the disqualification of many applicants without any real facts about the arrest or conviction. Facts such as...

  • The nature and gravity of the offense or offenses.
  • The time that has passed since the conviction and or completion of the sentence.
  • The nature of the job held or sought.

In many cities and states, including Illinois, Ban the Box is law and applies to ALL businesses that employ more than 15 people with the exception of some federally regulated employers.

However, even in places where Ban the Box is the law, this does not mean that an employer cannot ask the “Have you been arrested or convicted question” it just changes the time frame they can ask, from on the initial application, to after the potential employee has been notified of an impending interview. In some cases, the question can only be asked after a conditional offer of employment has been made.

While you may wonder if the "Have you been arrested / convicted" questions really affects that many people you may be surprised to hear that over 45 percent of American men will be arrested before their 23rd birthday. Based on this statistic from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Statistics, you quickly realize the impact of this question.

How do I Answer the "Have you been arrested / convicted" question?
  • Should I disclose the possession of alcohol charge I got when I was 17?
  • Will that resisting arrest charge I received at a protest march in college hurt my chances?
  • Does the domestic violence charge that was dropped before I went to court still count?
  • What if I received supervision? Is that still considered a conviction?

  1. Be up-front. You have a far better chance of being disqualified if you leave information out that you were asked to include. Unless you are certain that, for example, a criminal case was NOT a conviction or was expunged, and the employer asked specifically if you have been CONVICTED, as opposed to arrested or “charged with a crime".
  2. Pre-screen yourself. If you have a recent criminal conviction, assume it is going to show up on a background check. Even if you have an old (7+ yrs) criminal record, don’t assume that it won’t be important. Furthermore, realize that a case in which the disposition recently changed to a non-conviction status will show up as such on the background check. Court records are not always 100% up-to-date. Once again, you are better off explaining the situation rather than taking the chance of the employer finding something you did not disclose.

Insider tip: When you sign the authorization and disclosure form, it will list the name of the background screening agency along with a toll free number to contact them. Use it!  Call them and tell them if you legitimately have an old criminal case that should NOT show up as a conviction.  If they know in advance, a good screening agency will ask you for documentation, if available, as well as pulling the court file to verify what you have stated. They do not want to provide incorrect information any more than you want that old case to tarnish your image!

The Scope of the Background Check

Let’s fast forward a little and say you’ve received a job offer in which passing a background check is required. You sign a piece of paper, or click an “I agree” button online, authorizing an employer to peer into your past. The authorization form is thorough, but vague. It says you’re giving the company's agent (the background screening company) permission to look into your past.  It mentions the possibility of checking everything from:

  • Social Security Trace and Validation
  • Residential History Trace from Social Security Number
  • 50 State Sex Offender Registry
  • County Criminal Records
  • Ordinance Violations
  • Outstanding Warrants
  • Federal Criminal Records
  • Motor Vehicle Driving Records
  • Verification of Education
  • Verification of Past Employment
  • Personal References
  • Professional References
  • Credit History
  • Civil Litigation
  • Bankruptcies
  • Professional License Verification
  • Reputation via Public Social Media


To process all of these searches on every applicant's background check isn’t realistic in terms of budget or need. However, unless the potential employer tells you specifically what searches they are going to process, you typically won't know what the background check will include. In most cases, the higher paying the position of employment is, the more in-depth the background check will be.

Background Check Examples:

A background check for an ENTRY/MID LEVEL management position will often include…
  • Social Security Trace and Validation
  • Residential History Trace from Social Security Number
  • Nationwide Criminal Record Database
  • 50 State Sex Offender Registry
  • County Criminal Records Search (County of Residence)
  • Federal Criminal Record Search
And sometimes the following...
  • Past employment verification (Most Recent or Current Employer)
  • Professional Reference questions (Two to Three)
  • Education verification (Highest Level)

A more in-depth background check for a MID LEVEL TO C-SUITE level of employment might include.…
  • Social Security Trace and Validation
  • Residential History Trace from Social Security Number
  • Nationwide Criminal Record Database
  • 50 State Sex Offender Registry
  • County Criminal Records Search (All Counties of Residence for 10 years)
  • Federal Criminal Record Search
  • Civil Judgments
  • Past Employment Verification of all employers in last 20 years
  • Professional Reference interviews
  • Education Verification (All college level degrees)
  • Reputation, Social Media, News Archives
  • International Verification when applicable

In most cases, an entry to mid-level position is not going to look into much more than those listed above. They have to weigh the cost of the background check against the risk of the PAST position of employment. Drug tests may also be included based on company policy.

Gaps or Negative Employment History

Should I leave that employer off my resume because I got fired or they don’t like me?

No, most employers are not going to say negative comments about you. Especially if it is a large company. The screening agency almost always goes through the Human Resources department or a third party database such as “The Work Number” and they will generally verify:

  • Dates of employment
  • Position held
  • Hourly pay or annual salary
  • Reason for leaving (sometimes)
  • We’ll ask about disciplinary actions but the answer 99% of the time is “Per company policy, we cannot release that information”

Exception to the rule: Small businesses. Small companies typically don’t have Human Resources departments and will often provide us “the real dirt” on why someone left or was fired. It’s more personal with a small business and they often don’t have in-depth policies and procedures in place to prevent them from “letting loose” with comments. If you were at a small business and left on a bad note, be up-front. It’s far better if an explanation comes from you first rather than the company.

Always list the staffing agency

If you worked through a staffing agency, you should provide the name of that agency along with where you were employed to the screening agency when filling out the Background Survey, or Background Check authorization form. Otherwise, the screening agency will contact the company you were placed at only to find that they have no record of you. The employment record is with the staffing company.

Should I include a company I worked for that is no longer in business?
Yes, provide as much information as possible on the company and note (if known) when they went out of business or if they were bought by another company. While the employment records may not still be available, we do look to confirm that the company existed through state corporate filings, information about it closing, etc. The screening agency will often ask you for copies of tax information, pay stubs, etc. to prove that you were employed there.

What if I was self employed
Self employment is one of the things that we, as a screening agency, must look very close at. It’s a common way for applicants to cover up large gaps in employment that may have an underlying reason. Expect a screening agency to do their research along with asking you for proof of self employment via tax documents, business license, corporate filings if incorporated, etc. We’ve seen many claims of self employment with no evidence available to back it up, and our report must state that. An applicant is better off explaining why a large gap of employment existed. Most employers will understand if someone simply could not find work for an extended period of time, especially between 2008 and present.

Professional Reference Preparation
Not to be confused with a Past Employment Verification which verifies FACTS of your past employment as recorded by the Human Resources department such as.
  • Dates of employment
  • Salary
  • Title
  • Reason for leaving (when available)

Professional References are more personal in terms of the questions and can be your best friend or your worst enemy. They are the most personal aspect of your background check and the one part that can change in an instant. Your dates of employment do not waiver, your education will not change overnight, your criminal record does not change quickly, if ever. But a professional reference is a person talking about their opinion of you. That opinion can be affected by their last impression of you, their mood that day, and/or how much they remember. Because of this, you have the opportunity to influence their response by giving them a heads up.

Professional Reference Insider Tips!
When you list a person as a professional reference…
  1. Let them know in advance.
A quick email or phone call to let them know they may be contacted by a background screening company in regards to the job you’re applying for will go a long way. Ask them if you may provide their direct work phone number or work email address. While a mobile number is also very helpful, it may be too intrusive depending on your relationship with the reference. Some screening companies will not accept a mobile number as well, unless they are able to verify the reference is associated with the company provided.
  1. Use references that make sense.
Just because you know the name of the CEO, doesn’t mean you should list them as a professional reference. I’ve seen Jeff Bezos (CEO of listed as a reference on a background checks for customer service representative along with the toll free number to Needless to say, they didn’t put us through to Mr. Bezos. A direct supervisor is your best bet. That may be the owner or CEO of a smaller business. If you were self employed, a client might be your best option. Make sure it is someone that is accessible and someone that remembers you. Anything else will likely delay the background check and may look negative on the final report.
  1. We’re not writing a book but we do want important details.
Background checks are a time consuming process, and unless the background agency is screening a high level executive, the questions are going to fairly simple. In addition, there should only be around five questions. The employer doesn’t want to read a novel, they just want to know that your references hold you in a positive light. Don’t worry about refreshing their memory about every detail of the work you did for them. You’re better off telling them you listed them as a reference because of the positive experience you had working with them and you felt they would have a good take on how you can be an asset to the potential employer.

Here are some examples of what a screening agency might ask a professional reference verification.

  • In what capacity did you work with him/her? Where and for how long?
  • How well would you rate his/her verbal and written skills?
  • What was the applicant's position and job duties?
  • Do you consider him/her to be trustworthy and reliable, if not, why?
  • How well did he/she get along with associates?
  • Are you aware of why he/she left the company? Do you know if he/she is eligible for rehire? If not, why?
  • How would you describe his/her job performance including strengths and weaknesses?
  • How did he/she show initiative in his/her job?
  • When he or she begins a task would you say he/she carries it through to completion?
  • What can/could he/she do or have done to improve his/her job performance?
  • What qualities do you feel he/she has that they bring to an employer?
  • Given the opportunity is he/she someone you would want to work on the same team with in the future?

Education Exaggeration
Verifying your education can be a grueling process, but the end result is usually the same. The screening agency will either obtain a confirmation that you did or did not receive your diploma, degree, etc.

Can I say I earned my H.S. Diploma if it was through a GED program? The employer most likely does not care if you have a GED or Diploma to meet an education requirement of their company. However, the screening agency will be on a wild goose without the specific information about the GED. This will often result in a report saying that the school has no record of graduation and that can cost you the job. When filling out the background screening survey, you must put down that you received a GED and where so we can request verification through that specific Department of Education or School District. College Education One of the most common education discrepancies we come across is when applicant’s list a college degree and we find that they attended but did not graduate from that institution. If you are a credit short, or a year short of graduation, don’t be tempted to “round up” to the nearest degree. It could cost you the job. You’re better off listing your dates of attendance and any reason as to why you didn’t finish at that time.

What Do All of These Educational Institutions Have In Common?

What Do All of These Educational Institutions Have In Common? Barrington University, Mobile, Alabama Belford University Humble, Texas Beloved Community Seminary, Oregon, Hawaii Bennington University (not to be confused with Bennington College) Berean Bible College in Poway, California Berne University, Pennsylvania, Virginia, St. Kitts Bernelli University, Virginia (United States) Bethlehem Christian University, Culpeper, Virginia Bettis Christian University, Arkansas The Bible Doctrine Institute, Jacksonville, Florida Bienville University Woodville, Mississippi. Bircham International University (formerly Oxford International University) Blackpool University Blacksmith University, Nigeria Brainwells University, United States and Canada Brazilian Law International College Brethren Bible Institute, Pathanamthitta, India Breyer State University Bridgewater University Bridgewood University Britain College of Management and Science British West Indies Medical College of Naturopathic Medicine and Surgery Brixton University, British Columbia Brookside University, Barbados Bronte International University Burnell College, United Kingdom Burnett International University, Haiti, St. Kitts Buxton University

  1. They all begin with “B”
  2. And, they will all sell you a degree of your choice without taking so much as a single course! 
Beware of Diploma Mills!

Diploma mills are unaccredited and mostly outright fake high schools and colleges that sell degrees for a price. To varying degrees they will offer degrees, transcripts, even class rings without having to attend a single class. Some operate as novelty degree providers while others state that they award real degrees for life experience and general knowledge. Which means that once you answer a few questions about life experience and pay a fee, your diploma arrives days later in the mail.  I am not talking about online schools such as Phoenix University. There are many legitimate online degree programs. If you’re not sure, check it through the Department of Education via the link provided on your hand out. Many people see this as a quick fix to meet an employer’s requirement of a high school level education or a college degree. And some people think it is actually a legitimate way to receive a degree in this age of the Internet. They are often shocked when we inform them that the degree they received online is not worth the paper it’s printed on.

Know your rights as an Applicant when it comes to Pre-employment Background checks!

In your folder you will find a copy of “A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act". This document, supplied by the Federal Trade Commission, summarizes the rights of an applicant when undergoing a report credit screening, or other report . One very common mistake that both employees and employers make, is thinking that the Fair Credit Reporting Act applies to only credit reports. This is not the case. While credit reports are covered by the FCRA, so are pre-employment background checks that don’t involve credit reports. Important Rights (summarized) Provided to You by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

  • You can request a copy of your background check from the CRA. In cases of adverse action, one should be provided to you by default.
  • You must give your consent for reports to be provided to employers.
  • An employer is required to get your written permission before processing a background check on you. This permission should be in the form of an authorization and disclosure form which you signed either electronically or by hand.
  • You must be told if information in your file has been used against you.
  • A pre-adverse action notification must be issued to inform you if your background check may negatively impact your chances for employment.
  • You have the right to know what is in your file.
  • You have the right to dispute incomplete or inaccurate information
  • A pre-adverse action notification should include a copy of your background check for your review. You can and should dispute any information that you believe is not incomplete or negatively impacted you.
  • Consumer reporting agencies must correct or delete inaccurate, incomplete, or unverifiable information.
  • If you believe any part of your background check is not accurate, you have the right to ask the background screening company to re-check that information and update any misinformation.
  • Consumer reporting agencies may not report outdated negative information.
  • Background screening companies must follow rules in regards to what they can and cannot report based on state and federal laws. Most negative items can only be reported for a seven year time frame, while criminal conviction information can be reported indefinitely in most states.

Please note: This summary is not intended to replace professional or legal guidance.
Questions? Please feel free to call our offices. We're here to help! 800-578-8600 x100 or email us at

About the author:
Brad Jones is the Founder and Director of Operations of, a background screening agency that has been providing corporations of all sizes with applicant screening services since 2004. Brad is an active member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) and serves on the Chicago Chamber of Commerce's Workplace Well-being Committee. For more information on applicant screening services, or a free F.C.R.A. Compliance Checklist, please call 888.578.8600 x113 or email                                                                                                                                                                                                             
Please note: Any person or entity utilizing a third party to conduct applicant background checks for employment or leasing purposes must follow applicable federal and state laws including but not limited to EEOC Title VII, the Fair Credit Reporting Act and all applicable state laws. Articles, blogs, newsletter and other materials issued by Brad Jones or any employee of Background Screening Consultants LLC (DBA should not be regarded as, or substituted for, legal advice.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Military Court-martial Records Now Included!

The complexities of criminal background checks are in large partly due to a compartmentalized structure of our courts in the United States. County criminal records are found in a completely separate court system than federal criminal records. Military judicial proceedings create yet another sector of important criminal data that is not easily accessible to the general public, but imperative for risk based decision making.

In our ever improving goal of making background screening simple to employers, non-profits, and property managers, we have added select military court-martial data to our existing Nationwide Criminal Record Databases at NO CHARGE TO OUR CLIENTS.  Rather than sell our clients on another source of data, we're taking this opportunity to sell our clients on our dedication to providing the most complete and relevant data to protect their organizations and maintain diligent processes.  Military court-martial data will include convictions such as child pornography and indecent acts to false official statements and controlled substance violations.
For more information, please feel free to contact us at 888.578.8600.

Click here to have a free quote on background screening services emailed to you

Brad Jones is the Director of Operations for Background Screening Consultants LLC.  Brad is an active member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners and serves on the Chicago Chamber of Commerce's Workplace Well-being Committee.  For more information on applicant screening services, or a free F.C.R.A. Compliance Checklist, please call 888.578.8600 x113 or email

Friday, April 24, 2015


The legal landscape for Human Resource professionals is a constantly changing one. Never make the assumption that your Fair Credit Reporting Act (F.C.R.A) compliance is handled or monitored by another person, another department, or solely by the third party applicant background screening service. Assuming that your applicant screening processes are F.C.R.A. compliant without having and enforcing a documented process is a near guarantee that they're not. It's never too late to get on the right track!

Do any of these common F.C.R.A. compliance misconceptions sound familiar at your organization?  If they do, your company may be at risk for compliance violations from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, EEOC, or a class action lawsuit. 

1. We don’t run credit reports on applicants, so the Fair Credit Reporting Act doesn't apply to our applicant screening practices.
False: If you use any third party company to provide you applicant screening services, you are obtaining a type of consumer report and are obligated to abide by the laws of the F.C.R.A.

 2. The background screening provider we contract with says THEY are Fair Credit Reporting Act compliant, which makes us compliant by default. If we're not, it's their liability.
False: Your applicant screening provider may have a great program for F.C.R.A compliance, but it is impossible for the applicant screening provider to uphold the client's end of compliance as it involves the hiring managers decision process and actions.
3. An applicant background check authorization should be clearly visible, or attached, to each job application.

False: A background check authorization must NEVER be attached to or combined with the application for employment. This is an all too common element in class action lawsuits against corporations.

4. Our company is located in an "employ at will" state so we're not obligated to inform an applicant if they are disqualified because of their background check.
False: "Employ at will" does not override the applicant's rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. If you use a third party screening provider, you're obligated to provide a pre-adverse and an adverse action notification if the decision is based in any part due to the result of the background check. 
5. We use an online database that provides us a "nationwide criminal record search".  If a serious criminal record is reported from this database search, we have the right to withdraw the offer of employment.

False: Not without further research. The results of a nationwide criminal record search (which go by many different brand names), must be followed up with direct research from the jurisdiction in which the record originated in order to confirm the information is up to date.

6. Our company policy of NOT employing anyone who has a felony criminal conviction on their record in the last seven years is specific enough to be F.C.R.A. compliant and appease the EEOC.
False: Even with specific guidelines such as "Felony" and "Seven Years", you'll need more of a matrix like decision process to show you're not making a blanket judgment. The EEOC has argued in recent cases against BMW and Dollar General, that "disparate impact" can result from anything less than a case by case assessment. While the EEOC has arguably over-stepped it's bounds in some cases against corporations, it's better for applicants and employers to have a strong procedure in place and stay under the radar of the EEOC.

The bottom line...
If you're not certain who handles each aspect of your F.C.R.A compliance, you're probably not compliant one hundred percent of the time. Ask your applicant screening provider for documentation defining their role in F.C.R.A compliance, as well as what is expected of your company, the end user. You may be surprised to learn that simple steps are missing from your procedures, or that basic compliance requirements are not being met. If so, you're not alone. Over 50% of the Human Resource professionals we polled in an anonymous survey could not define their role in providing F.C.R.A. compliance while screening job applicants.

Don't wait until you are legally obligated to provide documentation of your F.C.R.A. compliance procedures to the EEOC or a class action attorney. A simple F.C.R.A checkup can help identify problems now and prevent serious legal issues down the road. Now is the time to get your F.C.R.A compliance back on track! 
For a basic compliance checklist, email or call 888.578.8600 x113. We’re here to help!

Click here to have a free quote on background screening services emailed to you

Brad Jones is the Director of Operations for Background Screening Consultants LLC.  Brad is an active member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners and serves on the Chicago Chamber of Commerce's Workplace Well-being Committee.  For more information on applicant screening services, or a free F.C.R.A. Compliance Checklist, please call 888.578.8600 x113 or email