Secrets of the Job Hunt


Monday, March 08, 2010

Whats In My Background Check? Mistakes That Can Cost You a Job

What's in my background check and is it accurate?

That's a question you should be asking yourself if you're applying for jobs. While the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and various state laws, dictate what can and cannot be included in a background check, employers will sometimes end up with false information.

Here are the top five mistakes found in background checks, as compiled by

  1. Mistaken identity - When you visit a social networking web site like Facebook or MySpace, are you surprised to discover that so many people share your name? It shouldn't come as a shock that a subject of a background check can get mixed up with a less than desirable namesake. What is surprising though, is that most criminal record cases in the United States do not contain your Social Security number. As a result, courthouses use your name and date of birth as the main identifier. It is easy and common for a criminal record to be returned that has your name, and in some cases your date of birth, as identifiers.
  2. Bad Social Security number - Your nine-digit Social Security number is more important than your name, since no one is allowed to share your SSN. But a simple typo in one of those nine digits can lead to a lot of trouble during an address trace, which is usually the first step in a background check. It lists any names and addresses used or associated with the Social Security number, even deceased people.
  3. Identity theft and fraud - Sometimes it's no accident when someone else ends up with your name and your SSN. Identity theft increased 22 percent in 2008 to victimize almost 10 million U.S. adults, according to a report released by Javelin Strategy & Research. The unauthorized use of another person's personal information to achieve financial gain is rapidly becoming a popular way to earn a living in today's economy. A criminal with your identity can commit crimes, be arrested, and skip a trial, leaving you with a warrant for your arrest.
  4. Not "the whole story" - Inaccurate and out-of-date information is bad enough, but sometimes your records don't tell "the whole story," which means that you will have some explaining to do after a background check. "It wasn't my fault ..." and "What really happened ..." are two phrases that you don't want to say during a job interview. Most experts agree that up-front communication about any criminal record is the best practice to pursue. Many background checks do not contain all information in a criminal file, only partial information gleaned from a quick glance or an electronic look-up of the record. Items such as dismissals, expungement, diversion programs, or successful completion of parole or probation may be left out. It is important to make sure the prospective employer knows all of the facts.
  5. Illegal information - Many states have protections on what information may be included in a background check and how it is procured. For example, California, Montana, Nevada, and New Mexico limit the years your background check report may go back to a maximum of seven years. Other states (Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Texas, and Washington) allow the use of criminal records unless your proposed salary is above a certain amount. Some states restrict the types of records that may be reported. On a federal level, the use of some criminal records in a hiring decision can be deemed discriminatory.

How will you know if there are mistakes in your background check? Before making the decision whether or not to hire you, an employer is required to give you notice of their intent to conduct a background check and the name of company that will complete it.

Employers also must give you a copy of the report and wait at least five days so you can dispute any information that may be inaccurate. If an error is found and reported, the employer and company that completed the check are responsible for correcting it and proving they have done so.

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