The Ultimate Guide to Background Checks


Written by:

Spread the love

Background checks are a crucial part of any hiring process, but are too often skipped over due to cost, time constraints, or a lack of understanding about what a background check entails and why those things are important. But background checks provide valuable information about a candidate and help protect your employees, your customers, and your business as a whole. 

In this ultimate guide to background checks, we’ll cover what an employment background check shows, how to make sure you’re conducting compliant background checks, and where you can get a background check. 

What Does an Employment Background Check Show? 

At the most basic level, a background check should verify a candidate’s application information and ensure that they are who they say they are. Most employment background checks will also provide a criminal records check, and many screening services also offer credit checks or motor vehicle records checks. Here’s what kind of information you can expect on each kind of screening check: 

Identity & Employment Verification

Basic identity and employment verification checks will typically yield the following information: 

  • Social Security number and name match verification
  • Current and previous addresses
  • Prior employment records

Background Check

You can compare this information to what the candidate reported on their application. If there are any discrepancies, that’s an important indicator to investigate further before moving them forward in your hiring process. 

Criminal Records Check

Checking for a criminal record is often the primary purpose of a background check. This information helps ensure that candidates have not been convicted of or charged with a crime and allows employers to make better decisions about the safety of their business. 

Keep in mind that while criminal records are allowed to have an influence on hiring decisions, laws vary from state-to-state on the exact ways in which this information can be used. 

Criminal record checks during employment screening will typically check the following databases: 

  • National Sex Offender Registry
  • National Most Wanted List
  • Federal Watch Lists
  • State and county records checks

Credit Checks

Credit checks are commonly used in employment background checks, but not as widely as identity verification and criminals records checks. They are most useful for positions that require handling sensitive and financial information. 

A credit check for employment screening commonly includes the following: 

  • Credit score from a major credit bureau
  • Open accounts and lines of credit
  • Debts like mortgages and student loans
  • Payments sent to collection agencies

Driving Record (MVR) Checks

Driving record or motor vehicle reports (MVR) checks are important for positions that require driving as a part of normal work duties. They are doubly important if the employee will be using a company vehicle. For most other types of positions, they aren’t entirely necessary, but can still provide useful additional information about a candidate. 

A driving record check will show: 

  • Driver’s license verification
  • DUI arrests or convictions
  • Traffic violations and outstanding tickets
  • License points or suspensions

How to Conduct a Compliant Background Check

Employers who conduct background checks as part of their hiring process must make sure they are compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). According to the Society for Human Resource Management, FCRA-related claims are likely to rise among job applicants in 2020. 

There are several key steps to take as an employer to ensure that you remain FCRA-compliant when conducting pre-employment screening: 

  • Notify the applicant that a background is being performed. Make this notice a separate page from other hiring paperwork to make it as clear as possible. 
  • Get written approval from the applicant to conduct the background check
  • If the background check returns a conviction or other information that will cost an applicant the job, give them adequate time to understand and respond to your findings. 

Additionally, make sure you understand your state and local laws and comply with them. More and more states are passing laws restricting how criminal records can be used in hiring decisions, so be sure you know the rules in your area. 

Where to Get an Employee Background Check

There are many ways to obtain a background check, from simple Google searches to courthouse record checks to using a background check service. In cost, these different options vary from free to $60 or more per background check. 

While it may be tempting to go for the free Google search or online records check, be cautious in using these methods. Background check services, though more expensive, are FCRA-compliant, accredited by the Professional Background Screening Association, and more likely to be accurate. This means you’ll get better information about your candidate and ensure that you’re not at risk of a complaint from an applicant due to your background check handling. 


Employment background checks can be difficult to wrap your head around when embarking on a hiring process. By understanding what a background check entails, where to get one, and how to stay compliant with federal and state laws, you can make the best hiring decisions for your company. You’ll protect your employees, protect your customers, and protect your business.

Leave a Reply