March 31, 2009

Tuesday Tips: How Background Checks Can Affect Your Job Chances, Part II

Yesterday, I delved into the sometimes scary subject of employment background checks and credit reports.

You know, the ones that potential employers will likely run on you before making you a job offer. Gone are the days when an employer would half-heartedly check your references. Today, employers are going gangbusters to make sure that they have the best fit for their company… and part of being the best fit means being low-risk.

You may be worried that past indiscretions or poor judgment could cost you dearly. What can you do to protect yourself? Here’s a look at some advice from the credit check experts:

>> Know what you’re getting yourself in to. An employer cannot run a credit check or investigate your background without your consent. Read that consent form carefully because once you sign off, you are giving an employer carte blanche to do some digging. They say knowledge is power — and at the very least, you won’t be caught off guard.

>> Not everything is fair ground. But a lot of it is. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act sets clear standards for what a background screening firms can legally report. If you are applying for a job offering more than $75 K a year, however, the reporting restrictions don’t apply. And if the potential employer decides to run the background check itself, it is exempt from these regulations.

>> Know what’s out of bounds. Anything that happened seven years ago — including arrests, civil lawsuits, civil judgments, bankruptcy filling and accounts put in collection — is off-limits. An investigator may be able to learn about it, but he or she is legally prohibited from reporting it to an employer. If you were convicted on a felony arrest, however, there is no statute of limitation.

>> Gather the facts. If you find out that you were turned down for a job due to a bad credit report, you have the right to request a free copy of your employment background check file. You can also pull a free copy of your credit report (although you can anyway get one of these annually from

>> Be prepared to explain yourself. Odds are that if an employer is serious about hiring you, he or she will give you a chance to explain any issues that cropped up in your report. It may be a difficult discussion to have, but frank and honest answers could really save your job hide.

>> Put it in writing. Typically you will have a week to 10 days to dispute, in writing, any inaccuracies in your background check/credit report. Given the growing rate of identify theft, it is certainly not uncommon to have completely false information pop up on your report.

>> Know your rights in an interview situation. Certain topics are and should be off-limits in an interview situation. Your marital status, whether or not you have kids (and their ages), how old you are and how much you weight are all illegal questions. That doesn’t mean the answers won’t pop up on a background check, but an employer may not legally deny anyone a job on the basis of that information.

Do you know what types of jobs run the most stringent background checks? Some of these might surprise you:

So, tell me: Have you been through the background check gauntlet? How was it? Did you get the job?

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