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How to Survive a Background Check

Did you ever wonder what happens when you apply for a job, coach a team or do anything which triggers a background check?

You would be amazed at what gets turned up in a background check and the errors that exist in your background data.   Here is an excellent read describing how to do your own background check and correct errors that likely exist.    

Kim Komando

Most people would be amazed at what a background check can turn up. I know, because I hire a lot of people, and I'm amazed! Before I get into the details about background checks, let's talk about why so many employers now require pre-employment screening.

 In tough economic times. many job applicants resort to embellishing their resumes, to put it as kindly as possible. Additionally, did you know that employers can be sued for negligent hiring? Neither did I, until the company I use for background checking explained it to me.

 It makes sense: If an employee isn't vetted and ends up hurting another employee or a customer, the employer may very well end up paying a judgment based on their poor decision to hire that person. You just can’t hire someone based on a gut instinct and a handshake anymore.

But it's also an employer's duty to make sure that a background check is accurate and doesn't invade the applicant's privacy.

Do you know what's online about you? That's something everyone should know.

State and federal laws require extensive criminal background checks on any applicant who will work with children, the elderly and disabled. Even volunteers, coaches and scout troop leaders are screened these days.

Beyond that, the thoroughness of a background check depends on the employer. At a minimum, an employer will verify your Social Security number, pull your credit report and search driving and criminal records. They'll also verify that you went to school and worked at the places that you listed on your resume.

 More extensive investigations reveal civil suits and judgments, accounts that go to collection and unpaid tax liens. A growing number of employers also look at Facebook profiles to see if you have posted offensive comments and photos - or what others have said about you online. For top-level hires, investigators may even interview neighbors and associates.

 Many businesses, big and small, rely on companies that specialize in background checks to guide them through the process. Reputable firms follow standards set by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

According to those standards, bankruptcies after 10 years shouldn't be reported; seven years is the limit for other negative financial information.

Criminal convictions remain a matter of public record indefinitely. Here's something that trips up a lot of job seekers: Most application forms ask if you have ever been convicted of a crime. But then, they tell you not to list minor traffic violations.

But what is minor? Even if it was a misdemeanor and occurred many years ago, a drunk-driving conviction is not a minor traffic offense, for instance. A background check will definitely uncover it. If you didn’t fess up to it on the application, you'll look like you're were trying to hide it. And there's a good chance that could cost you the job opportunity.

Database searches of criminal records can be notoriously inaccurate. Arrests don't always lead to convictions. Charges get reduced.

One of the many unfortunate side effects of identity theft is that it can turn up wrong and damaging information during background checks. Good screening firms will always double check Internet search material with actual court records.

Unless you authorize an employer to search them, your education, military service and medical records are confidential. But these days, the authorization you sign may indeed include searches of those records.

A good way to prepare for a background check is to do your own. Take a look at a free site like DirtSearch. That way, you can see if the databases are turning up wrong or misleading information about you.

Order a copy of your credit report. You're entitled to one free copy per year; the link to the official site is here. If there's something you don't agree with or recognize on the report, get it cleared up before your job interview.

Request a copy of your driving record from the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you've been involved in any legal cases, go to county court and make sure those records are correct and up to date. Give neighbors and colleagues a heads up if you think an investigator might contact them.

Finally, edit or remove blog and Facebook posts - and especially photos - that could trouble an employer. Be very conservative in what you'll allow to stay visible. Do a Google search with your name in quotes to see if an unflattering reference pops up. If so, contact the website where the reference appears and try to get it removed.

Finally, if there is anything negative that you can't resolve, the best approach is to tell the employer before it comes back in a report. With the right handling, you may get points for honesty and good judgment.

I want to wish all of you who are looking hard for work the best of luck in your search. Here are a few more ideas that will help you polish your online reputation.