What Are Background Checks? What to Look For?

Criminal History Search Request

A great resume doesn’t always come with a great candidate. As employers and recruiters, it’s our responsibility to filter out the embellishments on candidates’ resumes and CVs by conducting background checks.

What Is It?

A background check is a series of processes in which an employer or recruiter verifies the information volunteered by a candidate on their resume or curriculum vitae. Sometimes, employers hire a third-party company to conduct background checks for them.

Why Do Background Checks?

We do background checks mainly to confirm how a candidate fares in terms of fit, credibility, and security. 

Most employers look for possible fraudulent information that a candidate may have included to increase their chances of getting hired. This is important as a study revealed that even candidates for higher positions also tend to embellish their profiles.

Some employers also include background checks in their hiring process to check a candidate’s fit. This may include confirming a candidate’s educational background, skills, and certifications with indicated educational institutions, past employers, and accrediting agencies.

A check is also necessary for posts that cannot have security risks. For such positions, it is important to check candidates’ criminal history or credit background.

One position may require tighter background checks compared to others. It is important to become familiar with the variety of background checks available. 

Background checks are important since companies become liable for their employees’ actions once hired. We must make sure that employees are responsible, trustworthy, and credible as we entrust to them not only the company’s future but also our customers’ well-being.

Types of Background Checks

There are different types of background checks that can help employers assess candidates more wisely. 

Criminal History

As employers, we have the right to check possible employees’ criminal histories

When considering whether to do a criminal history check, always check if it is necessary to the post you are trying to fill.

Some industries may consider criminal background checks to be particularly important. These include several positions in the banking industry, in which employees work with money, or security services, in which employees gain access to firearms.

On the other hand, overdoing criminal history checks may raise questions regarding the fairness of a company’s employment process. We can’t refuse employment to potential employees based on a criminal record if it is not considered a liability in the post.

A U.S. campaign called “Ban the Box” currently pushes for fair practice when it comes to evaluating candidates with criminal records. 

The program recommends that checking a candidate’s criminal history should be pushed back into after the candidate has had the chance to present themselves and their skills. 

This helps people with state or federal offenses get a fair chance at employment. 

Employers must also pay extra attention to the kind of offense that an employee has, as some offenses are less grave or relevant to a job compared to others.

Drug Testing and Physical Examinations

These checks are not mandatory, but some positions may require workers to be physically fit.

For example, jobs in construction may require physical examinations and drug testing to ensure the employee’s safety as well as that of their co-workers and civilians. 

Another example would be jobs in the pharmaceutical industry. Jobs in this industry grants workers access to prescription drugs, which may be dangerous for people suffering from drug addiction.

Certain positions may also require physical ability tests, such as police officers and firefighters. These positions expose the employee to physically taxing tasks and dangerous situations and require workers to be healthy and fit. 

Reference Checks

Employers can do reference checks to either confirm a candidate’s employment history or to learn more about a candidate’s personality, skills, past responsibilities, etc. 

Most references that a candidate provides would speak of positive things about the candidate, so we can easily consider the opposite to be a red flag.

Reference checks are often done over the phone with an HR representative, although some companies may write a letter or email which also serves as a record. Take this opportunity to cross-check information that you have gathered from the hiring process thus far.

Whether you are conducting the reference check over the phone or via email, make sure to prepare questions beforehand. Here are some standard questions that we can use to assess a candidate’s fit and qualifications.

  1. When did they (the candidate) start and end their employment with your company?
  2. What are their position and responsibilities?
  3. Why did they leave the company?
  4. Were there any concerns regarding their performance during their stay at your company?
  5. Did they get along with the management and their colleagues?
  6. Would you rehire them should there be another opportunity?

Finally, ask them if they wish to add anything about the candidate that you haven’t asked about. Of course, you may add to this list if necessary.

Educational Background and Certifications

Another check that greatly concerns applicants’ declared skills and qualifications is an educational background and certifications check. This is important for positions that require state accreditation, such as those in the healthcare industry. 

A company can check the authenticity of a candidate’s educational background by reaching out to the admissions or registration department of the institution cited by the candidate. This may be via phone or email.

This may involve confirming information such as the degree, start date, and graduation date of the candidate. However, some institutions may refuse to release this information to people other than the graduate.

Another option is to hire agencies that specialize in educational background checks. Such services may take anywhere between one day to months, depending on the institution in question. 

Social Media Screening

Websites like Facebook and Twitter are prime for mining personal information for candidates, but we must exercise caution when using these.

Social media screening is quickly becoming a more popular tool for recruiters and companies because of the accessibility of social networking sites and the insight it offers to employers.

Through this type of background check, the employer or recruiter learns more about the candidate’s traits. It is also a cheap way of conducting background checks without paying third-party services.

Moreover, professional networking websites such as LinkedIn includes reviews by previous employers, providing a more rounded idea of the candidate as a worker.

However, we should exercise caution when using this tool.

There may be some information available on social media sites that can’t be used against a candidate, including political views, religion, gender, race, etc. Employers who are trying to implement an equal opportunities policy must take extra caution against using this information when evaluating candidates.

Checking candidates’ social media profiles without their consent may be considered an invasion of privacy, too. If you wish to use social media screening in your hiring process, make sure you inform the candidate before you look them up.


We don’t need to do every check in the book, but we must take the time to assess what we need for the position we are trying to fill. Background checks are a lot of work, but depending on your industry, implementing one may save you a big headache later on.