BACKGROUND CHECKS: BEWARE AND BE PREPARED
By Susan Bowles, special for the
USA TODAY Careers Network
Your resume is polished, your portfolio complete,
and you just aced the interview. What more could a company want
before hiring you? Plenty.
Before it extends an offer, chances are the company you want to
work for will comb your resume and job application to verify every
claim. Depending on the job, hiring managers may look at your
driving record or credit history. They may even check the courts
to make sure you don't have a criminal record. What turns up could
cost you an offer or lead to your firing. Why the scrutiny?
- Job candidates lie.
Of the 2.6 million background checks that ADP Screening and
Selection Services conducted last year, 44% of applicants lied
about their work histories. Twenty-three percent fabricated
credentials or licenses, and 41% lied about their education.
- Companies are liable.
If a job candidate with a history of drinking and driving is
hired as a courier and injures someone while driving impaired,
a jury may find the company negligent if it didn't review the
candidate's driving history. "That's a huge legal reason"
for background checks, says Wendy Bliss, principal of Bliss
& Associates, a Colorado-based human resources consulting
- Bad hires can affect morale
and productivity. Hiring someone with a propensity for
substance abuse or workplace violence can wreak business havoc,
Bliss says. So can hiring someone who claims to have certain
skills but doesn't.
Job candidates can expect such attention to increase.
While a study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)
showed 69% of companies surveyed in 2000 performed background
checks, anecdotal evidence suggests a significant bump since Sept.
11. "Since 9/11 there's a much larger awareness out there,"
says Dean Suposs, vice president and general manager of ADP Screening
and Selection Services. "We have seen a tremendous growth
in our products and services since."
What, then, can you expect when applying for a job? And how do
you cope with a black mark somewhere in your past?
1. Be prepared.
Assume companies will verify previous employers, job titles,
salaries and how long you worked at each job. Most companies
check references beyond those you provide. Depending on the
position you're applying for, expect prospective employers to
look at your criminal record, verify your education and other
credentials, pull your driving record and credit reports, and
confirm your Social Security number. "Really, job seekers
should be expecting to run the application gauntlet," Bliss
2. Don't embellish. Dishonesty
is the top reason people don't get hired. "It comes down
to the veracity of the candidate," says Susan R. Meisinger,
an attorney and president and CEO of SHRM. "People generally
have enough good stuff in their background they can highlight
that they don't have to inflate." Besides, if falsehoods
aren't discovered during the interview process, they could be
after you're hired. Then you'll probably be fired: Providing
false information is grounds for firing at most companies, Bliss
says. Almost everyone has some sort of blemish in their past.
The key, Bliss says, is knowing how to deal with it.
3. Before interviewing, assess your strengths
and accomplishments. Also take stock of anything a potential
employer may wonder about. Did you once walk off a job? Were
you ever fired? Study those scenarios to see what you learned.
"How can you turn the lemons into lemonade?" Bliss
asks. Employers aren't necessarily looking for a perfect candidate,
but one who learns life lessons, Bliss says.
If your past contains something more severe - a
drunken driving citation, for instance - be prepared to discuss
the incident. Most job applications ask about criminal convictions.
Note the infraction, Bliss says, then offer a brief, written explanation
or indicate that you'll discuss the incident in the interview.
"If you're not asked on the application, you don't necessarily
have to offer it up," Meisinger says. "But if you're
asked, be upfront." "Honesty is the best policy,"
Suposs says. "Typically, if it has no bearing on the function
of the job and you don't bring it into the workplace, they don't
care. They do care if you lied to them."
The extent of background checks may unnerve you. But they shouldn't
catch you off guard. Job applications routinely tell candidates
what will be checked Companies that use outside organizations
to conduct checks are required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act
to notify you ahead of time and get your consent. Those doing
checks in-house usually provide advance notice and get a prospective
Keep in mind, you have the right to review any data collected,
Suposs says. Background checks are so common nowadays, he suggests
pulling your credit report, driving record and any other documents
to ensure their accuracy. "This is your life, your record,
so be proactive," he says. "And be honest."
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