As an employer, you naturally want to ensure that you are hiring people of a trustworthy nature. Peace of mind has a lot of value when it comes to bringing new staff on board. Whether you’re the human resources department at a large company or just a sole proprietor getting some help for your start-up, you’ll inevitably be better off vetting your hires for reputation.

First Steps

The first thing you have to do is be advised of the local laws and regulations in your area regarding background checks. These are matters of civil liberty, sometimes even with a constitutional motivation, and they vary from state to state or even county to county. Anti-discrimination laws apply to this process, so you must be careful to be even-handed in screening candidates, and to not make decisions based on aspects such as religion or marital status.

One typical requirement is that you have the subject’s permission to run a background check. Obviously, everybody understands that refusing a background check can cost them the job, but their consent is still required as a formality, typically with a signed form. In the event of a credit check, for instance, the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires not only signed permission from the subject but to notify the subject as to the usage of the credit check and supply them with the results as well.

You will need a verified ID of the subject. Usually this will require, at the minimum, a photo ID, a social security number, and a date-of-birth. Some location data may be helpful, since you may wish to screen only in your immediate state, every state your subject has resided, or screen on a national level. Be sure to also have the subject’s resume or application at hand, depending on your policy.

You may want to consult with an attorney when going through this process, as an employer can be open to legal issues cropping up form the misapplication of background check information.

Parts Of A Background Check

Social security and identification validation is the first step. Be sure to watch for aliases and other variants of the subject’s name. A switch from, say, a maiden name is nothing to worry about, but multiple aliases popping up under one number could be a red flag.

Verify address history and employment and education history where applicable. In some cases, a former employer who is now out of business or merged with another company will be a dead end, but you’ll just have to take that record in good faith.

The next step is a criminal record check. Most locations adhere to a policy of not reporting minor misdemeanors, infractions, or civil citations. You’re looking for major offenses: Fraud, embezzlement, felonies, violent acts, and other serious offenses, with convictions. Remember that in the eyes of the law, “innocent until proven guilty” applies, so even if arrests come up, they should be disregarded as long as none of them led to a conviction.

Along with standard criminal records, it’s a good idea to scan sex offender registries and terrorist watchlists. These are easily accessible to the public.

For a credit check, you should be sure the credit agency reporting is FCRA compliant. Some state laws forbid the usage of a credit screening for purposes of employment, so be sure you’re within boundaries to do so.

If all of the above seems to be a lot of steps to go through, you can always opt for a one-stop online check at sites such as While your needs might be more demanding, online background check sites are at least a good starting point to conduct your own further investigations.

Should You Use Social Media In A Background Check?

Most employers find it hard to ignore a candidate’s online activity, just because it is so easily accessible. However, it’s not always the best idea. For one thing, you are exposing yourself to a record of the subject’s personal beliefs and lifestyle, a red zone for employment consideration. On top of that, online identities are too easily hidden or faked. You never know if an offensive post was by your subject or an impostor who had a vendetta against your subject. The public Internet, at the civilian level, is not a reliable resource for important decisions in general.

After The Check Is Complete

You should have a sit-down with the subject to go over your findings and give them the chance to tell their side of the story. There are always cases where one or more credit bureaus or courthouses made a mistake, or where a subject just encountered some unfortunate circumstances.

The results must be kept private and confidential, excluding sharing them with the subject. You could be liable for negligent handling of a person’s sensitive data, particularly if it leaks out to the public. At no point should you share the results with your other employees after the subject has left.

The last task that’s up to you is to make a decision. Does the candidate meet your standards? You may be restricted by regulations or policies on your own industry, in some cases even liable for hiring an at-risk individual into a sensitive position. On the other hand, if a person has a few blemishes on their record which don’t happen to impact their professional rank, it’s up to you to make a judgment call. The overall aspect you should be considering is an individual’s character.

Photo by Philipp Katzenberger on Unsplash