HR Management & Compliance, Recruiting

Types of Background Checks for Employers

Most employers perform some type of background screening as a condition of employment after someone has accepted a job offer. Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of background checks employers conduct:


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  • Reference check. This type of check is often done for all applicants. The references are typically provided by the applicants themselves.
  • Criminal background check. For most employers, performing a criminal background check is considered due diligence to ensure the person in question doesn’t have a history that may indicate he or she would be a risk to the safety and security of others or the business, such as violence or fraud.
    • Note: Be careful not to give too much weight to arrest records—being arrested is not the same as being convicted, and some protected groups are more likely to be arrested (thus, an employer should not use arrest records as an automatic disqualifier).
  • E-Verify. E-Verify is one type of identity confirmation and U.S. work eligibility. This is an online system that matches information provided by the individual to records from the Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security.
  • Social Security verification. Besides E-Verify, there are other options to confirm identity, as well.
  • Credit check. This type of background check should only be used when someone’s credit would have a relevant business purpose.
  • Professional license background check. This type of check is only required for positions that require a professional license.
  • Verification of employment history. This is a standard check that many employers perform for all shortlisted individuals. It simply means verifying that their previous employers (as listed on their application or résumé) are legitimate.
  • Verification of educational credentials. Much like the previous point, this is just verifying the information contained on the application or résumé is accurate. The main reason employers conduct these types of checks is to screen out anyone who may have lied or exaggerated his or her past in order to land the job.
  • Drug testing. This type of check is typically required for new employees as a condition of employment and is intended to ensure the safety of others.
  • Driving history. This type of check is usually only required for individuals who will be driving for the job itself (not just commuting to the job location). It is typically used when an employee will be given access to a company vehicle or will be responsible for transporting goods or people on behalf of the organization.
  • Social media screening. While this is a more informal type of background screening, many employers use it to ensure there are no red flags in what an individual posts online. Be aware, however, that using social media for background screening can inadvertently uncover an applicant’s status in a protected group; that could open the door for a claim of discrimination if the employer is not careful in the process.

Of course, these are just examples. There are more in-depth background checks that are performed for specific roles, such as those obtaining security clearances or for specialized roles (like health care) that require further checks. Additional background screening could also be required for individuals moving from another country.

Employers running background checks generally need to have written permission from the individual before doing so, and the individual should be aware they are happening. Be consistent with whom you require a background check for; if it is required for all new hires for a certain role, enforce that.

At the federal level, employers are subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FRCA) when conducting background screening. Also, remember that state and local laws may be stricter than federal laws in terms of what can be asked for in a background screening.

Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.

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