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Background Check Best Practices

4 November, 2019

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During the hiring process, it’s easy to go with your gut. Your instinct will tell you that the job seeker you’re interviewing is perfect for the job. Instinct, however, can be tricky if the candidate is charming or well-spoken but isn’t a good fit.  You don’t want to put your other employees or customers at risk either.

By running a background check (also called consumer report) on your employees, you can verify that they’re sharing the truth of who they are. You can make sure they have the right education or licensing for the job. And you can find out if their criminal history disqualifies them from working for you.

Consider the following best practices for running background checks on prospective employees.

When to screen employees

Timing is important during the hiring process. The Society for Human Resource Management estimates the complete process of hiring an employee takes longer than ever — 26 to 68 days — and has increased dramatically since 2009.  You may start to worry you’ll miss out on a good candidate, and job seekers get frustrated with the wait time.

Running a background check can be costly and ineffective if done too early in the hiring process.  This would require running screens on every candidate. The optimal time for screening employees is typically after a round of successful interviews, when the hiring manager can then narrow the field to a few candidates. If there is an obvious candidate, then a background check can be conducted after the job offer is extended. In all cases, the employer must inform the applicants that the job offer is contingent on the results of a background check.

How to get consent to a background check

As an employer, be aware that the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires a standard set of procedures for conducting background checks. To begin, you must obtain consent and authorization from job applicants to run background checks. Hiring managers will usually present candidates with a form during the application to give consent to screening.

The FCRA dictates that job seekers be aware of the form they’re signing. The form must be separate from the application, be “clear and conspicuous,” and contain no extraneous wording.  The applicant will give their name, address, date of birth and Social Security information. The form will contain the set of background checks that will be run and inform the applicant that the information will be used for employment purposes.  The applicant also has the option to request a copy of their consumer reports, and they should receive a summary of their rights under the FCRA.

What background screens to run

The background checks should reveal basic information such as identity verification and criminal history. Any other particular screens should be added as related to specific job duties.  A basic quick background check usually includes:

• Identity verification:  An instant search to confirm the applicant’s full name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, known aliases and address history. 

• Criminal database check: Criminal records are pulled from county, state and federal jurisdictions.

• National sex offender search: This search reveals if the applicant is registered as a sex offender.

Other added criminal screens may take a few days longer to obtain more information on your applicant. These background checks are more thorough and could require a background check company to make calls or dig a little deeper.

If your applicant will be driving a company vehicle, your hiring manager should also consider an MVR or driver’s license search. This screen provides a record of moving violations, accidents, license suspensions and more. A drug screening may also be necessary for those operating heavy machinery.

When the job requires particular licensing or education, there are additional screens to ensure the candidate is qualified and has received the necessary degree, certification or licensing. The costs of a background check can vary, with these additional screens costing more. Each screening may range from $2 to $20 each, while drug testing may cost $25 to $50.

What to do with negative information

It can be easy to assume that negative information on a background check means you can withdraw a job offer. The FCRA protects consumers from being discriminated against based on false, misleading or outdated information on their consumer report.  Your applicant has a right to review and dispute this information before it can be used against them. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also protects applicants from discrimination based on their criminal history. If the criminal record is over seven years old or doesn’t relate to the desired job duties, you may not be able to deny employment. The EEOC asks employers to review criminal history information to determine:

• The nature and gravity of the crime.

• The time since the crime occurred or the sentence was completed.

• Whether the crime affects the job responsibilities.

A best practice to ensure compliance and consistency is to use a job-specific decision matrix that allows hiring managers to know which criminal convictions disqualify a candidate for the job.

How to withdraw a job offer

If the job offer will be withdrawn, you must also follow specific procedures set forth by the FCRA. The applicant must be sent a pre-adverse action notification within three days of receiving the background check report to let them know that you are considering withdrawing the job offer based on the screening results. The information will include:

• Written summary of screening results.

• A copy of the background check report.

• A copy of “Summary of Your Rights Under the FCRA.”

• Contact information of the background check company.

• Your contact information.

The applicant will then be given about a week to dispute the results of the background check. If they do not dispute the results, you can then move forward to withdraw the job offer. 

When sending the adverse action notice, you are informing the candidate that you are withdrawing the job offer based on the results of the screening.  The candidate will also receive notification of their right to obtain another copy of the report and their right to dispute information.

How to find a trusted background check company

While it may seem easy to simply run a browser search for a background check company, remember that you run the risk of noncompliance if the results aren’t verified as true or if you’re not aware of the compliance specifics of the FCRA.  A quick online background check could return false positives or inaccurate data.

A professional background check company will be accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners and have FCRA-certified staff available to help with compliance. You should also expect a trusted partner to be transparent in their procedures and helpful in creating a positive candidate experience. They should work with you to reduce the time and cost of background checks so you can hire the best candidate quickly and efficiently. 

Trust your gut when it comes to interviewing candidates, but trust your background check company to help you through the screening and hiring process.

About the Author

Ryan Howard is vice president of Business Development for VeriFirst®, a provider of applicant screening and verification services. He can be reached at (800) 891-6024 or Learn more at

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