Checking Backgrounds Before Hiring

Make sure potential employees don't pose a risk to your company

The costs of a bad hiring decision can be devastating to a small company. But if you do your due diligence in screening candidates, you can cut down the number of problem hires and mitigate the risks inherent in staffing your company. When screening candidates you want to:

  1. Stay within constraints as dictated by candidates' right to privacy.
  2. Notify potential employees, when appropriate, of checks you are conducting.
  3. Get as much information as you need before you bring someone onto your team.

Before You Start: Know the rules governing background checks.

Know the basics

If you aren't sure where to start with a background check on a potential hire, take the time to learn what's commonly included and what's off limits.

DIY or hire a pro

Determine if you're going to perform background checks in-house or if a screening service makes more sense for you. If you're only going to check on one or two very basic items – a person's credit history, for example – you may want to go it alone. For more comprehensive background checks, consider hiring a professional screener.

Verify basic employment eligibility

As an employer, you're required to confirm your employees' eligibility to work in the United States.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Keep it legal

Employers are legally required to obtain signed consent when conducting a background check through a third-party agency. However, if you're simply calling the references you asked an interviewee to provide, and you're independently searching for publicly available information, no notification is necessary.
FCRA is available here. Sections 604, 606, 613 and 615 address reports acquired for employment purposes. The Federal Trade Commission summarizes key points for employers.

Obtain criminal records

You can access criminal records from individual courts in jurisdictions where the potential hire has lived. Some courts post them online; others will ask that you pick them up at the courthouse.

Do a blog sweep

In their spare time, potential hires of any age might maintain a blog or a page on a social site like or These sites can say a lot about how they conduct themselves personally and professionally.

  • Background checks don't include screening for illegal drug use. However, some professional background screening services also provide drug screening services.
  • Medical information can only be reported by a consumer agency if it's relevant to the job.
  • You may be required to give a copy of the report to the job applicant prior to rendering a decision so he or she can contest any information.
  • Criminal records going back more than a certain number of years may be off-limits for employment checks, determined on a state-by-state basis.

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