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What Is Employment Verification?

Updated Mar 31, 2023

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Employment verifications serve an important role in the hiring process by confirming that candidates have the right work experience for the job. By conducting an employment verification, you can identify false employment claims, explain gaps in employment and even get insight into whether the applicant will be a good fit for your organization. In fact, it may be considered negligent not to perform these checks prior to hiring an employee.

Read on to learn why employment verification is important, how to conduct an employment verification and what questions to ask.

What is an employment verification background check?

An employment verification is a common part of a pre-employment background check. This step of the hiring process focuses on determining if there are any inconsistencies between the information a candidate provides and their actual employment history.

During this process, either a member of your human resources team or a third-party background check provider will contact some of the most relevant employers the candidate lists on their resume to confirm their previous employment, titles and dates of employment.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway

An employment verification confirms a candidate’s work history.

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Employment verification vs. reference checks

It is quite common to hear the terms “reference check” and “employment verification” used interchangeably. Although there may be some overlap, there are key differences.

Employment verification is the act of confirming the factual pieces of information on a candidate’s resume, such as employers, job titles and dates of employment.

A reference check is when prospective employers contact the references of candidates they are considering hiring. These can be both professional references (e.g., former employers, bosses or colleagues) and personal references (e.g., friends). Because candidates select their own references, a reference check serves only as a sniff test and should be only one piece of a comprehensive assessment of the candidate.

Unlike employment verification, which confirms objective information, reference checks may be subjective. For example, you may ask the following questions: What was it like to work with the candidate? What are their strengths? Why do you think the candidate would be a good fit for this position?

Both employment verifications and reference checks are effective tools. However, if you perform only one type of background check, choose employment verification, as it is essential for an employer to corroborate the information that a candidate has shared in their resume, cover letter and interviews.

If you conduct employment verifications as a part of a criminal background check, you must abide by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Essentially, this means that if your organization utilizes a third-party background check company for pre-employment screenings, you must receive written consent from candidates before running a background check. The notification provided to the applicant, which they should sign, must include the contact information of the company that will be conducting the background screening.

FYIDid you know

While employment verifications and reference checks both provide insight into a potential new hire, they are not the same thing. The employment verification process confirms the candidate’s work history and other listed facts, while a reference check involves speaking to the candidate’s references about more subjective information.

What is the importance of verifying employment history in the hiring process?

When you think you’ve found a stellar candidate, it can be tempting to offer the job as soon as possible, without confirming the details of their employment history. However, employment verification checks are an essential component of the candidate vetting process and should not be skipped. An employment verification ensures that the person you are hiring is not only right for the job but also a good cultural fit.

Here are some of the key reasons you should conduct employment verifications:

1. It verifies important facts.

You need to make sure that candidates are being truthful about where they worked and what positions they had so you know they have the necessary experience for the role.

2. It confirms salary.

Confirming salary, when possible, can be helpful because it ensures that you’re not under- or overcompensating someone. Titles do not necessarily convey how much a person makes, but if you are hiring someone for a $100,000-a-year management-level position and the candidate says they have management experience from a job that paid $40,000 a year, there may be more digging to do. However, it’s important to note that in some states, it’s illegal to ask for someone’s salary history.

3. It checks culture alignment.

Part of hiring the right candidates is checking whether they are a good fit for not only the role but also the organization. Employment verifications can provide a peek into another company’s culture as you learn about the candidate from their former supervisor or HR representative.

4. It explains short employment stints.

An employment verification can confirm why a candidate was at their previous employer for a brief period. Sure, you can ask the candidate in the interview, but it’s important to confirm that the company indeed cut positions, relocated or eliminated the role.

5. It ensures workplace safety.

It’s paramount to ensure you do not negligently hire someone with previous safety-related issues. If for no other reason, employment verification checks are worth the time spent to confirm you’re not exposing your company and existing employees to risks and liability.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway

In addition to confirming whether a job candidate has the experience necessary for the job, employment verifications can shed light on a potential hire’s character by showing how truthful they are.

What information should be sought during employment verifications?

You should seek to obtain as much information as possible during an employment verification. However, sometimes you will receive private information, such as medical history, that could introduce legal risks. To prevent lawsuits, it’s helpful for a human resources professional or third-party provider to perform this step. Here are some of the types of information you should seek during an employment verification:

  • Dates/length of employment
  • Job title(s) and time spent at each position within the company
  • Pay/wage history
  • Overall job performance
  • Reason for termination or separation
  • Job-related knowledge, qualifications and skills
  • Safety or behavioral violations, if any
  • Other work-related information
  • Eligibility for rehire

How to conduct an employment verification background check

To conduct an employment verification background check, start by preparing a few targeted questions, and plan to be brief and respectful to get the most information. Before you call, refer to a candidate’s resume and any notes you took during the interview process.

When you contact a candidate’s former employer, follow these steps:

  • Refer to your list of questions. Ask your questions in a professional yet conversational manner that makes it somewhat pleasant for the person you are speaking with.
  • Ask if the candidate is eligible for rehire. The answer to this question can provide a lot of insight, but many employers will not be willing to tell you. However, you should always ask anyway.
  • Say “thank you.” Always be professional and thank the person for the time and effort. After all, you may need to call the same reference in the future regarding other applicants. Additionally, this may be the first time other professionals hear about your company and its brand, and you always want to make a good impression.

Reference checks

Here are some additional tips for conducting reference checks:

  • Request references from your candidate. Call a minimum of three professional references, which should always include their most recent direct supervisor and supervisors/managers from other former employers. If you cannot reach all three references, ask the applicant for another professional reference. Even if you know the candidate or you have interviewed the candidate previously (perhaps for another job), call only the references the candidate provides. Do not sleuth on LinkedIn and track down other references you want to talk with, as you may enter  some legal gray areas.
  • Confirm phone numbers and email addresses. Applicants can be quite clever. Some employers later discover that the “professional” reference an applicant provided was actually their personal friend. To ensure you’re speaking with the right person, confirm phone numbers and email addresses on company websites whenever possible.

Once you connect with the reference, follow the same steps as you used during the employment verification.

Background check services

Another option is to hire background check services to conduct the verifications for you. Typically, this is an added step that takes place during a complete background screening, which also includes a criminal history check, identity check and, oftentimes, education verification. Background check providers can also conduct reference checks for you.

These services typically cost $30 to $100 per candidate. If you plan to include employment verifications in your screening package, you should expect to pay on the higher side of that range.

These services usually return results within a few days. All of the results are usually available in an online portal, which makes for easy reference.

Patrick Proctor
Contributing Writer at
Patrick Proctor, SHRM-SCP, is certified as a senior professional in human resources. His more than 15 years of executive level leadership inform his work on inclusive and engaging workplace culture, as well as educating senior leadership teams about human capital management and organizational strategy. Patrick has written dozens of articles on global business, human resources operations, management and leadership, business technology, risk management, and continuity planning
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