You aced the job interview and are confident an offer letter is coming — but not so fast. The employer will likely run a background check at some point during the hiring process. What does your background check reveal about you? Its contents can either help you get the job, or scare off potential employers.
Application inconsistencies and resume discrepancies — even for something as minor as employment dates — are red flags that can disqualify you from job candidacy. Whether there’s an arrest record you forgot about, a criminal conviction you chose to ignore, or false court records about you online, it’s essential to know what employers will see in the preemployment screening process.
A personal background check can help you regain control and better understand how employers may perceive you.
Editor’s note: Need an employee background check service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.
Can you run a background check on yourself?
In the past, employers had a significant advantage in running preemployment background checks that job seekers couldn’t access. While employers can still unearth comprehensive information, job applicants today can get a feel for what employers will learn. Internet searches, social media account reviews, public database searches and other tools can reveal much of what potential employers will see.
“Anyone who is technologically savvy can learn a lot about themselves by searching public records online or electing to purchase a paid subscription or order with any of the online vendors,” said Daniel J. McBride, owner of American Eagle Investigations. “I would just recommend that consumers be mindful of the terms of service, as many of those programs and platforms have recurring billing as the default, which you need to cancel if it’s only a one-time search or task.”
What is a personal background check, and what does it show?
A personal background check is a consumer-level background check that lets job seekers view general information about themselves online. Although it’s wise for job seekers to run personal background checks, this screening isn’t comprehensive. Unlike the extensive background screening employers can access, personal background checks are often limited in the information they reveal.
“There are two levels of background checks — those that require a special license that’s reserved for law enforcement and investigators, and those that any consumer can pay for,” said McBride. “Unfortunately, a lot of the nitty-gritty details you think of when considering a background check are actually reserved for the more experienced system.”
To run a personal background check with a screening company, you must provide basic personal information like your name, date of birth, residential address and Social Security number. Although results typically appear instantly, some background checks can take up to a few days.
Personal background checks can reveal basic public information about the following:
- Identity verification (SSN trace)
- Relatives and known associates
- Address history
- Criminal history
- Sex offender registry
Your results may be much more limited than the information employers can access. Most background screening companies that perform personal background checks are not considered consumer reporting agencies as defined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which may increase your chances of receiving inaccurate results. The FCRA helps ensure accuracy, privacy and fairness in screening results.
Employers often partner with an FCRA-compliant reporting agency. You should also seek one, if possible.
Did you know? Employers use background checks to avert the threat of inadvertently hiring deepfakes — bad actors impersonating job applicants to steal sensitive data and personally identifiable information.
How can running your own background check help you?
Running a background check can help you gain a recruiter’s perspective and boost your chances of getting a job. You can accomplish the following:
- Address employer concerns proactively.
- Prepare accurate job applications.
- Avoid inconsistencies on your resume.
- Dispute errors in your profile and have inaccuracies removed.
Removing false information from your online profile can be crucial to future employment opportunities. “If you do find something that’s not accurate and you’re concerned [about] it, most of these sites have support channels in place for you to request updates or deletions,” said McBride. “I’ve seen some individuals do that on purpose to reduce their online footprint. While it takes some time, it’s definitely feasible to get these third-party sites to correct or delete info if you’re the verified person in question.”
Tip: Credible job references can help employers gauge your skills and character and mitigate the damage of false or misrepresentative online reports.
What to look for in a personal background check
What you look for in a personal background check and what you find may differ. Ideally, you should look for as much information about yourself as possible. Still, consumer-level background checks are limited in what they can report, even if you pay for a premium package.
“[Consumer-level background check companies] are just large databases of publicly available information, but instead of having to search online to gather all those data points (addresses, associates and family, etc.), you can get it all in one place,” said McBride.
You should look for anything a potential employer would want to know about you. Employers may search for the following records:
- Identity verification (Social Security number trace)
- National criminal database records
- Sex offender registries
- Domestic watch lists
- County criminal court history
- Education and employment history
- Professional licenses
- Credit reports
Depending on the industry, your employer may also conduct workers’ compensation history checks, healthcare sanction checks and drug tests.
Although you may not have access to all these records in a personal background check, it’s in your best interest to identify as much information as possible. For example, your social media accounts present information you can easily control. According to research from the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA), in 2021, 20 percent of U.S.-based employers used social media to screen candidates during the hiring process, and another 14 percent said they were considering monitoring social media accounts in the future.
To improve your social media presence, update your social profiles to align with the personal branding and image you want to portray to a future employer. For example, remove outdated or inappropriate posts or comments.
Ensure your social media profiles never display the following:
- Evidence of (or reference to) drug use
- Evidence of violence or bullying
- Offensive comments, including racism
- Inflammatory discussions about politics or religion
Monitor your social media accounts and use them to promote a positive self-image. Turn them into an asset rather than a hindrance to future job searches.
Did you know? According to the PBSA report, the most common background screening elements are an identity check (81 percent), employment verification (72 percent), and placement on the sex offender registry (68 percent).
Resources to run your own background check
You can find some personal public records for free. For example, McBride recommends FamilyTreeNow.com for a free report about your family and potential associates. While this site is primarily meant to help people establish their genealogy and family trees, its wealth of data can make it useful for other purposes.
For a more detailed background check, you will likely have to pay for a personal background screening plan with one of the best background check services. Prices range from about $20 to $60 but some checks can cost more depending on the search.
We recommend running a background check with GoodHire, which is our pick for the best background check provider for small businesses. GoodHire is compliant with FCRA and EEOC.
Other common resources for running personal background checks include PeopleFinders, Instant Checkmate and Intelius.
Tip: If your business hires drivers to operate commercial vehicles, you must conduct a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) background check.
Why information is a key resource
Navigating the world of job hunting can be arduous, and what employers learn about you significantly impacts your chances of landing a job.
Although a personal background check may not provide comprehensive results, it’s always a good idea to see what personal information about you is out there in the digital world — especially if you’re applying for jobs.
Jennifer Dublino contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.