How criminal background checks can be used varies from state to state, but these are generally used to ensure that candidates aren't hired who've committed offenses that could be a red flag for the position they're applying for. If you're seeking a job as a bank teller, a company is unlikely to hire you if you've done five years in the slammer on theft charges. The company also has the safety of its employees and customers to consider.
Hiring companies may also run a credit check. If you're trying to improve your credit, don't worry. These are considered "soft" inquiries and don't affect your credit. Again, what employers are looking for varies by the position.
Employers are not necessarily looking for great credit; they're looking for patterns that may indicate you're a risk in that position. For example, if you've recently been employed in jobs that pay well, they probably don't want to see a bad credit rating or history of default. They may also be looking for potential stress factors or just whether or not you can handle money (especially with regard to financial services jobs and those involving high-ticket items like jewelry).
Employers are also authorized to check your driving history and past employment. They may use third-party services like HireRight to handle many types of checks at once.
Knowledge is power. The best way to protect yourself is to know what a background check says and how it may impact you.
You can pull a credit report from each of the three major bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) once per year free of charge (or within 60 days before you look for employment), or you can use a free service to get a report. We recommend viewing all three since they can vary. Go through the reports carefully to ensure there are no errors. If there are, file a dispute with the credit bureau. If your score is low, check to see if there are outstanding debts you can pay or unnecessary credit lines that are open.
You can see your FBI report under the Privacy Act by following the instructions on its website. If there are any errors, there's even a way to dispute those.
Only use government or verifiable services to check yourself. Many phishing sites use these ploys to gather private data like your social security number.
When filling out applications, honesty is the best policy. It's OK to make yourself sound like the best candidate, but don't lie. Answer only the questions asked and don't give additional information. If they ask about felonies, don't mention misdemeanors; if they ask about doing the work, don't mention that you're hoping to be pregnant by early next year.
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