How to prepare for a background check

Know what potential employer check before hiring
August 11, 2010|By Marcia Heroux Pounds, Sun Sentinel Columnist

An employer recently called me for a reference on a former colleague, and I was happy to give it. I later found out that the former co-worker already had started working in the job.
“Some will make a job offer contingent upon a positive background check,” explains Debra Klauber, a labor lawyer with Haliczer Pettis & Schwam in Fort Lauderdale. Employers can do background testing, including employer and character reference checks, educational verification, criminal and credit checks during the interview process or the probation period, which can be 30 to 60 days, she says.
How can a job applicant best prepare for smooth sailing through the background check process?

Have references’ names and contact information ready when going to an interview.

“Don’t use best friends or family members,” says Bonnie Roberge, human resources director for Everest University’s Florida division. Before leaving an employer, ask your supervisor if he or she will give you a reference. If not, direct a potential employer to a human resources contact.
Roberge says references should be tailored to the job. If in sales, you might choose a good client as a reference, for example. “Tell them what you need them to highlight about you,” she says.

Be upfront and honest if you have a criminal record or have poor credit.

Employers will find out about a DUI conviction or other felony, whether you put it on your application or not. So, instead, be honest and explain how you’ve progressed.

Jackie Kohn, owner of background check firm Graymark Security Group in Plantation, says when there is a negative report, the agency represents the job applicant in sorting it out. Sometimes, the report is wrong, such as in the case of a job applicant who was mistaken for his brother who had a criminal record. The man had been to court to clear it up, but the county court didn’t pass it on to the state, and the agency ran a state report.

Graymark was able to explain the situation and the man got hired.
Credit checks are most often done on job applicants applying for positions in which they would handle cash or have access to an expense account. Companies are required by law to get the job applicant’s permission in writing to check credit.

Before applying for a job, get a copy of your credit report

to check for any errors and to know your score. With high unemployment and record home foreclosures in Florida, poor credit is more common among job applicants.
Explain “I have been out of work for a year. I have stretched myself to the limit, ” Kohn says.
Klauber says if an employer chooses not to hire the applicant and poor credit is the only reason, the company must tell the job applicant. “You have the right to challenge that,” she says. Caroline D’Innocenzo, human resources director at Slayton Insurance in South Florida, does a criminal background check on potential employees, but rarely a credit check. “The only time we run a credit check is if someone’s working in the accounting department,” she says.

Employers can tell a prospective employer they wouldn’t rehire you.

While many employers have a policy to only give dates of employment on a former employee, companies can say whether they would rehire a person when called for a reference.
Klauber says a worker can’t sue a former employer for giving a derogatory opinion to a potential employer, unless it can be proven the information was knowingly false or violated the worker’s civil rights.

Call your school to check on your degree status and get transcripts.

Sometimes, people will find out their transcripts or status is not available because they failed to pay a school fee a decade or more ago.
Roberge says checking with your school also “pops it to the top” for when the background check agency calls, which helps to speed the process, she says.

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