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Career-Life Times, Issue #6 -- The Background on Background Checks
June 27, 2004
As promised in my last newsletter, this issue includes an article that takes a detailed look at background checks; something most of us must go through to get a new job.
Also, in response to a question from a subscriber, I've written an article about being "overqualified."
I hope you enjoy these and other articles in this issue!
Welcome to the sixth issue of CAREER-LIFE TIMES! I hope you find this little publication to be informative, useful and entertaining!
If you don't like it, there's an unsubscribe link at the end. And if you have any ideas on how I can improve it, please let me know -- I greatly value your suggestions! My email address is also at the end.
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In one of my past lives I held a Top Secret clearance as a Civil Service employee working for the Air Force. So I am familiar with background checks. But many job seekers are not. Here's a little background on background checks...
More companies are doing background checks on potential employees these days than ever before. Why? Here are just a few of the reasons:
* Studies show that 30-40% of all job applicants put false information on their resumes or applications, and "exaggerate" their qualifications during interviews. Can you blame employers for wanting to verify claims made by desperate job seekers?
* Lawsuits for "negligent hiring" are on the rise. If an employee’s actions hurt someone, the employer may be liable. So when considering an applicant, it's in the company's best financial self-interest to find out if that person has done anything in the past which might indicate future problems.
* Child abuse and abductions have resulted in new laws in almost every state that require criminal background checks for anyone who works with children.
* The September 11th attacks have resulted in heightened security and identity-verification strategies by many employers.
In addition, many state and federal government jobs require a background check, and depending on the kind of job, may require an extensive investigation for a security clearance.
So there are several reasons why employers perform background checks.
Under federal law, the employer must obtain the applicant’s written authorization before the background check is conducted.
The types of background checks companies do usually depends on the job, but they typically include the following:
Often a potential employer will contact an applicant's past employers. Many states have laws which prohibit employers from intentionally interfering with former employees' attempts to find jobs by giving out false or misleading references, but a former boss can say anything TRUTHFUL about your performance. However, most companies have a policy to only confirm dates of employment, final salary, and other limited information.
This is done to verify degrees and certifications listed on resumes or applications. Under federal law, specific records such as transcripts and discipline records are confidential and will not be released by schools without the authorization of the student. However, a school may release "directory information," which can include name, address, dates of attendance and degrees earned.
Many large corporations have a policy to drug-screen all potential employees prior to starting. In this situation, the job offer is contingent on you successfully passing the drug screen.
This type of check (sometimes called a "consumer report") is most often done by companies where employees have access to money, sensitive personal and financial information. Some employers also use your credit history to gauge your level of responsibility (they believe if you are not reliable in paying your bills, then you will not be a reliable employee).
In addition to your payment history, a credit report typically includes information about your former addresses and previous employers. Employers can use this as one way to verify the accuracy of information you provide on an application or resume.
Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants because they have filed for bankruptcy.
Criminal and Motor Vehicle Records
These types of background checks are not as common but some companies have a policy of checking criminal records. Although arrest information is a matter of public record, in most states employers cannot normally access the arrest record of a potential employee (there are some exceptions, such as for law enforcement positions). If the arrest resulted in a conviction, that information can be obtained. In general, civil suits, civil judgments, and records of arrest more than seven years old are not reported (the seven-year limit may not apply to criminal convictions, depending on your state).
Companies check motor vehicle records when positions involve the operation of company vehicles and equipment.
Employment Application Accuracy
Some companies verify the accuracy of the information you provided on the employment application, including what you listed as your most recent salary. When you complete the application make sure all information is accurate.
Take the following steps to reduce the chances that you and/or the potential employer will be "surprised" by information found during the background check:
* Order a copy of your credit report. If there is something you do not recognize or that you disagree with, dispute the information with the creditor and/or credit bureau before you have to explain it to the interviewer.
* Check court records. If you have an arrest record or have been involved in court cases, go to the county where this took place and inspect the files. Make sure the information is correct and up to date.
* Check DMV records. Request a copy of your driving record from the Department of Motor Vehicles, especially if you are applying for a job that involves driving.
* Do your own background check. If you want to see what an employer’s background check might uncover, hire a company that specializes in such reports to conduct one for you. That way, you can discover if the data bases of information vendors contain inaccurate information. Consult the Yellow Pages under "Investigators," or use one of the many online search services to find a service.
* Ask if your former employer has a policy about the release of personnel and/or employment information. Most companies limit the amount of information they disclose.
Remember, potential employers can't conduct a background check without your written authorization. You can "just say no." Of course, doing that would give the impression that you have something to hide and almost certainly eliminate you from consideration.
Just be honest about your background. Many employers will hire good candidates that fit their needs even if their backgrounds are less than perfect -- as long as they didn't lie about it.
Have you ever gone through the interview process, felt confident that you'd performed extremely well, and then heard these dreadful words: "I'm sorry, but we feel you're overqualified for this position."
When I was told that after an interview, several thoughts went through my frustration-fogged mind... What kind of crazy excuse is that for not hiring me? So what if I'm 'overqualified' -- don't employers always want to hire the person with the best qualifications? If I'm willing to take this job, overqualified or not, why is that a problem? This isn't fair! What's the real reason they don't want to hire me?
When interviewers say you are "overqualified," here's what they are concerned about:
(1) You'll be bored in this position;
They may or may not make you feel better about being "overqualified," but you must admit those are legitimate concerns.
If you get the "overqualified" excuse once, you'll be wary about getting it again. So if you apply for other jobs that may be at a lower level than warranted by your background, skills, education and experience, you may be tempted to "dumb down" your resume and omit things like college degrees. But lying about your background is not the way to go.
Here's a better strategy: address it head-on. Be the first one to raise the "overqualified" issue with a potential employer. If you bring it up yourself, you can discuss it openly and convince the interviewer that it won't be a problem.
They key -- as with every job interview issue -- is to anticipate and prepare. Before you go to the interview, think about what you'll say and how you will convince them that they should hire you, even if you are "overqualified."
After explaining how you will be a great asset for their company, tell them why you are applying for a lower-level position. Do not say, "I can't find anything else and I really need a job." Though that may be the case, this approach is a little too honest and will reinforce their fear that you will leave at the first opportunity.
Say something like, "You can tell that I've worked at a higher level before, but this position is exactly what I'm looking for." Then, depending on the job and your circumstances, explain why. For example:
* "I've always wanted to work for your company [or in this industry], and I'm willing to take a lower-level position to get that opportunity."
* "It will allow me to use my skills and expand my experience in a new field."
* "I'm looking for something a little less stressful, with fewer responsibilities, so I can spend more time with my family."
* "This position provides the stability and long-term growth potential I'm looking for."
* "The salary is not my top priority. I'd have no problem with earning less than I've earned in the past."
Be very enthusiastic about the job. Explain how you can meet their needs now and in the future as the company grows. And most important of all, convince them that you will not quit as soon as something better comes along.
If you are convinced that this job would be worth it, you might even try this: offer to sign an agreement stating that you will stay on the job for a minimum of 12 months. Whether the hiring manager actually takes you up on that offer or not, it will definitely make a very positive impression!
If you anticipate the "overqualified" issue and address it up front, it will not be a drawback to your success!
Here's a list of the top 10 tips you can use to advance your career:
1. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know." If you don't know something, say so; don't try to fake it.
2. Take responsibility for your actions. If you're at fault, admit it and take the blame. If you're wrong, apologize.
3. Never gossip. Gossip can hurt the careers of two people: the person being talked about, and the person doing the talking.
4. Never say "That's not my job." Don't think you are above anything. Pitch in and set a good example, especially if the job is one that nobody else wants to do. Your willingness to do so will be noticed and appreciated!
5. Share the credit. People who share credit with others make a much better impression than those who take all the credit themselves.
6. Ask for help when you need it. Don't let a difficult task get out of hand. When you need help, ask for it -- before things get worse.
7. Keep your dislike to yourself. If you don't like someone, don't let it show. Never burn bridges or offend others as you move ahead in your career.
8. Don't hold grudges. Life isn't always fair. If you were passed over for promotion, didn't get the project you wanted, etc., let it go. Be gracious and diplomatic, focus on the future and move on. Harboring grudges won't advance your career.
9. Be humble. When you're right, don't gloat about it. Never say "I told you so!"
10. Make others feel important. Compliment others, emphasize their strengths and contributions, and help them whenever you can. They will enthusiasitcally help you in return.
Although tips on how to properly tie a tie will probably be of primary interest to my male subscribers, female subscribers should check this out, too. You may have a significant other who could use this information!
My husband only wears ties to funerals, weddings and job interviews, and he struggles with getting the knot "just right" every time.
So I was thrilled to find this web site that shows exactly how to tie a tie. It provides detailed instructions and diagrams on how to tie Windsor, Half-Windsor, Four-in-Hand and Pratt tie knots. (I personally have no clue what those are, but guys who wear ties should know.)
I hope you find this useful, for yourself or your "main man." Here's the link:
victory comes only after many
struggles and countless defeats.
Yet each struggle, each defeat, sharpens your
skills and strengths, your courage
and your endurance, your ability and your confidence
and thus each obstacle is a comrade-in-arms
forcing you to become better…
or quit. Each rebuff is an
opportunity to move forward;
turn away from them, avoid them,
and you throw away your future."
Allegedly, these are actual statements written by people on job applications! (I wonder how many of them got hired.)
• “I have lurnt Word Perfect 6.0 computor and spreadsheet pogroms.”
• “Am a perfectionist and rarely if if every forget details.”
• “Received a plague for Salesperson of the Year.”
• “Wholly responsible for two failed financial institutions.”
• Reason for leaving last job: "Maturity leave.”
• “Failed bar exam with relatively high grades.”
• “It’s best for employers that I not work with people.”
• “Let’s meet, so you can ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over my experience.”
• “I was working for my mom until she decided to move.”
• Marital status: "Single. Unmarried. Unengaged. Uninvolved. No commitments.”
• “I have an excellent track record, although I am not a horse.”
• Personal interests: "Donating blood. Fourteen gallons so far.”
• “Instrumental in ruining entire operation for a Midwest chainstore.”
• “Note: Please don’t misconstrue my 14 jobs as ‘job-hopping’. I have never quit a job.”
• Marital status: "Often." Children: "Various.”
• “The company made me a scapegoat, just like my three previous employers.”
• “Finished eighth in class of ten.”
• References: "None. I’ve left a path of destruction behind me.”
The old gnat-up-the-nose trick. Want to be remembered above all the other candidates applying for the same dream job as you? Try this: inhale a gnat up your nose! That's exactly what one job seeker who posted on Monster.com's Interviewing Tips discussion forum did recently!
During the interview, she became aware that there was a gnat buzzing around the conference table. She and the interviewer kept swatting at it, but couldn't get rid of it.
Then she inhaled and the little critter was sucked up into her nostril and stuck in the back of her throat! She started coughing and hacking so much that the interviewer had to leave the room and bring her some water to stop her caughing attack!
You can bet they will not forget HER interview! (She is still waiting on the hiring decision). Yes, she DOES have a sense of humor and her post gave us Monsters a nice chuckle!
Online Illiteracy. Speaking of discussion forums, why do so many people forget all about punctuation, grammar and spelling when posting messages or sending email?
In a public online discussion forum, like the ones on Monster.com, you never know who is reading the posts. I know for a fact that many hiring managers and top recruiters are among the forum participants.
If you were looking for a job and walked into a room filled with people who might help you find one, would you speak to them in gibberish? Think about your readers -- not just those you're targeting, but those who are watching from the sidelines!
So, what did you think of this sixth issue? Any suggestions? Topic ideas? Questions? I really appreciate your feedback. Please send me
a note at
Please forward this to your friends!
P.S. To prevent your email service provider's spam filter from interrupting delivery or this newsletter to your email inbox, please add Bonnie@Best-Interview-Strategies.com to your address book or "safe list."
P.S.S. I apologize for the glitches you may see if you receive this as straight text. If you can receive your email in the HTML format, choose that and it'll look a lot better. Don't worry, I won't have any slowing graphics.
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