Watch Your Back: Background Checks and Your Future Employment

Watch Your Back: Background Checks and Your Future Employment

You have the GPA, the leadership and communication skills, and the poise, but why aren’t you getting job offers?  Could the underage drinking citations you received your freshman year be keeping you from working for your dream company?

It is possible, according to Jessica Gardner, UW-Eau Claire Career Services.   

“Most employers will do background checks so a history of multiple underage drinking citations may deter employers from or make it impossible for them to hire you,” Gardner said.   

Employers can be held liable for their employees’ criminal actions, under certain circumstances. Negligent hiring is a legal doctrine whereby an employer is responsible for the negligent or destructive actions of an employee when due diligence—such as conducting pre-employment background checks—would have revealed the employee’s propensity to commit such actions.  

Depending on the company and the position, a background check for a prospective employee could include verification of education, references and employment history; a review of criminal, civil, and federal court records; a review of driver’s license records; and a verification of credit history.  A scan of a student’s social networking sites can also be part of a background check.  

“Accounting, banking and finance companies are very serious about the types of background checks they do, and they will exclude anyone with a record of theft, fraud or anything similar to this,” Gardner said.  “Sales positions or other jobs that require a lot of travel or provide an employee with a company car, may not hire anyone with a DWI, multiple accidents, speeding tickets or other moving violations,” she continued.   

For some jobs, screening is required by federal or state law. For example, Wisconsin's Caregiver Law requires background and criminal history checks of personnel who are responsible for the care, safety and security of children and adults.  As a result, all UW-Eau Claire health care administration majors undergo a background check the spring prior to interviewing for their practicum positions. 

What can you do if something in your background may be an issue for a prospective employer?   

First, don’t assume the employer won’t find out about your background problem, warned Dr. D’Arcy Becker, chair of the Accounting and Finance Department.   

“If you don’t admit to the problem and they find it themselves, you will probably be kicked out of their pool of candidates because you were not honest,” Becker continued. 

Becker also advises students to try to determine whether an employer automatically excludes candidates with certain problems in order to avoid wasting their time and the prospective employer’s time.  Students can do this by candidly discussing their situation with their department chair, academic adviser and/ or Jessica Gardner in Career Services.  

Finally, if you need to disclose a problem because of a background check, Becker recommends that you work out an explanation in advance.  

“Try to walk the line between minimizing it (I shouldn’t have gotten that ticket because I wasn’t drinking) and making it seem like a terrible event,” she advises.  “Just give a brief, factual account of what happened,” she continued. 

Miranda Cross-Schindler, veterans employment representative for the Department of Workforce Development’s Office of Veterans Services, agreed with Becker’s recommendation that students be forthright about any convictions.  She advises students to answer “yes”, and write "happy to explain details during the interview" when asked on an application form about misdemeanor convictions.  When explaining a conviction during the interview, Cross-Schindler recommends that students summarize the situation, explain corrective actions they have taken, and focus on the outcomes of those actions. Using this guideline, a student convicted of a DUI might explain his or her situation as follows: I made a mistake and drove when I should not have. Since the event, I have taken courses, changed my circumstances and avoid situations that will increase this type of behavior. 

“This concise answer shows remorse, results, and your views moving forward,” explained Cross-Schindler.    

Perhaps the best advice regarding background check problems is to avoid them in the first place. Employers understand that students are young and make mistakes.  One citation may be excusable.  A history of multiple citations is another story. Employers want to see that students have acknowledged their mistakes and have learned from them. That is hard to do when problems recur.       

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