By Mark Feffer
Most job seekers know that employers conduct some kind of background check before they extend a job offer. After all, we’re used to listing past employers on job applications, and HR routinely calls the companies listed on our resumes to verify the work we’ve done. But you may not realize the extent to which many businesses will go in their quest to confirm that you’re the right hire. For instance, did you know they’ll often conduct credit checks and take a look at your social media profiles?
They will. The amount of information that’s available about each of us has exploded, and employers are taking advantage of it to back up their hiring decisions. Though in some cases — such as credit checks — companies must obtain your permission in order to conduct their research, in practice it’s difficult to tell an employer “no” under the circumstances.
This means job seekers have to be active managers of their personal data, public and private. For example, it’s not enough to assume that just because you pay your bills on time, your credit report is solid. In today’s world, you need to anticipate what information employers will see when they go to check you out.
Many employers believe that they can tell a lot about a person’s sense of responsibility through their payment history, and they’ll view too much outstanding debt as a red flag. After all, they reason, a person under enough financial pressure might be tempted to stage some kind of theft.
Given that, it’s important to make sure your credit history is accurate and up to date. By law, you’re entitled to obtain a free credit report annually from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. You can request the reports individually, or through annualcreditreport.com. Or, if you’d rather, you can call 877-322-8228.
Once you receive your reports, review them carefully. If you find mistakes — like addresses where you’ve never lived or accounts with incorrect information — contact the report’s provider as well as the company that supplied the information (for example, the credit card company). The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a good overview of what to do here.
Odds are employers are going to check out your social media pages, so it’s a good idea to make sure you haven’t posted anything that could prove embarrassing. Even if your profiles are set up so only your friends can see them, remember that you can’t prevent other people from tagging you in photos, videos and what other people post that might show up on your timeline. Check out your timelines to spot any images or other entries that could hurt your cause and hide them when you find them.
The safest thing to do is keep everything G-rated: Don’t post pictures of yourself drinking or running around in a costume you wouldn’t want your prospective boss to see. Be aware of what other people are posting, and if someone shares a photo or comment that’s a problem, ask them to remove it. And never, ever disparage your employer — past or present — online. It’s not professional, and such comments have a way of coming back to haunt you.
Google yourself on a regular basis. If anything uncomfortable shows up in the results, contact the appropriate webmaster to see if it can be taken down. If that’s not possible, be ready to answer questions about the pages during your interview.
The rules surrounding criminal background checks vary from state to state, so you’ll need to contact your local department of labor to learn what applies where you live. If you’ve had some kind of brush with the law, look at the court records to make sure everything was recorded properly. For example, if you were convicted of a misdemeanor, make sure it’s listed as a misdemeanor.
The research involved in finding your next job isn’t limited to understanding the market and learning about a potential employer. Carefully anticipate what employers might find when they look you up, and make sure the information is correct. Between social media, credit reports and other personal data, companies can learn a lot about you. It’s your job to make sure they’re seeing the right picture.
Mark Feffer has written, edited and produced hundreds of articles on careers, personal finance and technology. His work has appeared on Dice.com, Entrepreneur.com as well as on other top sites. He is currently writing for JobsinVT.com, the top local resource for job seekers, employers and recruiters in Vermont.