With social media everywhere, it's easy to imagine you can pick and choose what you want employers to see. As long as you clean up your Facebook wall and delete that late-night Twitter post, you'll be fine, right?
Not so much. Background checks can still pull up damaging information, causing you to miss out on a great job opportunity. Worst of all, some information might not even be correct.
While most job seekers spend hours polishing their resume and choosing their interview attire, most don't give much thought to background checks. But ignoring what might pop up on a criminal or credit background check is a mistake that could spell the end of your dream job.
Are you a broken record?
If you don't think employers are looking into your background, think again. Most employers regularly run background checks on job seekers -- and the information uncovered could cost you the job.
Almost all employers decide not to offer jobs to candidates with a history of violent felonies. More surprising, even nonviolent felonies result in employers withdrawing offers most of the time. Considering only half of employers allow candidates to explain their records before hiring decisions are made, you need to know what employers are discovering about you.
What you should know
Most job seekers assume there's some kind of massive database where employers can go to check on criminal records. They think it's similar to checking credit history, where three major credit bureaus hold much of the information.
But when it comes to criminal background checks, things get more complicated. A single database containing every criminal record in the country doesn't exist. The closest approximation is the FBI criminal database, but access is granted under limited circumstances. Instead, most private criminal databases are aggregated from more than 3,100 courthouse records across the US.
While not every courthouse record is online, some of these records don't paint the full story. Unlike credit histories, which drop off after seven years or so, arrest records stay on your permanent record forever. Even worse, these records don't show if a case was thrown out, if you were found innocent or even if you were never charged.
In fact, one in four American adults possesses an arrest or conviction likely to show up on a criminal background check. But what about those who are sure they have no skeletons in the closet?
No criminal database is infallible; mistakes are made all the time. There are plenty of stories of talented job candidates being rejected from positions because a background search pulled up someone else's criminal record.
But a felonious name twin isn't all you have to worry about. Identity theft is a growing problem, especially as increased digital transactions lead to greater chances for your information to be stolen. The 2013 Identity Fraud Report found there were 12.6 million victims of identity fraud in 2012 in the US alone.
With identity theft rising, it's possible your record might not be as squeaky clean as you think. Ignoring the possibility that someone has taken your identity for a criminal joy ride means potentially losing out on a great job opportunity.
Control your narrative
Now that you understand how important it is in the job search to be familiar with your own background, how do you get ahead of the background check and take control of your own story?
Clean up your social media profiles and know what shows up about you on search engines. These are simple tricks, but can be highly effective for cleaning up your digital footprint.
But deleting tweets and making a professional website can't change what shows up on an employer background check. To reclaim your narrative and tell your own story, you'll need to know what information employers are discovering about you.
So what should you do?
Run a background check on yourself
It might sound wacky, but running a self-background check can help you get ahead of employers and clean up your own reputation. You can contact the information bureaus, including the credit bureau, the county courthouse and the federal court.
For instance, if you need to know what your credit looks like, you can sign into AnnualCreditReport.com. The site allows you to check your credit from the three major bureaus once a year. If you see a mistake in your information, you can request a dispute form from the agency within 30 days and set your record straight.
If you think there might be a reason you're not eligible for employment, you can run a self-check from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. If you want some additional help with the complicated maze of local, state and national criminal databases, you can pay a private investigator to look you up. Or you can check out sites online that'll run background checks for you.
If an arrest record pops up, you can talk to a lawyer about getting it expunged from your permanent record. If the information you receive doesn't belong to you, you can take steps to reclaim your identity.
Knowledge is power, and employers are doing a lot more than Googling your name when you apply for your dream job. By arming yourself with information, you can clear your name and ensure you never miss out on another great opportunity because of a broken record.
Would you ever run a background check on yourself? Share your thoughts in the comments!