How to conduct pre-employment background checks?

Legal liability and unwanted terminations is among the leading reasons why companies run pre-employment background checks. Here’s all you need to know to verify claims made by job seekers during the hiring process. This employment background checks guide will help you understand the importance of candidate background checks and avoid the costs associated with a wrong hire. 

All businesses are looking for the right talent and skillset to fit their job profile. Recruitment is no longer about advertising and hiring the right person after interviewing a select few. The whole process has become more complicated and lengthy when employment background checks among other processes are involved. 

There is a great talent and skill gap in jobs in today’s job market. Once you have advertised for a position on myriad channels, sifting through the thousands of applications is not humanely possible. Companies now outsource the hiring process as limited resources challenge most companies. 

One frequently needs to move quickly when the time comes to make a hire. But each new employee can be a business and security risk in today’s easy access times.

A thorough employment background check on potential employees is an effective way to avoid any potential future issues.

But beware, the world of background checks is a complicated one to say the least. One has to be aware of the likely pitfalls, including being compliant with the equal opportunity acts and ethical standards.

pre-employment background check questions

So what all should be kept in mind when conducting a background check. What is the essential employment background check questions checklist? Here are a few pointers—

Pre-employment Background Check Questions to Ask

Background checks should never be cursory. The industry and role should determine the depth of the research. If you are in a highly niche category business, manufacturing and designing, security or corporate, then a comprehensive check is needed.

There are specialized firms, which can do the job for you. The average turnaround time for most background checks is between 3-5 business days, depending on the depth of the search, the geographical location of your candidates, or even the availability of records.

Basic documents to verify

Any employee background check has to start by verifying important information the applicant has provided. Studies have shown that 53% of all job applications contain inaccuracies and that 46% of workers know someone who’s put false information in their resume.

One needs to verify –

  • Education
  • Employment history
  • Address history
  • References

 After this basic verification, you need to dig deeper if you decide to take the application process further.

Check the credentials of the degree or any qualification certificate that the candidate has cited.

  • Did this applicant really earn the degree or perform the job claimed?
  • What was the applicant’s title?
  • Check all the listed reference (childhood neighbors, relatives, etc don’t count)
  • Why did the applicant leave the previous job?

Asking these questions verifies important information about a person’s suitability for the job.

HR managers need to address the question of qualification a little deeper. Ask these questions too, especially if the position is mid manager and higher level:

  • Does the applicant have all the necessary licensing or certification qualifications required?
  • Is the applicant a member of any required trade or professional organizations?

Find out the applicant’s workers’ compensation history, especially if the compensation package includes variables.

Follow up on the performance and behavior issues with colleagues or acquaintances in the trade.

Another check box is just not to accept references on face value. Ask the background checking authority or in-house to thoroughly follow up with the references regarding a potential employee’s previous work performance.

Negligence in follow-ups

Negligent hire claims are a serious risk and a thorough background check helps you hedge that risk. (A negligent hiring claim is made when a third party in employ (or customer) is posed a danger by hiring someone with potential to harm or history of harm). Employers typically lose the case and the average negligent hire suit settles for $1 million. 

You want to run a criminal background check with the following background questions so you can learn:

  • Is this applicant over-extended?
  • Has this applicant been convicted of a crime? If so, what crime?
  • Was it a misdemeanor or felony?
  • What’s the nature of the crime? Is it relevant to the position?
  • How long ago?
  • Are there multiple offenses?

A driving check record is also necessary.

Drug screening is another important step, particularly for potentially hazardous jobs.

Social Media checks are another essential part of the background checking process. Here again, one needs to respect the prospective employee’s privacy and only publicly available material should be checked for compatibility with the job profile.

Other red flags should include frequent job-hopping, a long gap between jobs, and any extraordinary claims made by the applicant.

Some employers want to avoid contentious employees even though their skills and job qualifications are superlative. A disruptive personality that fosters discontent can do more harm than good even with excellent credentials.

We cannot emphasize the need for compliance while conducting background checks. There are certain obligations under the FCRA and EEOC guidelines:


According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), purchasing and reviewing background checks as part of the screening process for independent contractors or volunteers falls under “Employment Purposes,” making reports for contractors/volunteers subject to the same FCRA guidelines as for employees.

EEOC guidelines

Each state and local law has different. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance regarding criminal backgrounds. Employers covered by Title XII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act risk lawsuits if they use hiring policies that could disproportionately affect a protected group, such as one based on race or national origin. That said, the spirit of the EEOC guidelines and the guidance they provide on non-discrimination is intended to cover all types of employment relationships.

Using employee background check questions like the one listed here to review an applicant’s qualifications and risk-level are a must requirement for pre-employment screening. This helps companies make informed, smarter hiring decisions.

Doing a thorough comprehensive check using a background check questions checklist can be time-consuming and costly. One needs to make prudent decisions on what are the required checks and what can be overlooked depending on the job profile. The benchmark is to be able to analyze the efficiency and effectiveness of these efforts.

Anna Verasai
Anna Versai is a Team Writer at The HR Digest; she covers topics related to Recruitment, Workplace Culture, Interview Tips, Employee Benefits, HR News and HR Leadership. She also writes for Technowize, providing her views on the Upcoming Technology, Product Reviews, and the latest apps and softwares.

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