There are a number of different types of background checks that can be used for pre-employment purposes. When discussing background checks, it is important to distinguish between the various types as there are some significant differences. You did not specify which type you are considering so I will provide a short rundown of the most common things that are screened for in a background check.
Background checks rely on investigation into databases of information about factors that employers may see as a red flag. They commonly look at things such as criminal records, driving records and credit history, but also may include academic history and citizenship documents. In most cases, these types of searches are legal, provided that the information is shown to be job-related.
For most jobs, information such as credit history and driving record really are not useful predictors of potential problem employees. These methods are best used for jobs that have related tasks such as driving or handling cash or sensitive information. Criminal history is probably the most common type of background check, and while it is important to know if an applicant is hiding something, these checks can miss important information and are generally not going to help you consistently make better hires. Also, subjecting applicants to criminal and credit screens can be off-putting and does not really do you any favors in terms of employment branding. Finally, most companies tend to conduct these types of background checks after an employment offer has been extended—not as an upfront screen.
Identifying potential problem employees is best done using an integrity test. These are "self-report" tests that ask applicants questions about their honesty. These instruments can be very open, asking direct questions about safety, theft, absence, substance abuse and so on. Or they can be stealthy and ask questions that get at the root personality factors that tend to cause counterproductive behavior. Both types of tests have very strong track records of helping identify the really bad apples. Although candidates don't love these tests, they are less intrusive than background checks and tend to provide a better level of screening.
SOURCE: Charles A. Handler, Rocket-Hire, New Orleans
LEARN MORE: Peeking at job candidates' social media activity raises the bar for background checks and elevates privacy and legal concerns.
The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.