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Employment Background Checks: Understanding The What, Who & How Many

headache_number_crunching-823494-edited.jpgWhether you are going through the licensing process for your field, facing an initial job interview, or you’re up for a promotion, you should factor the term "background check" into your conversation. And, because background check policies vary at each company, take the time to understand the policy at your perspective or current place of employment. 


What’s included in a Background Check?

In essence, a background check is what an employer uses to ensure that you are a safe hire. These checks can look into many facets of your personal history—from criminal records and driving records to educational credentials and professional licenses. A background check might even include a process where an HR representative calls your past employers to verify facts about your work history.


How Often Are Background Checks Conducted?

With this is mind, perhaps a better question than "What is a background check?" is "How frequently are background checks conducted?" Many job searchers and employers are confused about this, and for good reason: there is no "standard answer" about how often employers will perform background checks.

The frequency of background checks will vary depending on the employer, the position, and the field or industry. The good news is that most employers fall into one of the three categories when implementing a background check policy at their organization.


Pre-Employment Only

Some companies will only ever run a pre-employment background check. This screening is ordered at some point during the interview process and often, after a conditional offer of employment has been extended. Once the applicant "passes" the background check, they will be hired and will not have to undergo additional background checks during their tenure at the company.

Think of these companies as a members-only club of sorts: once you're in, or you’ve passed a background check once, you don't need to worry about re-entry (or re-testing). On the surface, these “one and done” background check policies sound smart. They save the company money by not going back and re-checking all of their employees every few years, and the employees don't have to worry about anyone digging around in their past unless they apply for a promotion or new job within the company.

Although you could argue that these background check policies are flawed because they essentially make the assumption that background information is static. On the contrary, a background check only provides a snapshot of a person's background at one given time. If that person commits a crime after they are hired, or if their professional license is revoked, the employer might never know about it. Most businesses that maintain a one-time background check policy also have an "honor system" in place that requires employees to disclose new criminal convictions. Unfortunately, employees will often opt not to disclose, for fear that their recent criminal activity will result in termination.


At Random Background Checks

Another type of background check policy is the random ongoing kind where a background check is conducted around the point of hire for each employee. Then, the company later will randomly select a handful of employees every year to undergo a repeat check.

The goal of these types of policies is twofold: first, the repeat background checks give employers a way to find out if their workers have committed crimes recently, lost their professional licenses, etc.

Second, random screening policies like this help to keep employees accountable. Just like companies will implement random drug testing to promote a drug-free workplace, random background checks can give employees an incentive to come forward and disclose something like a criminal conviction. In other words, random background checks can help make "honor systems" more effective.


Regularly Scheduled Policies

The final variation of background check policy that your employer might observe is one in which screenings are regularly scheduled for all employees. However, how regularly the company runs background checks can still vary. It can be annually, every five years, or even every decade.

Regardless of the frequency, the basic idea behind these policies is always the same. The company keeps track of how long you have been working for them, and uses those dates to decide when they will run another background check on you—just like dates are used to schedule raises or performance reviews.

The goal of this policy is the same as with random background checks: to keep employers informed about what their workers are doing, and to keep workers accountable for disclosures and such. The execution is what changes, with the company spending more money and running more checks to create a more fail-proof method.

It’s easy to see why background checks are steadily becoming a common word in employment circles. Subsequently, applicants and employees should ensure they understand the policies and procedures fully.


If you are confused about the background checks at your organization, contact an HR representative to ensure that you can regularly access the policy and any updates that occur during your tenure.

Less-Looking-More-Finding-Yoh-JobsMichael Klazema has been developing products for pre-employment screening and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries. 

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