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9 Common Red Flags on Background Checks

PSI Team | Industry Expertise

You want the best of the best to represent and run your company, which means your hiring methods need to be the best of the best. A thorough and reliable employee screening process can help you learn more about the people you will potentially hire, but it’s still up to you to consider all the information and how it impacts your decision. Knowing all the common red flags on background checks, and how they affect a candidate’s qualifications, will help you hire the best person for the job and your company.

Multiple Periods of Unemployment

Gaps in employment aren’t uncommon, and many potential employees may have periods of unemployment on their resume. Someone may have made a career change, fallen ill, or taken time off to care for a loved one. If unemployment seems to be a pattern in the candidate’s history, however, you may want to investigate further. Multiple gaps in employment could indicate that the candidate is hard to work with, unreliable, or otherwise struggles to keep a job.

Multiple Short-Lived Jobs

Similar to having multiple periods of unemployment, someone with several short-lived jobs could also cause concern. While seasonal or temporary jobs are perfectly fine—and great for gaining experience—someone who continuously moves from job to job probably won’t work well for your company. It could signal that they were fired or forced to resign, or that they get easily bored or unhappy with their position. You want your company to invest in dependable, more enduring employees, and this type of candidate is far less likely to fulfill those expectations.

Inconsistency in Experience or Education

One of the most common red flags on a background check is inconsistency. If a background check pulls up different information than what the candidate and their resume told you, you need to investigate the matter. Your potential employee might make up facts about their education, job experience, or the positions and duties they had to make themselves more appealing to you and your company. While many job applicants embellish their resumes to make themselves sound as good as possible, the minute these exaggerations turn fraudulent, you should proceed with caution. Even if they have the right qualifications in other areas, this insight into their character demands serious consideration going forward.

Missing Relevant Past Jobs

While fabricated experience on a resume is bad, the opposite should also cause concern. Sometimes, potential candidates will leave relevant jobs or experiences off their resumes. Applicants want to put their best selves forward when job searching, but the absence of multiple applicable jobs implies they may want to hide something about those positions. Your potential employee might have an explanation for the missing information, but it’s also a good idea to follow up with these past positions to get as much information as possible.

Criminal Record

Perhaps the most important part of any background screening check is investigating a candidate’s criminal history. While some incidents might not keep you from offering the job to a candidate, it’s still important to know an employee’s criminal history. If you don’t run criminal background checks and that employee later commits a criminal act, your company could be held responsible. However, you want to keep in mind the context of anything that might come up in a criminal background check. Arrests don’t necessarily equal convictions, and years-old or minor incidents might simply be a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. While criminal history results like these might not be deal-breakers in and of themselves, if the candidate lies about them in an application or interview, you should think twice about hiring them. A forthright candidate—and one who takes the time to honestly explain the situation—displays more trustworthiness than one who lies about their past records.

Job-Relevant Convictions

While minor convictions or incidents that happened years ago might not necessarily be red flags, keep in mind how a candidate’s criminal record could impact the job at hand. Someone with a poor driving history, for example, probably shouldn’t have a job that involves operating a vehicle. An applicant charged with financial fraud—even if minor—isn’t going to be the first choice for a job at a bank. How a past crime affects the job and company is far more important than when it took place and how severe the sentence was.

Poor Credit History

A credit check isn’t necessary for many background screenings, but any position that deals with finances should involve one. Keep in mind that a candidate’s poor credit might have resulted from other life events, such as divorce or death, and it might not impact their ability to do their job. However, if you plan to hire for a job that requires handling money, you want to stay wary of applicants who struggle with debts and loans.

Refusing a Check

In many situations, you can gain as much information from how someone handles their possible red flags as you can from what actually appears on their background check. If during the application or interview process, a candidate calmly and honestly answers any questions about their criminal, financial, or employment history, that might indicate they’re a qualified and dependable employee to hire. On the other hand, if someone lies about their past, or simply refuses the information on a background check, they may be hiding something worse than what you initially expect. You want trustworthy, reliable people working for you and your company, and someone who attempts to hide relevant parts of their background—even if they only lie about minor issues—is probably not a good fit for the job.

Bad References

References provide a great way to learn more about a potential employee’s character and work ethic, and speaking with former employers can easily confirm past experience. When calling past employers, you may also hear negative feedback about your candidate. It’s important to keep in mind that bad reviews can come from misunderstandings, personal issues, or other situations that the candidate can’t control. However, if the same negative opinions keep coming up, you should take that into account when determining how this potential employee will fit in this job and work environment.

As with all things, you want to have as much information as possible, and consider any context or explanations you have for these red flags. Knowing more about a candidate’s history—the good and the bad—will help you make a better, more informed decision when it comes to hiring the right person for the job.

Red Flags on Background Checks