how do recruiters check background

10 Ways Recruiters Check Your Background

A recent SHRM survey found that most companies conduct some sort of reference or background check as part of their hiring process.

Thus, during your job search, whenever you make it to the final phases of a screening process, expect the company to go into research mode on you.

How Do Recruiters Check Backgrounds?

Some employers do the sleuthing themselves. Others hire background check companies.

Running a background check can range from a few simple questions a recruiter asks to hiring a private investigator to prepare an in-depth report.

I once had a candidate who was going to have access to high-value, easily moved physical assets. All of his previous employers were out of business. He had been living on a remote island for a few years managing a private individual’s wealth.

I wondered if he was in a witness protection program or had an even more interesting background.

The hiring manager engaged a private investigator to learn more about the candidate’s prior companies and perform a criminal background check. It was all good news. He got the job and performed very well.

I never asked him about the witness protection program, but I still wonder.

Thus, if anyone suspects inaccurate information in your resume or interview responses, or if there are other red flags, expect a deeper than normal dive.

The SHRM Survey

SHRM found that 76% of the companies they surveyed always run employment background checks on top job applicants.

Another 22% of their participants do background screening “sometimes.”

Here’s what they check:

  1. Former Employers — 95% of the respondents said they check former employers.
  2. Employment Dates — 90% check employment dates.
  3. Job Titles — 89% check job titles.
  4. Degrees — 75% perform education verifications.
  5. Job Responsibilities — 75% dig into information about job responsibilities.
  6. Certifications & Licenses — 74% verify certfications and licenses.

Sterling Talent Solutions 2017 Survey

A more recent survey by a company that provides background checks found that 89% of their participants investigate prospective employees.

Here’s what they check:

  1. Criminal records — 89%.
  2. Prior Employment — 64%.
  3. Form I-9 — 55%.
  4. Education — 50%.
  5. Substance Abuse Screening — 44%.
  6. Certifications & Licenses — 35%.
  7. Credit History — 28%.
  8. Social Media & Internet Presence — 23%.

10 Ways Recruiters Check Backgrounds

When you combine the two lists, you get ten ways recruiters check backgrounds, plus social media.

Social Media

Survey results range wildly on how many employers admit to checking people out online because of the considerable potential to run afoul of employment law.

However, be sure that someone, most likely a hiring manager or future colleague, will informally fish around to see what they can find out about you.

What People Lie About on Their Resumes

Smart recruiters check backgrounds because yet another study found that 90% of job seekers lie at least a little on their resumes.

What do they lie about? Their work histories and job responsibilities!

The Infographic

Check out the infographic below to find out how many employers, according to SHRM, check up on applicants and what they want to know:

Click here to embed this graphic on your website.

Updated April 2019

© 2013 – 2019, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.

Comments 8

  1. Hi Donna,

    I have a question that is related to the discussion above.

    I was let go from my last job because of a political conflict with my manager. How do I get around listing him as a “supervisor” on a job application? Even though my former company has a policy against giving telephone references or verifications, my former boss is the type who does not follow procedures or policies. What can I do?

    Take care,

    Ellyn Collins

  2. For Ellyn: You may not be able to avoid listing your supervisor if the application is specifically asking for the name of your supervisor…unless, of course, you had more than one. If you see that getting your old supervisor involved is unavoidable, consider coming clean with your target employer about why you and your old supervisor had a falling out (don’t bad-mouth him/her, however) and also offer-up a list of several other references–from your most recent employer and other jobs–to compensate. If the application just asks for a reference (not necessarily a supervisor), then consider listing a peer to provide a reference from your last job. The best advice I can offer you (for next time) is to keep away from political discussions, be the politics global or organizational. – Joseph Terach, CEO, Resume Deli

  3. Hi Ellyn,

    Read this post by Harry Urschel at EExecutives: TheWiseJobSearch: How Employers View You Being Fired He basically says you don’t get around it. You face it, discuss it briefly, and direct the conversation elsewhere. This works.

    Kind regards,


  4. I don’t trust the results of this “survey”. Maybe it varies a lot in different industries, but a lot of times I don’t even get asked for references anymore (I am a software engineer). No one asks about my education, degree, or GPA, except perhaps my first job. I have been close friends with the managers and owners at small IT shops, and often they are never contacted about my employment there or during what time periods I was employed. A lot of my jobs are via recruiters, which the companies interviewing candidates assume the recruiter verified their details or did a background check – which has been my experience is almost always a false assumption. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people lie on their resumes (up to 92% lied on their resume for fresh college grads: If lying is very common on the resume yet 76% of employers “Always” verify the claims on a resume – then that is a pretty big contradiction. You would certainly hear a lot more stories about being denied jobs because of resume issues – but this rarely ever happens. If a job position is lost, it is usually because they either found someone they feel is more qualified or found someone a lot cheaper. Not because of some verification of what is on their resume.

    It has been my experience that a lot of times companies don’t care what you did in your past, they just want to know if you can do the job or not, and if you can do it within their allocated budget for the role. They look for keywords, they don’t really bother to fully read the 1-2 page resume sitting in front of them, just gloss over it to see if you will fit the role. I have been on the flip side as well. I have been asked to interview people that were “screened” by technical recruiters to be fully qualified for the job. I look at their resume and see some technologies, ask them a few basic questions, come to the conclusion they don’t understand the technologies they claim to know. Yet my bosses still hired them against my objection because they had the budget and needed to fill the positions. They did a basic criminal background check, but did not verify any information on the resume at all.

  5. P.S. One place I got a job through a recruiter, the recruiting company claimed to screen all candidates – they asked candidates to take a knowledge test, did an “extensive” background check, checked referrals, etc. It was a serious joke. The knowledge test was online with no time limits, you could ask someone else to take it or just google the answers. I was asked for 3 referrals, but none of them were contacted. The background check was probably the worst part – they did perform the background check I believe, but only asked me to fill out the background check form *after* I was already hired on for the job and had been working there for more than a week.

    I have talked with many others in my industry, both the interviewers and the candidates, some do check facts on resumes – but it is a much lower percentage. Most seem to hire as long as you sound like you know what you are talking about.

  6. Hi Bob,

    You’re smart. You’re in a high demand profession.

    There’s always a risk/reward calculation that goes on. The more rapid the pace of change in an industry, the more willing executives are to take risks because standing absolutely still is the biggest risk of all.

    Thank you for adding another perspective and greater depth to this post.


  7. I have worked in Human Resources for over 20 years: Temp Agency, HR Manager, HR Recruiter, On-Site Staffing Consultant, etc. in the S.F. Bay Area. In the beginning of my career, I was extremely diligent about doing thorough employment/reference checking and making sure everything was accurate. Then if we found that if there were discrepancies, we concluded that the candidate was not trustworthy. End result: if they lied on their resume, who knows what else they would lie about? Could it lead to bigger lies? Theft even? It was the whole “if there’s smoke- there’s fire” mentality.

    Over the years during interviews at the staffing agency, I found that the best and the brightest of the job seekers often had the worst resumes that would leave them unemployed. These candidates all shared similar traits: They were intelligent despite their education and very capable, diligent and hardworking. But their resumes didn’t “read” the way most companies screen and the specifics they request when sending them resumes. Most hiring processes of bigger companies first start with two distinct piles: College and No College. Then either through electronically scanning resumes or through the HR Mgr. they look for key words or phrases that “flag” the resume with the most matches. The result is that each job is pigeon holed for a small group of very select few college grads that have held the exact same job before or something very similar.

    I had talked myself blue in the face trying to convince these employers just to interview these people. A high school graduate was treated like a leper. Job gaps, despite the valid reasons, showed eternal instability. Leaving to due to differences with a boss or supervisor, meant underlying anger management issues/unresolved rage. But they continued to hire the 5 star resumes I sent over, no matter how many turned out to be the job jumping, salary chasing, title bumpers who left nine months later despite the invested time and money. It was a no-win situation.

    One day I had enough. I discussed making some small changes to some of my candidate’s resume and with their blessing; I send them over after a little white lie editing. The majority were harmless: closing the gaps and/or lengthening time in job dates, slightly different job title, a bit higher salary, added “key” word job responsibilities- matching the job description as closely as possible.

    Before I knew it all my candidates had jobs. Great jobs that they really loved and appreciated and the employer felt the same. These candidates came a bit early and left a little later. They were often promoted from within, taking pride in their work. They felt an allegiance to the company, to their department or position- and it showed. They were just grateful to have a job. It’s unfortunate that this is what it took and what it STILL takes today. Most employers aren’t open minded enough to realize that it’s easier to train really smart people with strong work ethics and great personalities that will be a benefit to your company, then waiting for that specific skill set, 4 year degree, matching job titles. There are so many honest and trust worthy potential employees who will only be dishonest once in their career – when applying for it.  :)

  8. That’s an interesting perspective, Leigha. I can’t say that I recommend it but I appreciate you sharing your experience and I’m very curious to hear what other people have to say about this.


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