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Job-seekers beware of background checks

80 percent say they screen potential employees

By Laura Morsch

Editor's Note: has a business partnership with, which serves as the exclusive provider of job listings and services to

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So, you swear you have nothing to hide? That's a good thing these days, because more likely than not, your potential employer will be digging into your past.

According to a study released last winter by the Society for Human Resource Management, an astounding 80 percent of HR professionals say they conduct criminal background checks to screen potential employees. That's up 26 percent from 1996, an increase driven in part by increased concern over workplace violence after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Who can blame employers for wanting to be careful? Two Wal-Mart employees were recently convicted of fondling children in their store -- and both were registered sex offenders. Wal-Mart has announced it will now subject all new employees to a criminal background check -- a costly move for a company that Hoover's Online estimates has 1.5 million employees.

Know your rights: When employers run their own background checks on applicants, they can commit errors that could cost you the job.

By typing in the wrong Social Security number or confusing you with a candidate with a similar name, employers conducting background checks could dig up a whole host of information that isn't yours -- and some employers won't ever tell you why you didn't get the job.

According to the Federal Trade Commission's Fair Credit Reporting Act, employers must inform you and get your written permission before they conduct a criminal or credit check. If something pops up on your report that makes an employer decide not to hire you, the employer is required to notify you of what's on the report.

Check your history first: Just imagine if you were applying for a job and your employer received a sheet brimming with debts and convictions that you never accrued. You can contact credit agencies to work out the dispute, but the fastest way to solve the problem is to prevent it altogether.

Experts recommend checking your credit report yearly to catch any errors or identity theft early. Now, job seekers can check their credit and criminal history, then pass it directly on to their potential employer.

Job site offers SureCheck, a way for job seekers to verify their criminal, civil and address history -- and their Social Security number -- then securely display it to employers who request access.

Candidates can also verify their education and employment histories, which may be especially useful to employers in light of recent reports that up to 60 percent of people fib on their resumes. Coming in with pre-screened background and reference checks gives job seekers an extra edge by ensuring the potential employer's trust.

© Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority
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