Who's Most Likely to Fail the Background Check?


If you’re working in construction, there’s a good chance you’re laboring next to someone with a criminal past. But if you’re working in the nonprofit sector, you’re more likely to be sitting next to someone who has lied about his education.

Those differences came to light when Kroll analyzed “hit ratios” for the eight most common employment screening criteria to calculate what proportion of the potential employees it screened for various industries stretched the truth or left important information off their applications.

It found that more than 51 percent of real estate industry folks had at least one late payment on their credit history, 48 percent lied about former employment and more than 40 percent had a not-so-clean driving record. In financial services, nearly 7 percent of applicants had criminal records, nearly 48 percent fudged something about former employment and 21 percent lied about their educational credentials. Those in education flunk drug testing at the highest rate, nearly 9 percent.

“Based upon the results we see, people at all levels stretch the truth,” says Barry Nadell, a senior vice president of Kroll’s Nashville-based Background Screening division.

When Embellishing Goes Too Far

Sometimes an omission can be an innocent mistake. You think you started working somewhere in March 2004 when you really began in July 2004. Other times, omissions are not so innocent. “I can’t imagine any individual who when asked, ‘Have you ever been convicted of a crime?’ not knowing if they were convicted,” Nadell says.

Everyone embellishes a bit when describing their experiences, accomplishments and achievements, just as companies embellish when they tell you how wonderful a job is going to be, says Professor Anthony Buono, coordinator of the Bentley College Alliance for Ethics and Social Responsibility.

Embellishment turns into misrepresentation when you stretch the facts beyond credibility, such as when you make up degrees or positions. “People do that because they don’t have confidence in themselves, so they want to make themselves look better,” he says. “That’s true misrepresentation of who you are, and that’s unacceptable.”

Even the smallest of lies can trip up a job hunter. “People will lie about the degree they have,” says Jason Morris, president of employeescreenIQ. “They’re going for a position in finance so they say they have a finance degree when they have a business degree.” Morris says he’ll catch that lie. “It’s very simple to check someone’s major,” he says. “We call to verify the information on the resume.”

Truth Is Power

So what’s a job seeker with bad credit, a conviction for a youthful indiscretion or a six-month employment gap to do? “My advice is always to tell the truth no matter what the stakes,” Nadell says. “Being caught in an untruth is worse than being honest. Oftentimes you can explain your situation in advance.”

Chances are your interviewer knows that poor credit can follow a divorce, that teenagers do stupid things and that people are sometimes out of work. Be ready with a contrite explanation that admits your fault in the incident, shows how you rectified the problem and then brings the conversation back to why you’re right for the current position.

If that strategy doesn’t work, seek work with a firm that doesn’t do background checks -- small firms and temporary agencies are good bets. “We’re seeing more small organizations make background checks mandatory for employees, and companies of all sizes are increasingly screening temporary employees,” Nadell says. “However, some temporary agencies and smaller organizations conduct less-thorough background checks or do so when you go from temporary to permanent.”

By that time, your employer should like you and may be inclined to overlook indiscretions if you’re honest about them.

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