Employers will inevitably check out an applicant's background, so it's good to know ahead of time what information they will find. With the growing information network widely available and technology affording more efficient storage and faster retrieval of information every day, it is inevitable that a modern-day citizen will find themselves accumulating a reputation as they move along.

Using an automated service

There are several online websites that will gather data on an individual and deliver a virtual dossier on a person. These services are basically aggregators of several public resources, some free and some requiring a small fee. Websites like CheckPeople.com bring up a comprehensive report well above and beyond what most employers would even ask for.

This step saves tremendous time because, while investigating a background isn't particularly expensive or difficult, it is a time-consuming amount of labor. For example, an automated criminal background check saves the trouble of querying individual courts, correctional facilities, and law enforcement agencies at the national, state, and county levels.

What do employers really look at?

This is going to depend on the employer, but for most positions at most companies, there is a standard set of practices for a background investigation.

Criminal background - Nearly all employers will at least check criminal history. Some states and counties have laws controlling how deeply they can dig into a candidate's background, however. Juvenile offenses and minor infractions are always expunged. Information on arrests, even without convictions, are available to certain companies and organizations but are restricted for others.

On the other hand, some matters of criminal history are inevitably public. Mugshots are one typical example. If an applicant is on a sex offender registry, those are made public for the necessity of safety. Certain kinds of offenses, such as intoxicated driving or assault, may be mandatory reporting for safety reasons as well.

Credit report - Most employers are content to read a credit score here. Some may make a hard query request and obtain full credit history from a credit agency, especially if financial matters have an impact on the position the candidate is applying for.

Education and employment history - Obviously, employers will want to verify the information in a resume. Along with the raw information itself, employers also scrutinize resume quality and factors such as whether a candidate tends to switch jobs a lot or stay stable in one place.

Social media - A growing number of employers are researching candidates on the Internet, including Facebook and Twitter profiles and any other activity that pops up on Google. However, they take this data with a grain of salt: Most jurisdictions forbid discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, and so on, all of which may be evident from online activity. Even if employers didn't use this information to make a hiring decision, there's a possibility that they could be suspected of it. Online media also isn't completely reliable, since anyone can either claim to be somebody else or operate anonymously.

For what online footprints are worth, employers are looking for candidates who are a good fit for their corporate culture, show strong skills and qualifications, and exhibit sound judgment. They're looking for a character profile. Red flags they might find on social media include quarrelsome behavior and references to criminal or controversial behavior.

What to do about errors

Even though our infrastructure is robust as can be, inaccuracies still occur. This is another good reason why anyone should check their own history because they might falsely believe themselves to be showing a clean record while employers are mistakenly seeing a red flag.

Errors can crop up in any number of areas of a background check:

Credit reports - Inaccuracies of identity are the most common problem, as identity theft is notorious for wreaking havoc on a credit score. Various financial institutions may report closed accounts as opened, list an individual as an owner when they were part of a joint account, or have falsely reported debt.

Rectifying credit report errors is done directly through the credit agency. All of them have a dispute resolution process in place.

Social media - Problems can happen here, including confusion of online identities, other people sharing the subject's private media when they weren't given permission, and even deliberate sabotage of online reputation.

If one site is hosting harmful material on an individual, they may contact the site administrators to ask that it be removed. Outside of that, candidates may have to explain this issue to the employer. Fortunately, most everyone can understand how unruly the Internet can get and what it can do to a person's reputation sometimes.

Criminal background - Fortunately, errors of criminal records are infrequent. However, sometimes an erroneous listing comes up, such as a courthouse reporting a record they were supposed to expunge, or the occasional confusion resulting from identity theft.

If an individual finds errors on a criminal record, they will have it rectified by contacting the courthouse in that jurisdiction. In some cases, they may even have a case to take to a lawyer if they can prove that gross negligence on the criminal justice system's part hurt their chances of employment.