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How to run a background check on yourself
Don't let a prospective employer catch you by surprise
 
You probably don't need to go this far, though.
You probably don't need to go this far, though. (Courtesy Shutterstock)

The background check is often the last thing we think of when applying for a job, after the cover letter, the resume, the references, and what to wear to the interview. In fact, many of us don't think about it until a potential employer asks for our social security number and written permission to run a check.

This can be a problem. Though it depends on the job and the state, many employers still run extensive background checks on potential hires. The idea is to gather as much information as possible, so they know what they're getting. As Forbes puts it, "There’s absolutely no doubt that making a wrong hiring decision can haunt your company, your other employees, and your client base."

If you're in the job market, you might want to run one on yourself first to avoid surprises and make sure the information that is out there is correct. You can do this by paying a background check agency like Been Verified or Talent Shield. Or, if you want to save money, you can do a pretty thorough one on yourself for free. Here's a guide:

Review your court records
This is a big one — employers often want to know if you've been arrested or charged with a crime. Clearly, you're already privy to that information. But if you're looking for a job, it's still wise to find out how the records depict you. Go to National Center for State Courts, where you can research your records at the state and city level.

Also, if you do have a criminal history, take a look at the new guidelines issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to help protect those with criminal backgrounds from job discrimination.

Get your credit report
This is a controversial practice — in fact, nine states have already passed laws limiting it — but the reality is that about 47 percent of companies still check some or all job applicants' credit reports, according to the The Society of Human Resource Management. It doesn't hurt to get out ahead of them.

All consumers are legally entitled to three free credit reports a year from the three major reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Get all three. If you find errors, call them quickly and ask them to be corrected. Additionally, if you see negative points, and it's due to extenuating circumstances (like a layoff or illness), you're allowed to contact the bureau and attach a 100-word explanation to the problem. It won't help your score, but it will give your potential employer your side of the story.

Request your employment history
It's no secret to you where you worked and when, but it's not a bad idea to see what's on record. Your future employer may or may not look to see if there are any discrepancies on your resume (i.e., to check if you lied to them), so make sure the public info is accurate. Go to The Work Number to request data.

Review your education records
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 requires your school to let you access your education records within 45 days of anyone asking for your record — at any point after graduation. You're also allowed to request an amendment if you think something's inaccurate. So call your school and find out what they release.

Review your medical background
This is another controversial one, which also has legal restrictions. The laws vary from state to state, so you'll have to do a little research on your state's website. But here's an example: In Minnesota, an employer can only give you a medical exam or request your records if an offer for employment has been made. The employer is only allowed to examine you for "essential, job-related abilities." Any "information obtained is collected and maintained separately and is treated as a confidential medical record."

Depending on your state's laws, and what job you're applying for, you might want to request a copy of your medical records from your health care provider. They are legally required to hand them over.

Request your driving record
Many background checks also include driving records. If your future job requires you to drive, your employer may want to pull yours. To find out what's on public record, request your report from the DMV.

Once you have all this information, you'll be in a much stronger position if a potential employer asks to do a background check, even if you know she'll find some dirt on you. Take a moment to be upfront about anything you think could be a deal breaker — they'll likely appreciate your honesty and give you a chance to explain yourself.

 
Carmel Lobello is the business editor at TheWeek.com. Previously, she was an editor at DeathandTaxesMag.com.

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