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At least in the US, job offers are typically contingent upon background checks. From my experience, these checks typically include a criminal background check, a driver's history check, and a credit check.

My question is what constitutes "bad" for these checks, specifically with respect to driving history and credit check (let's assume your average IT salaried position, in an average enterprise--no government contracts, working with top secrect documents, etc.)? I think the criminal background is pretty self-explanatory, but what driving or credit history would raise concerns with someone who has been extended an offer? What would cause the offer to be flat-out rescinded?

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I haven't conducted these, so I don't have any hard details, but I have got the feeling in the past that a significant part "background check" is resume and reference verification. Employers, dates, titles (maybe even salary?). I've had friends turned down for bad credit, but never heard of a driving history check. –  NickC Aug 30 '12 at 4:45
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I am not in the US so I am curious. Does a company have access to this kind of information without asking to the person? In France, asking for the drivers history is illegal, even if the person agrees to give it. A company can only asks for a proof that you have a driver license. –  Sylvain Peyronnet Aug 30 '12 at 7:23
    
@SylvainPeyronnet - In general, most court records in the US are available to the public. Take a look at this site for more info. privacyrights.org/fs/fs16-bck.htm –  jfrankcarr Aug 30 '12 at 11:08
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People are forgetting that the question is about what constitutes "bad". How serious of a driving infraction would raise a red-flag. For example: a speeding ticket, red-light running, suspended license, texting while driving, drunk driving, causing fatal accident? Similarly for credit history there are different levels: a low score? No credit history, bankruptcy? When an employer searches for such information, it would be nice to know what kind of things they're looking for and how it is evaluated. –  Angelo Aug 30 '12 at 12:29
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Loren: did you have insurance when you ran into him? :-) –  Amy Blankenship Sep 2 '12 at 3:25

9 Answers 9

It very much depends on the company. For most IT positions, no one is likely to care about driving history as long as nothing rises to the level of a misdemeanor. Driving infractions would be much more important if you were applying for a position where you were regularly driving a company car out to a client site (say, a Geek Squad-type operation).

Credit history is a lot more variable. If you have anything to do with money-- you're working at a bank, for example, or you're working on the business's accounting systems-- most companies will want to ensure that your credit report shows that you're not struggling financially and thus potentially vulnerable to cooking the books. Similar issues come up when you're working with credit card information or customer personal information that could be sold on the black market. Some companies will use a credit report as a proxy for how responsible you are-- that tends to be a relatively recent thing and relatively uncommon-- but those sorts of companies are a lot more likely to raise issues if you've failed to make payments in the past.

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I can confirm my company does regular license checks; apparently on everyone, but mostly because we have lots of people who operate heavy machinery and/or drive company trucks cross-state. –  Rarity Aug 30 '12 at 13:30
    
Are you sure 'misdemeanor' is what you meant? Any crniminal penalty that is (roughly, depending upon location) punishible by less than $1000 fine and no jail time is a misdemeanor, and anything above a felony. This would include driving infractions... –  atk Sep 8 '13 at 23:28
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@atk - Most if not all jurisdictions in the US separate driving infractions into infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. A simple speeding ticket is an infraction (i.e. it is not a criminal offense). In order to rise to the level of a misdemeanor, you'd generally need to be cited for something that could lead to the immediate suspension of your license and/or something that endangered people. Generally, a misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail. –  Justin Cave Sep 9 '13 at 14:51
    
@JustinCave: Thank you for the clarification! –  atk Sep 9 '13 at 15:06

In my experience, a poor credit history indicates that a potential employee could possibly be influenced to act in a manner that is not aligned with their employer's best interests. For this reason it is a red flag when attempting to get secret clearances.

If an enterprise has secret or proprietary information, or detailed customer/client lists, that poor credit history indicates a potential for that information to leave the company if the potential employee is offered the right financial (or other) incentives.

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Here's a source on credit checks being part of Security Clearance approval –  Rarity Aug 30 '12 at 13:37

It never hurts to ask HR on this, before you even accept the offer. Chances are they can tell you exactly what they care about. It does vary, even in the generalized IT work realm, depending on the nature of the business, and their culture.

Cases in point:

  • Driving history - if the office is downtown in a city with lots of public transit, or massively work-from-home, they may not care at all. They probably will care if your driving history impacts your ability to reliably get to work, or reliably rent a car when on travel. That marker would rise if they forsee you needing to drive customers, or hand-carry expensive equipment using a car as transportation.

  • Credit - As others say - it's mostly an indicator of your judgement and whether or not you could be enticed to betray the company by selling information or compromising systems where you have high-privileges. For the most part, I've seen credit check requirements rise and fall with the market. For example, the expectation on good credit was a higher bar before the US real estate crash when many people lost homes due to balloon mortgages. Companies can be slow to catch up here, though, particularly when a loosening of the rules would be in your favor.

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I have never seen anyone disqualified from a job for a poor driving record unless the job required you to drive for the company. I would suspect that if they are doing a driving record check and you don't drive, they might be concerned if you have a DUI. I would strongly doubt that they would care about typical parking tickets and speeding tickets, etc.

Credit check is more problematic. They used to be done on on those who have a fiduciary responsiblity in the company as bad credit can indicate problems in handling money and the potential that someone might commit fraud to fix their own credit problems.

Lately though, companies have started to do these checks on all potential employees. The idea is that people with poor credit have bad judgement, but that is of course hogwash. People have poor credit for many reasons including a serious illness in the family, losing a job, etc. What level constitutes bad credit in HR's eyes would probably vary from company to company. If you feel as if you might have a problem, your best choice right now is probably to not give notice at your current job until you have passed the pre-employment checks. If the bad credit is due to illness of your spouse of loss of income due to unemployment, I would probably also bring that up to their HR privately after they made the offer or when they ask you to sign the something authorizing the check. At least that way if they will reject based on that you will know right away. Further you might get points with them for being up front about it. However, the best choice all around is to fix the bad credit if you can.

And in answer to your last question, yes a poor result on these checks can result in the offer being rescinded.

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It totally depends on the company and what sort of issue was related to a problem in the past.

At one financial company I had to work with, having a suspended driving license is a disqualification because they had one really bad apple who also had a suspended license. Therefore, all future candidates with a suspended license are presumed to be bad risks. This particular person also had been fired from a previous job, so they disqualify everyone who has ever been fired. That particular person had lied about working for companies they never worked for - so any company that says "Who? We have no records of them" is a disqualification. My credit score was in the 500s back then, so they sure weren't looking for someone to lend money to. One of my coworkers worked at a place where his ex-wife is now the HR person, so when she said "he is not eligible for rehire" that coworker was disqualified from working with the large financial client.

The federal government takes the viewpoint that credit reflects the trustworthiness of an applicant. Someone who is careless with repaying money is likely to be careless when handling classified information, and is additionally a risk for selling classified materials to pay off debts. This argument derives from their claim that a person accessing classfied information holds a fiduciary responsibility, and that repaying debt is another fiduciary responsibility; and if you can't be trusted (by someone else) to do the little things correctly, you won't do the large things correctly (for the feds). The boilerplate that they use is:

A person who seeks access to classified information enters into a fiduciary relationship with the Government predicated upon trust and confidence. This relationship transcends normal duty hours and endures throughout off-duty hours as well. It is because of this special relationship that the Government must be able to repose a high degree of trust and confidence in those individuals to whom it grants access to classified information. Decisions include, by necessity, consideration of the possible risk the applicant may deliberately or inadvertently fail to safeguard classified information. Such decisions entail a certain degree of legally permissible extrapolation as to potential, rather than actual, risk of compromise of classified information.

Sample (for public trust, not classified data). Companies that have other divisions handling classified details and public trust positions have a tendency to try to minimize the different HR policies, so it is likely that they'll use a similar reasoning/standard even for the other divisions. Even though you specifically excluded this sort of thing in your question, the company might not have done so. A friend of mine is a programmer, and since the project involves working with a federal agency, all the developers and IT staff had to pass a public trust background check in addition to the regular employment check.

From my chatting with other companies that have asked me to "pass" background checks, they tell me that they're looking to make sure that:

  • I'm not a criminal, and if I am, is the conviction something relevant to the job at hand? My brother is a convicted felon (if he pays off his restitution and stays clean on his probation, it gets downgraded to a misdemeanor), but his crime is totally unrelated to his job delivering stuff for a big-box store, they know about it and keep him employed there. Some companies don't want any sort of felony, others care if it is relevant.
  • That my identity checks out, which is what comes from the license check. There have been a lot of lawsuits where some company hires someone with a history of DUI, and then they get in a bad crash, the plaintiff's lawyers feast on the corpse of the company and the tens of millions from the lawsuit (only a slight exaggeration). Insurance companies pretty much require this check - even if you never drive on company business.
  • That I didn't lie on my resume. If I said I worked for BigHugeLargeCo, that company says basically "yes, Tangurena worked here". Some past employers have since gone out of business. A couple of those is not a problem, a persistent background of defunct corporations may be fake. I had one problem when a company's online records didn't go that far back (and the paper records were in a different state in a storage shed), but that I still had my money in the company's 401k plan showed I had been an employee and was good enough for that background check. My advice is to always keep your first and last paycheck stub from every place you worked, and keep this separate from tax records.

I have also encountered employers who preferred to hire only bad credit risks, as those people were too desperate to keep working, and so the boss could apply all sorts of pressure to them. Anyone who was not in dire financial straits would quit.

Sometimes legal regulations change and previously acceptable past history becomes retroactively unacceptable:

Richard Eggers, 68, was fired in July from his job as a customer service representative for putting a cardboard cutout of a dime in a washing machine nearly 50 years ago in Carlisle, the Des Moines Register reported Monday.

Warren County court records show Eggers was convicted of operating a coin-changing machine by false means. Eggers called it a "stupid stunt," but questions his firing.

Source. Eggers had worked for the bank for 7 years before the 50 year old conviction became an issue.

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One reason many companies do the drivers check is that they can get better rates on their insurance if they manage their risks appropriately. One of those risks is when you do not monitor your employees driving records. In cases where there are risks due to an employee you can get waivers and exemptions for that employee if they are not allowed to operate company equipment, and in lessor cases when they are not doing so under normal circumstances.

When your employment will cost your employer more due to increased premiums than they are willing to pay, it could cost you a position. This is more common in positions where you would be doing regular travel or equipment operation. But if your record is bad enough then an insurer might raise their business liability rates due to your history of bad judgement. It does happen though not often.

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I feel like these answers are skipping over the obvious.

  1. Felonies are bad.
  2. Finding out you lied about any previous employer, reference, etc. are bad.

By and large, these two will almost always lose you a job.

Beyond that it's whatever is a particular risk factor for a company. In some cases they don't actually care, they just "need to know" - I worked for one company where the health insurer wanted background check info about past drug convictions as part of the general profile of how much they were charging us. It was a publishing company - we specifically had no drug testing because we knew darn well how many of the designers were on the wacky tobaccy - but we needed the info for other purposes.

In general driving offenses won't lose you a job unless it involves driving, and credit won't lose you a job unless it's financial or government (with exceptions for bizarrely egregious cases, someone with 1000 traffic tickets or a 50 credit rating kinda raises some red flags about their behavior). Of course different sectors have other employability background check items, especially if you're working medical/hospice, law enforcement or daycare/schools. These tend to have much more strict requirements.

If you're really concerned, research the laws in your locality, they differ as to what employers can look at, whether misdemeanors can be counted, etc. Here in Texas, there's actually a difference in what an employer can look at based on whether you make less than $75k (less, last 7 years only) or more than $75k (anything).

This is totally going to vary by locale, however. "In general," it's going to be a calculus between company size (larger ones are more restrictive just because they love bureaucracy/have more to lose from bad press), how in demand the job role is (if I find another Ruby programmer, as long as he hasn't killed a guy, I'm going to hire him), and whether there are other contenders and it comes in as a random tiebreaker factor ("This guy wants $5k more, but the other guy has a theft conviction. Hmmm, we do have a lot of nice Mac monitors around. Let's go with the other guy."). Personally, if someone has some random misdemeanor conviction - "reckless driving, 3 years ago!" I wouldn't bother to even ask about it (unless, of course, it's directly relevant to the job).

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A checkered driving record shows a lack of judgement. The tickets cost you money, the increased insurance costs you money. Yet if the tickets continue it is a sign that you have judgement issues.

Even without government contracts they are asking you to be responsible with their equipment. They also have to trust you to safeguard company and customer information.

A thing that can trip you up is not disclosing in advance the bad information. If you don't mentioned the suspended license, it is viewed more harshly when the background check discovers it.

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This feels like pure speculation to me. Do you have any evidence that driving records are commonly used in this way (or that you'd even need to disclose a suspended license to a "typical IT" employer)? –  NickC Aug 30 '12 at 4:48
    
What is typical IT? Every job has the potential to need to protect customer and company information. The raw driving record (tickets) is public record in many jurisdictions in the US. It can be an indicator of other issues. In a world in which potential employers check Facebook and Twitter to look for adverse information to expect that they aren't using it is naive. And yes I have worked with a company that did this level of screening for all potential employees. –  mhoran_psprep Aug 30 '12 at 10:19
    
@mhoran_psprep, it would not be a good idea to bring up things like speeding tickets or moving violations during the hiring process. Such things not necessarily an indicator of other "issues", moreover, a hiring manager or HR is no way qualified to make this judgement. –  Angelo Aug 30 '12 at 12:41
    
one of the most accurate, productive and talented software professionals I ever used to work with, has been also known as a permanent speeder. IT company that would reject that guy on his driving record would be nuts –  gnat Aug 31 '12 at 19:29
    
@gnat: But in all fairness, you could use this type of argument to justify a host of bad behaviors. Would you be surprised if somebody else knew a cracker jack coder who liked to do blow on the weekends? –  Jim G. Sep 3 '12 at 1:58

I'm generally in agreement with the above answers.

A friend of mine was working in the back office of a recruiting agency and told me that they had on occasion hired people convicted of manslaughter, usually warehouse or other labor intensive roles. Presumably these were bar fights or other situations where things got out of hand, but she didn't know that many details.

Supposedly more than half of all resumes contain outright fabrications, often with respect to schooling. This link explores this in some detail. The article points out that when the employee is an insider in a public company, this is big trouble. In general, college degrees are easy to verify and there are many businesses that specialize in it. In some cases it's a bad idea for other reasons - some hiring managers may have less than glowing opinions of some advanced degrees, including MBAs.

This link relating to medical care debts relating to employment may be helpful.

One would expect a check on a driver's license to reveal a few tickets and perhaps a collision or two in the last five years. Employers would have reason to be concerned with multiple DWIs, an accident that involved a fatality in which there is little doubt you are at fault, or a ticket (along with jail time) for operation at 120 miles per hour. In short, 'no one is perfect', however certain markers for either substance abuse or callus disregard for the rules of the road and the safety of innocent bystanders would frighten a potential employer, along with pretty much anyone else.

There are plenty of people that have run up significant credit card debt. This is common for people in the 20s (including me in the late 1970s) and is often worse when people presume their future earnings can cover it. Some employers may be able to put this in context, others maybe not.

However, if you are being denied further credit and you are continually overrunning your limits, this means you still don't understand how to manage your finances. This would raise alarms. If you have $20,000 in total credit available, and you're paying down from $19,500, you're 'close' but on the right path. If you're showing repeated over-the-limit fees and everything is maxed out, then the employer could reasonably be concerned. You have, presumably, provided your address - if they find you're living in a luxury apartment (this is pretty easy to verify) it would confirm their fears. If you were living with your parents, it might mean something is going on you can't do much about. In short, a credit report probably doesn't mean much in a vacuum, but if other habits become evident on follow-up, it could scare them off.

There is another situation to consider - this is showing up in the business press right now about brokerages hiring people with experience in insider trading. Lets say that you misrepresent a fact or two on your resume, and you're confronted by your prospective employer when you're caught. If you're particularly slick, you might talk your way into the job anyway - whereupon you may discover the employer's morals are as questionable as yours. Like attracts like, and you may be ratting on your colleagues when the Feds crash the party.

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Hey Meredith, thanks for including some interesting links to resources. Could you please make an edit to explain what constitutes 'bad' on a criminal background, driver history, or credit check as asked in the question? As explained in our help center, "Answers that do not fundamentally answer the question may be removed. This includes answers that are commentary on the question or other answers" Thanks in advance! –  jmac Apr 23 at 21:01

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