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I have recently accepted a job offer from an employer (a relatively large one with big HR dept). Basically everything went fine: salary/benefits negotiated, start-date determined, etc. I got the letter, signed it, sent it back, and gave notice to my previous employer.

However, according to the paperwork, the job offer is contingent on passing a pre-employment background check. I have always thought it was a formality but this time the background check is really happening and appears to be fairly extensive and is taking more than two weeks. For example, I had to take a drug test and I know they are verifying my past employment with a third party, checking my linkedIn profile, etc, and who knows what else. The HR department doesn't even know when the background check will be complete.

There is no reason to believe that I won't pass the background screen and I have nothing to hide, but it makes me kind of nervous. What if something goes wrong for whatever reason and the offer is reneged? That would put me in a very vulnerable situation.

In the future, should I refrain from giving notice to my previous employer until after the completion of the background check? The problem with that is that it could push out the start date because I expect to give a reasonable amount of notice to the previous employer. On the other hand, it sort-of provides an incentive for the background check to be done quickly.

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@Chad, I gave the current employer notice after I returned the offer letter to the new one. It now appears that this may be too soon in cases where an extensive background check is done. I guess it all boils down to how often do pre-employment background screens end with a "no-go"? –  Angelo Apr 24 '12 at 21:36
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It doesnt matter if it has never happened before if it happens with you. You do not know what their process is and how deep they are going. They made you the offer presumably because they want to hire you. I would expect you would know (or at least have a good expectation of) if you are going to pass the background check before they start. Did they know before you gave notice you were looking? –  Chad Apr 25 '12 at 10:00
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@Chad, you mean "does my new employer know I gave notice to my old employer?" Yes. My mistake was acting as though the offer letter was the "sure-thing" and not the subsequent background check. I had always assumed the background check was just a trivial formality, but that was not the case this time! :-O –  Angelo Apr 25 '12 at 12:04
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@Chad, no... in the USA it is not customary to reveal that information. That could make a good workplace question, however: "Under what circumstances should one reveal to their employer that they are looking for new work?" In my experience, never, but I would be interested in knowing why it might be otherwise. –  Angelo Apr 25 '12 at 14:33
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Yep, background check finally complete after 24 days. Next time I will heed the advice given here! –  Angelo May 1 '12 at 14:59
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7 Answers

up vote 42 down vote accepted

In general, I would say that the time to give notice is when you know 100% you will be working with the other employer. If the new job is contigent on something (such as a background check), don't give notice until it's done, because if something does turn up and they decide not to hire you because of it, you could find yourself either with no job, or begging for your old job back. And yes, it could push out the start date but it's only reasonable since they are pushing the lengthy background check.

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Agreed. The OP mentioned negotiating a start date; in the future, start date is 2 weeks (or whatever your notice period is) after the offer is confirmed after the check. I work for a company that does these background checks and it's not uncommon for people to negotiate a start date 4-6 weeks out just to provide plenty of cushion all around. –  Monica Cellio Apr 24 '12 at 20:47
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The one cavet I would add is that in some cases, like federal jobs, you can actualy start working the job while such a background continues. So part of this is that you have a pretty good sense of your background, so you should have a relatively good sense of what might turn up and if you are upfront about that sort of stuff the background check is really a formality to make sure the story you provided checks out. –  Trevor Owens Apr 24 '12 at 22:16
    
Thanks everybody, I think everything will be OK this time, but will definitely remember to wait until everything is done before settling on a start-date and giving notice to the previous employer ! –  Angelo Apr 25 '12 at 11:46
    
@TrevorOwens: I'd never heard of that! If they find something they don't like, do they end your employment immediately? –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Apr 25 '12 at 13:36
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@FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Thankfully I didn't have to find out! For the first year of fed employment is a probationary period, so you are more or less an at will employee. But yes, my understanding is that the contingency for the background check runs for as much as that year. –  Trevor Owens Apr 25 '12 at 19:03
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In the future, should I refrain from giving notice to my previous employer until after the completion of the background check?

YES!

Until the contingencies are released, you should not give notice.

The new employer is setting the conditions ... they won't finalize the offer until after the background check clears. Make clear to HR and the hiring manager that you will give professional notice once the offer is finalized. When they press you for a start date, repeat "the Monday 2 weeks after the offer is finalized."

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Exactly! In this situation, the employer is asking for a firm date / commitment from you, but is not willing to reciprocate. IMHO that should be a red flag. –  David Apr 25 '12 at 19:53
    
Never has a cliche been so apropos: "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." If you're not cleared to work there, you don't hold a bird, period, end of line. –  BryanH Nov 12 '12 at 23:05
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Twice in a row, I had offers that were contingent on background checks. In each case, my current contract expired on it's own before the background check was complete, so I never had to mention my impending new employment, but both times, the background check delayed my start of employment by an extra week. The second time, I went and sat outside the offices on the day that the check completed, waiting the last few hours a Starbuck's while they got the final signatures. It had been nerve-wracking.

The delay doesn't bother the security folks at all. They need to get it right whether you need the job today or next month, so they won't hurry or skip steps due to your needs. If they rush and make a mistake, their jobs (or more) are on the line.

Offers involving 12-18 month background checks do occur. If you pass the interviews and then they start one of those background checks, you might even take another job while waiting for that background check to complete.

So, no, until you have a firm start date, don't give your notice.

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"my current contract expired on it's own before the background check was complete" In that case, you keep looking. If the company takes their sweet time (or for whatever reason, withdraws the offer), you'll be that much ahead. –  BryanH Nov 12 '12 at 23:07
    
I kept looking in both instances, since I knew both had a chance of delays and neither was my dream job. –  David Navarre Nov 14 '12 at 0:03
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You really must stay with your previous employer until the last second because 3rd party background checks can be very extensive and intrusive. You really have to make sure that any offenses in your past, no matter how long ago, do not fall under guidelines that can make you a risk to the new employer. The 3rd parties job is risk assessment and they can be liable if they let someone slip by. You hear about people passing background checks all the time and committing crimes on the job. A properly done background check would have red flagged many of these individuals prior to their employment.

A lot of times though, as in my situation, you are hired prior to the final results of the whole background check. I tried numerous times in the interview process and evaluation to give my archived MVR but the person conducting the interviews was new at the job. I was told to give only a 10 year history even though I tried to explain that the job I was being considered for may not be available because of my MVR from 17 years ago. I was told it was not an issue and was hired.

Lo and behold 2 weeks later I was pulled of the job and told a red flag had come up on my MVR! Well what a surprise! LOL I was let go and now am without a job and my family and I are devastated. I thought I could not be at my previous job and the new job simultaneously so I should have listened to my heart and went over the new guys head to have my story heard. To make it worse he has lied several times to protect his job stating he has absolutely no idea what I am talking about.

Very long story short. If you think you are golden but have a history just know that a 3rd party background check is extensive and even though you may be told they are only looking this far back or for certain things, they are looking all the way back and looking at everything!!

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Hi Scott, great information, but consider using some paragraphs next time. It actually makes your post easier for people to read in its entirety. –  jmort253 Nov 12 '12 at 2:57
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Scott .. given that you disclosed the issue and were specifically told that it was not a problem, you may very well have a legal case. Essentially, they acted in bad faith. Go see a lawyer. –  tomjedrz Dec 15 '12 at 1:23
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Scott, if you have not chosen the legal route, it may also be appropriate for you to send a note to the manager above your guy, just to provide him with details on what a snake he has working for him. I'd suggest very professional language and no expectations that it will make any difference in your case, but that you wanted the higher ups to know what really happened. –  David Navarre May 29 '13 at 20:04
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Unless you're doing government/military work, the primary purpose of a background check like this is to ensure that

a) You don't have outstanding warrants or a criminal record,

b) You are who you purport to be (you went to school where you said you did, you worked where you said you did, etc.)

They're not checking whether you dated a communist when you were in college. Although I agree with the other posters that it's best to wait until all of this is done (because who knows how long it will take), in reality, your risk in giving notice or at least a head's up to your current boss is minimal.

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A credit check is pretty common as part of this, too. That's where you could run into problems you didn't know about, if you haven't been reviewing your own credit reports periodically. –  Monica Cellio Apr 25 '12 at 16:29
    
Ref check does include to know whether you are bonafide. If your reference check brings out that you had a disciplinary problem, or cross gender complain against you (even if that doesn't amount to criminal offense or case) it might hurt you or block you. –  Dipan Mehta Apr 26 '12 at 10:21
    
Some of this is country specific. It's EXTREMELY unlikely this would come out in a reference check in the United States. –  Scott Wilson Apr 26 '12 at 10:25
    
@ScottWilson The risk of a week's delay is far more likely than being rejected. If you can handle a week or more with no pay, then it's not a problem, but if one is living paycheck-to-paycheck, a week without pay is a serious problem. –  David Navarre Jul 31 '12 at 19:52
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In the US: The answer is when you are comfortable with the risk of not getting the new position and being out of work should the position fall through.

Unless you have a contract, until you reach the point where you have started, the new position can fall through. You may have some recourse once the official offer has been extended but there are many valid reasons that will make that recourse effectively moot. Then in the first part of your employment the employer can terminate you with little real recourse.

If you leave your original company on good terms you can probably return with little fuss. This can be a bit humbling but generally your knowledge and skills are valuable enough that you can return and provide value immediately. This makes you less of a risk than a new employee. Because of this many times an employer will take you back if they still have positions open.

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Even within the US, employment laws vary. For example, in Ohio, employment is "at will", meaning essentially the employee can quit or the employer can let the employee go at any time. This will be affected by e.g. a union contract, but my point is don't expect the employer's and employee's options to be the same everywhere, even in the US. –  David Apr 25 '12 at 17:03
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The answer depends if your current employer knows you are looking for a new job. Its reasonable to assume most background checks will involve calling your current employer. If the first they hear about your job hunt is a reference call then its likely to reflect badly on you. If they know then you can wait till you get the green light.

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I believe in the US most companies are "neutral reference" nowadays, meaning that they will verify that you worked there from date A to date B but nothing more. (People & companies have been sued for giving negative feedback.) If you've listed someone at your current company as a personal reference, that is of course a different story -- but in that case the person would presumably be aware that you're looking. –  David Apr 25 '12 at 17:07
    
Really?! In the UK saying nothing beyond confirming they worked for you is the worst possible reference you cant give. –  Tom Squires Apr 25 '12 at 17:23
    
As I said, it's for liability reasons. (I would tend to agree that it shouldn't be that way, but that's an entirely different can of worms.) In recent years, I've changed jobs several times (due to outsourcing-related layoffs); I've worked for a large telecom, a medium-sized motor carrier, and a technology startup, and they've all operated this way. –  David Apr 25 '12 at 19:42
    
@TomSquires It depends on your field, but it's getting a lot more common for UK companies to do the same. As David said, it's to do with liability. They're frightened of saying anything. –  starsplusplus Jan 27 at 13:30
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