I would like to know specifically what is done to find employment history as part of a background check. After doing some research on what constitutes an "employee," it has come to my attention that in my current job, I think I would legally be considered some kind of independent contractor rather than an employee. However I have not listed this fact on my resume (because I didn't understand the legalities and such, I just put it down as I would any other job). In the future I can add this fact to the resume if needed, but I am concerned about other jobs in the past that I have applied to (and been denied) without really understanding these legal details. Up until now I was assuming I was being denied jobs for normal reasons like not being the right candidate or being unqualified.

What I am worried about is that a company will see the job listed on my resume, perform a background check without informing me, and then see that I was not "employed" by anyone for a long time period. Then they might assume or come to a false conclusion that I was taking part in something shady or lying/misrepresenting work on my resume and reject me, all without me knowing that they were checking my background.

I would like to know if this scenario is possible - is a company that I am seeking a job with obligated to inform me that they are doing this check? If a discrepancy is found, it should be easy to clear up by having them contact my current "employer" (whom I suppose is really a contractor or something). I am very fuzzy on what precisely happens during a background check and what is considered "employment" as far as this check.

  • Surely some one must have payed you whist you where "contracting" they are your employer - or are you working cash in hadn in the black economy Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 0:20
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    Possible duplicate of How do background checks verify employment? Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 0:29
  • I have received checks with the company name on it, so I guess not. But for instance, how would a background check determine if the dates I gave on my resume were correct?
    – user87704
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 0:30
  • Some would explicitly tell you, some would presumably not, some might have a clause hidden somewhere in something you implicitly or explicitly agreed to. Most would probably only perform a background check as a last(ish) step (if they perform one), some may do it earlier. Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 0:36
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    The biggest problem would be the lie in the resume. You are not an employee, so you should not show that in your resume. The first thing you do is correct the resume. Most companies do a background check and if they contact HR and they don't list you as an employee, then your chances are done at that company if you didn't state up front that you were a contractor. You fix this by revising the resume first. You may have to submit proof that you were paid to verify the dates, or the company can verify if they know they are verifying the contract vice employment.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 15:37

5 Answers 5


will employers do so without my knowledge?

Generally speaking no, they won't and in some cases cannot. (details below)

is a company that I am seeking a job with obligated to inform me that they are doing this check?

Having working or a background checking company I can shed some light perhaps.

Typically, a credit check is a part of the background checking process. To do that, they must have your permission here in the US.

There are many ways to run a background checking process, and many agencies provide the service. How do they do it? It varies, greatly, but the major players will get the base of it from the credit report. They also verify information though your previous tax filings with the IRS, which includes your W-2 and thus your previous employment history.

This process costs money and is not typically done willie nillie. Most of the time a background check will be done once a decision has been made to make you an offer or it will be done as part of the offer itself. (Contingent of a successful background check) By this time, the interviewee will have had plenty of time to make his work as a contractor clear to their prospective employer.


I would like to know specifically what is done to find employment history as part of a background check.

Ask about it.

The background check procedure is very specific to a company/agency so the answer will vary significantly between different organisations.

  • Because this very short answer was, for the most part, as specific as the long answers (WRT what the bounty was being awarded for) I am reluctantly awarding it the bounty.
    – Rob
    Commented Jun 17, 2018 at 11:37
  • @Rob I am surprised by this answer getting the bounty, but its your rep to give.
    – Neo
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 11:46

I think that perhaps you are over-thinking this one a bit, regarding the "employee" term.

Background checks look for past job experiences you have had, to validate they are indeed true and fit to what you described on your application.

Not necessarily these past jobs are exclusive for ones where you were hired as an internal employee (fixed contract, health insurance, tax handling, etc.) versus being an independent contractor.

Surely there are many professionals that have worked as independent contractors all of their lives, and if BG checks were like you describe all of those people would have been in trouble.

In future situations, if you feel that the specifics of your work relationship may be ambiguous I suggest you make such relationship type explicit on your resume, so it does not give room for misinterpretation, if any.

is a company that I am seeking a job with obligated to inform me that they are doing this check?

Not necessarily.

It is more likely that they inform you that they do perform BG checks at some point, but I doubt they are going to tell you the exact moment when they start doing it, as this may be counterproductive to the check itself.

  • I guess my concern is "how would they know whether or not I am working for X" if I am not an employee. How would they verify dates, etc?
    – user87704
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 0:27
  • @user87704 that would depend on the specific person/company in charge of the BG check, each of them have their own procedures. However, generally speaking, they will check your resume, see your last job, call that company asking if you were independent contractor there, etc... in a way it also depends on how your past jobs keep their books and records
    – DarkCygnus
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 0:28
  • But they are not going to ask if you were an independent contractor if your resume says you were an employee.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 15:38

I am currently going throught a job change. The new employer hired an outside agency to do the background check. When I filled out the job application that was where I put down the specifics of my employment. Contract through agency X from then to then, etc.

They called to verify because this kind of work is actually kind of tricky. There were able to get what they needed from the agency, but I have in the past provided 1099 tax forms and pay stubs for companies that were either not around anymore or too small to be in their online system.

BTW, they checked my current employment through a company that tracks that kind of stuff, sounded like my employer sends information to this third party company that compiles job data.


It is incredibly unlikely that an employer would do a background check without your authorization. There are too many potential privacy violations.

On the other hand, it is relatively likely that you gave that authorization when you submitted a job application. Virtually every application includes a section where you authorize the employer to do a background check. If you don't read the legal disclaimers before you sign/ submit an application, it is certainly possible that you could authorize the employer to do a background check without being aware of that fact.

When it comes time to verify your employment, in general, the background check company is going to call up the employer that you listed and essentially ask "Was user87704 employed you between start date and end date as a title?". If you listed an employer that wasn't actually your employer of record (i.e. the company whose logo was on your paychecks and who was listed on your tax documents), the HR person that answers the phone when the background check firm calls is simply going to say that they have no record that you were ever employed there. They're not going to have any idea who a contracting company might have sent to work at their building.

If you listed the wrong company, particularly if you did it multiple times, and a background check comes back saying that multiple employers have no record of you, that's likely to be something that would cause an employer to simply discard you rather than trying to get an explanation. I would generally expect an employer to ask for an explanation if the background check came back with slightly different dates than you listed or a somewhat different title. Several employers having no record of you would be a much bigger hurdle. It's certainly possible that the employer would call you for an explanation but it's also possible that they would decide that the probability that you made up a large fraction of your experience was too high for their comfort level.

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