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I am in a bad situation where I have a wonderful job offer which I accepted but shortly after they told me that I have to do a background check. I've never done one before and they told me not to worry. Two weeks later and it's still not ready. I know now that I will have discrepancies between listed job titles and actual ones. There are good reasons for that. One of them is that my contract listed a different job title so that I pay less taxes. Another one was because I made it more specific to the job I was doing. Then there is the third one which ended very badly between me and the employer. I actually had to quit to preserve my sanity. I have serious reasons to suspect that this employer talked badly about me to the company doing the background check. There are only two weeks more until my official start date and I'm terrified that it won't finish in time and I don't want to join a company until my background check is not cleared. Meanwhile, I received another job offer which is good but not as good as the first one. And I am in the process of finishing anther interview and perhaps get another offer. I feel like I am in limbo. My instinct is to just accept another job offer and decline the first one I accepted if the background check doesn't finish in the next 7 days. I am so stressed out. What should I do? I don't want to lose all the good opportunities that I have and be without a job in a few weeks.

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  • There is no way to fix discrepancies. I can't remake my older contracts as this is not practiced in Europe. The other two companies don't have background checks. They are extremely rare in Europe and only some US companies have them. Aug 15 '19 at 11:08
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    The general attitude around background checks on Workplace is that they're very serious and any discrepancy can get you in trouble. However, in practice, there's a whole spectrum. While you never want to purposefully lie, and in the future you should absolutely take steps to make your titles accurate, it's not automatically damning to have an "issue" like a mismatched title come up in a background check. Some employers simply won't care or may not even check titles. Others will care a lot. That makes it hard for us to tell you what to do because we don't know what your employer will do.
    – dwizum
    Aug 15 '19 at 12:28
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    What country??? You should also edit your question and improve flow. The wall of text is hard to read since it is missing breaks.
    – user25792
    Aug 15 '19 at 12:40
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    "so that I pay less taxes" Tax evasion/avoidance will probably be a red flag to most places, come up with a better way of explaining this. Don't lie!
    – mattumotu
    Aug 15 '19 at 15:20
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    @FrancescaMorati Perhaps you shouldn't expect to reap the benefits of a certain title for tax purposes and also the benefits of a totally different title that you didn't actually have for purposes of getting a new job, even if it's your "real" title. If freeform job titles are the norm in your country, then that shouldn't be an issue on your CV-- but that doesn't seem to be the situation you expect. Also, technically legal != impressive and reasonable in all situations.
    – Upper_Case
    Aug 15 '19 at 20:20
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I am in a bad situation

Yes... it perhaps isn't quite as bad as all that.

I know now that I will have discrepancies between listed job titles and actual ones. There are good reasons for that.

I'm not going to lie and I hate to be harsh but that's not great. Fundamentally you lied on your CV and that's never good, it can bite you in the behind and it can bite hard. How hard will depend on how good those reasons are.

One of them is that my contract listed a different job title so that I pay less taxes.

Oh dear. You had a falsified contract to cheat on your taxes - I'm not going to judge you personally here. It's no skin off my nose - but with my hiring manager hat on you don't come off well here. If this one gets queried with you just be prepared to take it on the chin, explain what you did and that you know it wasn't smart but that you have learned better now.

Another one was because I made it more specific to the job I was doing

This is pretty reasonable, as long as you accurately described your role and duties on your CV then this isn't a huge deal in my experience.

Then there is the third one which ended very badly between me and the employer. I actually had to quit to preserve my sanity.

It's unfortunate but things like this happen. If the employer has spoken negatively about you (unlikely as a background check doesn't usually entail references - more a confirmation of employment) then it's not necessarily a deal breaker. Loads of people have an employer in the past that might speak poorly about them.

At this point I think the tax-dodging one is the biggest thing that would set my alarm bells ringing and I think if any of these are going to sink you it's this one. But there's nothing you can do about that now - the best thing is to wait and see. Keep the other opportunities going until you hear back from the background check. It's not unreasonable to give the employer a heads up that you'll need to know the outcome of that by a certain date or know what the plan is for you starting. It's by no means a certainty that it's going to go against you. Good luck!

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    Thanks for the answer. Just to make things clear, the third one is not a lie - the job title, only the fact that the employer might talk badly about me. I will update the outcome once I have the results. Aug 15 '19 at 12:01
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    @FrancescaMorati That makes more sense! Did wonder if I'd gotten the wrong end of the stick on that one.
    – motosubatsu
    Aug 15 '19 at 12:03
  • got to wonder how just changing the job TITLE on a contract has you pay less in taxes. The pay associated with the contract is the important thing there...
    – jwenting
    Aug 15 '19 at 12:53
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    it was a law in the country that I was working in at that time and frankly speaking I care more about the money and what I do in the job than what is written in the contract. Nobody in Europes asks you for previous work contracts. Aug 15 '19 at 13:03
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I know now that I will have discrepancies between listed job titles and actual ones. There are good reasons for that.

That's fine. I used to list official titles in my resume in parentheses, but now that I'm doing my own hiring, I've learned that they're nothing more than distractions. It's common for official job titles to have nothing to do with the actual job.

If the discrepancy is major, it's usually best to mention it and explain such reasons in an interview. Major discrepancies are things like outright different fields (resume says "Security consultant", paperwork "Arc welder"), doing management work with an engineer's job title (happens a lot), or anything substantially misleading.

If it's a minor discrepancy, e.g. "Developer" vs "Engineer", you can just mail an expanded resume for HR, after you've been accepted, that includes all your official titles, the full names of all workplaces and education institutions, and other minutiae. Most large companies have you fill in a separate document, "job application", for exactly that reason.

It's probably best to send such an expanded resume for the background check at this point, listing official job titles.

I actually had to quit to preserve my sanity. I have serious reasons to suspect that this employer talked badly about me to the company doing the background check.

This is unlikely to be a problem.

Background checks are done to verify that 1) you haven't lied in your resume, 2) you aren't a criminal, 3) there isn't any problem of a similar caliber that would make it illegal or impossible for you to do your job.

They are not, generally, about checking references and recommendations. That is done before setting your job start date. At this point, the employer is convinced that you're good, as long as you haven't lied.

If you were fired from that job, it could've been a deal-breaker to your new employer. Since you've quit, even if it was on bad terms, it's not likely that there will even be a talk.

The usual background check question goes like this: "Hello. I'm Jane from company X. Has Francesca Morati has worked at your company as a Junior Teapot Penetration Tester between June 2017 and August 2018?"

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  • well, he did lie on his resume... And yes, a background check will contact those companies to verify that the data provided on the resume is actually correct and quickly discover those lies. Not good at all for a first (or second, or third) impression.
    – jwenting
    Aug 15 '19 at 12:55
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    @jwenting In my experience, listing a different job title would not be a lie, if it's been explained and the duties performed match the title on the resume. It of course depends on what the discrepancy is. Resume="Software developer", paperwork="Engineer" is perfectly reasonable, while "Security consultant" vs "Arc welder" would call for some serious explanation.
    – ZOMVID-21
    Aug 15 '19 at 12:57
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    I didn't lie on my resume. Listing the job title as the one which is in my contract would have been a lie since I was actually doing something different. It's really hard for me to understand American mentality. If your contract says C Developer but you actually work as DevOps, why would listing the second one be a lie? Aug 15 '19 at 13:02
  • @FrancescaMorati I agree with you here - it's not a lie. It's still very preferable to send in an expanded resume after you've been accepted for the job, that is fully bureaucratically correct. Makes it easier for the HR to check everything that wasn't worth mentioning in the "advertisement" version that gets you the interviews. Most large companies have a separate document, "job application", for exactly that reason.
    – ZOMVID-21
    Aug 15 '19 at 13:06
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    @jwenting actually, I believe background checks are to see if you are attempting to defraud the employer or pose a risk of doing fraud in the future. Fraud is using deceit to obtain something of value. If you make a claim that does not increase the value of your position then you have not committed fraud or shown any indication of doing that in the future. So if you say you were a "Cook" when your actual title was "Chef" it's not a lie in this context. If you say you were the "Head Chef" it's fraudulent. In my industry there are like 10+ possible titles for every job.
    – HenryM
    Aug 15 '19 at 14:42
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... I have a wonderful job offer which I accepted but shortly after they told me that I have to do a background check.

You don't have to do anything. The company tendered an offer with no contingency for a background check, you accepted and they are now trying to change the terms after the fact. Had you not already started the background check process, you'd have been more than justified in declining to participate.

If you're still willing to go to work for them after that kind of a faux pas and they continue to insist on a background check, tell them to write you a new offer with the contingency and a token increase in salary. (The increase is because they've just asked for more from you without giving anything in return.) If they won't and you walk, they'll have to eat the costs they've incurred up to this point, including the background check. That may make them think twice about keeping it hidden when making offers in the future.

If you haven't contractually bound yourself to work for this company, I would continue pursuing your other opportunities. Companies insist that candidates bring their "A" game to the table and candidates should expect the same from companies. There are plenty of others who won't make the same mistake.

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    Asking for a salary increase seems asking for cancellation of the opportunity. It causes the hiring manager and HR a whole of hassle.
    – onnoweb
    Aug 15 '19 at 13:40
  • @onnoweb That's exactly the point. The company caused the candidate, who'd already accepted a written offer, the hassle of having to go through a background investigation that wasn't a contingency. The company loses the opportunity to have a good candidate as an employee. Leaving a contingency out of an offer is incompetent at best; I don't believe in encouraging that kind of behavior by rewarding it. OP has other opportunities, and if the company wants them that badly, they'll put forth the effort or drop the requirement. Candidates and employees don't exist to make HR's lives easier.
    – Blrfl
    Aug 15 '19 at 14:23
  • @Blrfl I also felt the same, that they should have disclosed this extra process earlier before I accepted the offer Aug 15 '19 at 16:23
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Depends on the type of background check. A security clearance is a deep check that can involve investigators talking to people in person. In many industries, people in management have connections to people at all of the other companies and can easily do their own check on you.

In my experience (non security clearance) the background checking company will ask for more specific details if they run into an issue and that's your opportunity to explain stuff.

Changing a job title is not a big deal if it is an industry standard title for what you actually did and it doesn't imply that you were at a more senior level than you were. Long ago I would explain everything in my resume with stuff like: "Job Title (Industry Standard Title)" but after your resume starts getting long you want to simplify/shorten things so I switched to standard titles. I passed background checks just fine.

I believe background checks are to see if you are attempting to defraud the employer or pose a risk of doing fraud in the future. Fraud is using deceit to obtain something of value. If you make a claim that does not increase the value of your position then you have not committed fraud or shown any indication of doing that in the future. So if you say you were a "Cook" when your actual title was "Chef" it's not a lie in this context. If you say you were the "Head Chef" it's fraudulent.

For dates, I once worked at a company twice for a total of maybe 18 months with a 2 year gap in the middle. I combined the two and wrote "(2 contracts, approx. dates)" and gave a start date like 2001-2003. I did this to simplify my resume (again). Plus I honestly couldn't remember the exact dates as it was more than 10 years ago. Did not have any issues with this on my background check. Of course they contacted the contracting agencies and maybe the client company too.

Anyhow, hiring managers are always rounding dates up. You write 1/2020-10/2022 months and they will see "around three years". Major job listing companies actually do this rounding for them in candidate reports. So obviously you don't actually have to be exact on dates if you can't really remember them. On the other hand, adding too much on is bad for sure. I guess it could be about percentages too. Being off by 4 months on a 3 year job isn't the same as being off by 4 months on a 5 month job.

Some former employers only report the dates you worked and your title. Some also give salary. It's going to be way more complicated to lie than not to as you'd have to keep all of the lies straight for decade(s) and hope nobody ever asks the right question to catch you which could happen any time.

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I think "listed as a general Computer Programmer, but worked as a more specialized type of computer programmer" is probably not even going to come up as an issue on the background check. I have had titles with various wording on my resume vs my 'official' title from time to time (because I have had the company word things slightly differently on the offer letter vs my other paperwork and caused confusion, because of a change in title wording that didn't actually change my job responsibilities, etc.).

In general a new employer will be able to figure out that "Software Test Engineer" and "Software Developer in Test", or whatever minor discrepancy it may be, is materially the same position. In my experience this won't even cause a blip on the radar, let alone cause you serious problems.

If there's a big difference in the title you listed and the work you were actually doing it may be a good idea to send an updated or more detailed resume that will clarify that, but just the fact that your former employee consolidated all the computer programmers of any kind into a single title and you gave a more specific descriptive title on your CV should not be a red flag.

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