A Complete Guide To Understanding Background Checks

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 23 November 2022 | Published 29 September 2021

Updated 23 November 2022

Published 29 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Almost every employer needs to complete a background check before hiring you. This type of screening may not pose a problem for most people, but it's important to know what to expect. You might need to submit personal information to your new or potential employer, so understanding the process matters. In this article, we guide you through the types of background checks and why they're important.

What are background checks?

Background checks are part of an employer's due diligence. Depending on the job, the kind of screening an employer carries out may vary. As part of the recruitment process, almost all employers need to carry out right-to-work checks and employment references checks, that is, contacting the past employers you provided when you applied for the role. If the role you're applying for is a senior leadership position or involves working with vulnerable groups, such as children, you might be subject to a more thorough background check for employment. Both public and private sector organisations carry out these screenings.

The purpose of these checks is to ensure you're fit to work for the organisation and don't pose a risk, so it's important to be truthful if you're asked to complete a pre-employment screening form. An employer might carry out a background check before you're formally offered the role. Sometimes it's the last stage of the onboarding process once you've joined the organisation.

Areas covered by background checks

Background screenings cover a number of different areas. The exact things that an employer looks at usually depend on the nature of the business and the role you've applied for. Areas that your background check may cover include:

  • employment history

  • education history

  • right to work

  • criminal record

  • social media usage

  • drug screenings

  • medical history

  • financial records

  • motor vehicle checks

Employment checks

When you've been offered employment, there are some background examinations that are almost always carried out. Checking that you have the right to work in the UK is essential for employers because the Home Office can fine them up to £20,000 for each illegally employed worker.

This type of background check for employment isn't always complicated. For British Citizens, it's usually as simple as checking your passport. If you aren't a British Citizen, your employer needs to confirm if you have a visa that lets you work in the UK or if you have a pre-settled or settled status as established by the EU settlement scheme.

References check

Another check that most employers carry out is contacting your references from past work or education. This helps employers to confirm that you're a reliable worker and that you're suitable for the role. Sometimes employers carry out more detailed checks of your employment history to confirm that you have the right experience and that the CV you applied for the role with is accurate.

Employers might also check your educational history to make sure you've been honest about your qualifications or exam results. In some instances, employers might check payroll data. Some candidates try to inflate previous salaries in an attempt to get a higher salary offer in a new role. Checking past payroll data gives them an accurate picture of your previous earnings, confirms that you're telling the truth on your CV, and makes sure that they pay you an appropriate wage for your experience and skills.

Related: 6 Universal Rules for Writing Your CV

Criminal record checks

Some roles also require you to undergo a criminal record or DBS check. Sometimes the employer asks you to arrange your DBS check yourself. You're likely to need a criminal background check if your job involves working with children or vulnerable people or working with sensitive information, for example, if the job is in local or central government.

Criminal record checks give employers more confidence when hiring you and also give assurance that you don't have convictions that make you unsuitable for the role and help safeguard children or vulnerable people. There are different types of DBS checks available. Your employer decides which is most appropriate for your circumstances. The Basic check includes spent convictions, whereas Standard and Enhanced DBS checks also cover any cautions, warnings, and reprimands.

Related: How Long Do DBS Checks Take?

Directorship suitability check

Additional checks beyond the standard employment checks are likely if you've applied for a director or senior leadership role. Company directors are often legally responsible for a business, so it's vital that employers choose the right candidate. A background check for directorships gives employers a better understanding of your history and uncovers potential risks or conflicts of interest.

One important check is confirming that the candidate has qualified to be a company director. Disqualification can happen for various reasons, such as past wrongful or fraudulent trading or unfit conduct. Checking your current and previous appointments as a director makes it clear that you're suitable. It also reveals other commitments or conflicts of interest that could cause a problem.

Related: 9 Essential Director Skills

Other checks that might be undertaken

Employers might carry out other types of screening depending on the nature of the work. For jobs that involve driving or operating heavy machinery, drug screenings may ensure that there aren't any safety risks posed by hiring you. Checking your medical history is another way of ensuring you're fit and healthy enough for the role. Here are some examples of other possible checks:

DVLA checks

For jobs that involve driving, employers are also likely to check your driving credentials with the DVLA. This includes checking that you have a valid driving licence and the categories of vehicles you're licensed to drive. It also lets the employer find out if you've got points on your licence. If you hold any Certificates of Professional Competence, the employer can request information about this too.

Social media

More and more employers are now analysing the social media accounts of potential employees. This helps to give them information about your character and attitude. Social media can also reveal your interests and how well you can fit into the company culture. Negative comments about past employers, jobs, or colleagues might indicate a cause for concern for an organisation that's considering hiring you.

What to do during job background screening

There's no need to worry during a background screening. An employer asking you to consent to a background check doesn't guarantee that you've got the job, but it's a good sign that they're considering you seriously. The information that comes up during a background check likely informs the recruiter's decision. Most people have nothing to worry about during background screening, but there are things you can do during the process to help it run smoothly and give you the best chance of success.

1. Be patient

Waiting for employers to complete a background check can be frustrating, but it's important to be patient. If they're carrying out checks manually, it can be time-consuming, but it's vital that employers can hire you with confidence. You can check with the organisation occasionally to find out how things are progressing, but it's important to give the employer a chance to complete all the checks they need. If a company is carrying out a detailed background screening, it gives you peace of mind that they're a responsible employer.

2. Audit your social media accounts

Since it's increasingly likely that a prospective employer may check your social media profiles, it makes sense to go through them yourself. Making your accounts private is the easiest way to prevent your social media activity from impacting your background check. However, if this isn't possible, it's sensible to remove negative posts or anything that might concern your employers, such as discussions about past jobs or colleagues.

3. Carry out your own research

Waiting for your background check to come through is a good opportunity to conduct your own research into the company. Looking at information like reviews from clients and past employees gives you some insight into the organisation. It also helps you to understand what working there is like day-to-day. This means you can be confident in your decision if you're offered the role.

4. Be proactive

Staying in contact with the recruiter while background screening is ongoing demonstrates that you're proactive. It also shows that you're enthusiastic about the role. You might be able to help the process along by making sure the company has the right contact details for your references or past employers. Proactively offering this information is another way to show your enthusiasm and commitment.


  • What Is the Vetting Process? Everything You Need To Know

  • How long do DBS checks take? (With types and stages)

  • The stages of the recruitment process and how to prepare for them

  • What is the recruitment screening process? And how to do it

  • What Is a Professional Background on a Job Application?

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