Employment Verification and Reference Checks

What Employers Will Check, and How to Prepare for It

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One of the questions I get asked quite often is, “What type of information will employers ask when they verify my previous employment or check my references?”

People want to know if employers will check dates of employment, job titles, salary, and other information on their resumes.

It is important to know what employers will check, because it is a reminder to be honest on your resume. If you know what employers will check, you can learn how to address any issues like employment gaps, negative references, etc.

Read below for more details on what kind of information employers will check, and how to explain any employment gaps or other “red flags” an employer might find in your work history.

What Employers Check

The answer is that it depends. It depends on how much verification the employer does during the hiring process. Some employers will confirm, very thoroughly, every detail of your resume or application. They will not only confirm everything on your resume, but will also call all of your references. They might even ask your references for a summary of your character and/or work ethic.

Other employers may do a cursory check. They might simply check a few details on your resume, or only call one of your references. Some employers won’t check any of your information, and might not even call your references at all.

So, the problem with stretching the truth or embellishing your resume (other than that it's lying) is that there is a chance that you'll get caught, either now or at some point in the future.

If you do get caught, you won't get the job or, if you've already been hired, you might get fired.

It is a good idea to assume every employer will conduct a thorough background check into your work history. This will prevent you from getting into trouble later on.

How to Deal With “Red Flags”

So, what do you do if you have a “red flag” on your resume, such as a gap in employment, a not-so-great job history, or a negative reference?

Being flexible and creative instead of padding or fudging your resume is going to get you much further in the long run, and you won't have to lose sleep over whether someone is going to ask the wrong question and catch you!

Read below for tips on how to put a positive spin on these issues, rather than lying on your job application.

Dealing with an employment gap. When listing employment dates on your resume, you don't need to list the month and year if you were in a position for over a year. For example, you can say 2015-2017 instead of May 2015 - August 2017. By only including the year, you can cover some employment gaps that were only a couple months long.

You also don't need to list all of your positions on your resume. The rule of thumb is typically to limit your experience to 15 years for a managerial job, 10 years for a technical job, and 5 years for a high-tech job. You can leave your other experience off your resume or list it without dates in an "Other Experience" category.

Keep in mind, there are a lot of people who have been out of work for a long time. It's not going to be a big concern for most employers, because so many candidates are in the same situation.

Finally, if you're asked why you weren't working during an interview, tell the truth.

It's perfectly acceptable to say that you were home with your family, or laid off, or whatever else you might have been doing. Just focus on emphasizing your strong work ethic, before, during, and after your time off of working.

Dealing with a limited, or unrelated, work history. What if you have work experience, but you have only had entry-level or unrelated jobs? One solution is to be creative and write descriptions of your positions that put a positive slant on your responsibilities. For instance, "Extensive work with visual standards and merchandising high-ticket items" sounds much better than "Set up clothes racks."

Emphasize responsibilities that are related to the job you are applying for. For example, if you have only worked in restaurants, and are applying for a job in retail, highlight your customer service experience.

If most of your jobs were entry-level, and you are applying for a position with more responsibility, include any examples of experiences that involved you stepping up and taking on additional responsibilities. For example, perhaps you gave a presentation to your coworkers, or led a team project.

Remember, too, that any volunteering, freelance work, consulting or can be listed in the employment section of your resume. List it just as you would list your other jobs – with job title, company name, dates of employment, etc.

Finally, as mentioned above, you can simply leave certain jobs out of your resume. You do not need to include all of your experience. Therefore, you can leave out jobs in the past that are completely unrelated to the position you’re applying for.

Take a look at resume and cover letter samples to get some ideas on how to write a resume that will work for your situation.

Dealing with a negative reference. If a job application requires you to include the contact information of your last employer, but you know that person might give you a bad reference, there are things you can do to make yourself look better. First, include other references on your list who you know will give you glowing reviews. These can be other former employers, clients, vendors, or personal references.

Second, you might also be proactive and reach out to the person you are concerned about. Explain to the employer that, while you may not have parted on the best of terms, you are passionate about the job you are applying for, and would appreciate a positive reference. Many people are willing to let bygones be bygones, and you may be able to end up with reference that both you and the former employer feel comfortable with.

Employment Eligibility Verification

Finally, when hired for a new job, employees are required to prove that they are legally entitled to work in the United States. Employers are required to verify the identity and eligibility to work for all new employees. An Employment Eligibility Verification form (I-9) must be completed and kept on file by the employer.

Read More: Background Checks | Character and Personal References | Requesting References | Sample Letters of Reference | Will Employers Check Your References? | Writing Reference Letters