Employers are increasingly using background checks as part of their hiring process. Be proactive and monitor your online reputation, and you can significantly reduce the chance that a background check will turn up inaccurate or irrelevant information that could cost you your next job.

A background check includes information from your credit report and public records. Increasingly, it also includes personal information drawn from social media and other online sources, tying your background check to your online reputation.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which also governs the use of your credit report, regulates what employers can and can’t do with your background check. The FCRA doesn’t, however, prevent misleading or incorrect information from appearing in your background check.  You, though, can monitor your online reputation and make sure those innacuracies don't show up.

Why employers use background checks

Between 80 and 95 percent of employers screen potential employees. One reason is negligent hiring liability. More and more, courts are holding employers responsible if one of their employees hurts someone else while on the job. In addition, the number of positions that legally require background checks has continued to grow. If you work with children or in a sensitive position, your employer will probably be required to conduct a background check before hiring you.

The increased availability of background check services has increased their appeal as general-purpose screening tools. Employment background checks can be purchased from online information brokers relatively inexpensively.

How incorrect information can hurt you and why you should monitor your online reputation

Like credit reports, background checks might contain incorrect or misleading information. Some estimates suggest that as many as 79 percent of background reports have factual errors. In most cases, slight inaccuracies won’t matter. But there are three instances in which incorrect information could cost you a job:

  • Erroneous criminal charges.  Your employment background check might turn up information about an arrest made in error but fail to mention that the charge was dismissed.
  • Identity theft.  Someone might have stolen your identity and committed crimes that appear on your record. In some instances, wrongful criminal records have resulted in individuals spending years unsuccessfully looking for work, unaware that someone else’s crime was keeping them from being hired.
  • False associations.  Many background checks now come from online information brokers or people-finder databases. In addition to checking your public records and credit report, these companies create detailed profiles based on information scraped from the Internet. Because this data can’t be rigorously crosschecked, it frequently references other people with the same or similar name.

Protect yourself with online reputation management

Online reputation management helps you monitor and control the content of your background check. Follow these steps to get started:

  • Determine what information is in your background check.
  • Correct any erroneous, misleading or incomplete information.
  • Remove irrelevant personal data scraped from social media websites.

Begin by searching for yourself in US Search or Radaris, two of the major information brokers that provide background checks. Your search will turn up a preview of the information associated with your online reputation. If you find misleading or inaccurate information, take the following steps to monitor your online reputation and set your online reputation and background check straight:

  • For information that comes from a public record, such as your credit report or criminal record, contact the issuing authority. This article describes how to alter your public records.
  • For information scraped off the Internet, such as from blog posts or social media profiles, contact the information broker. This article tells you how to have information on people-finder services changed or removed.
  • Consider opting out from people-search databases altogether. This is the best way to prevent irrelevant information from appearing in your background check. The procedure varies for each of the approximately 200 information brokers on the Internet, but the above article explains how to remove yourself from some of the most common services.