Posted: 10/02/12

Can an employer see all of my previous jobs in a background check?

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Recently a customer called with the following concern:

I’m filling out a job application for a position in banking.  I was told by the HR person that I was to make sure my employment history was accurate, and to list every job that I have ever had.  Not only is this time consuming, I just don’t want to put down a few of the jobs that I have had as it may raise eyebrows (I didn’t stay long at one job, another I was fired from).  If I don’t put those jobs in the history will they be able to find them?

This is a common question, and subject to a lot of misinformation on the web.

First of all, it’s always best to tell the truth.  In my experience I have seen more people get fired for not telling the truth about their past than people not getting hired because of an issue with their background.  Plus, if you do get the job, you will sleep a lot better if you tell the truth, never worrying about an HR person figuring something out or some strange twist of fate like a previous supervisor showing up.

How do employers verify work history
There is a common misconception that there is some kind of public database that shows your entire work history and that employers can look it up.  This is not the case – for the most part, when employers verify your work history, they verify that the information you told them about your work history is accurate.  Employers usually have no way of finding out where you worked if you don’t tell them.  When employers verify employment, the only thing they verify are the dates, names, and positions of employers that you have told them about – and all they do is simply call up the employer with the phone numbers you gave them!

If you want to verify your own employment (like an employer would), or maybe do a reference check on your own references (like an employer would) you can do so by buying a self background check for $19.95, and then adding in employment verification or reference check on the additional options page.

Employers can’t see your Past Employment
Part of the confusion may come from the fact that when you apply for a job, you give them your social security number, and most employers run what they call “social security trace” to see where you have lived in the past (and then, they search the county records of those places).  This social security trace is not coming from the Social Security Administration or the IRS (your information there is private), it is likely coming from your credit history (anytime you’ve had a credit card, or ordered cable tv or a phone they have recorded the address that you reported and reported it to the credit reporting agencies).  There is no database of your past earnings, or positions, at least today.

While there is no central database of your positions, salary and duration, consider the employers may find out about your past jobs from your own Facebook account, Twitter, or Linkedin.  There also are hundreds of different places that have contact information and title information that are collected from things like conferences, magazine subscriptions and other sources – all of which may be used by a clever employer (for most positions this isn’t much of a concern).

Again, it is probably best to tell the truth when possible, because lying just leaves you exposed, and most companies will definitely fire someone who lies on their application.  For good measure you can and should verify that the dates you report on your resume are what your employer will say.  At TransparentMe you can run a self background check and you have the option of having your employment dates verified by our screeners who will call up your previous employer and verify your dates of employment (see our article how to do a background check on myself for more details.  It can be good to ensure there is nothing that will trip up your application and ensure that you get the offer.

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