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Should I Let An Employer Do A Background Check Before An Interview?

Is it a red flag when an employer asks permission to run a credit and criminal background check before the interview, and can you say no?

Should I Let An Employer Do A Background Check Before An Interview?
[Photo: Harry Huber via Shutterstock]

Background checks are common during the employment process. But what if a potential employer wants an extensive check before you’ve even interviewed? Are you allowed to say no?

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Career expert Alison Green (aka Ask A Manager) helps this reader figure out the proper response to avoid being nixed from the hiring process before its even begun.

I recently was invited for an in-person office manager interview with a large company. I was genuinely interested in the company, but I was surprised when I arrived for the interview and was asked to fill out an application that requested my social security number and date of birth. I left the field blank but then turned the page to find several authorizations to perform a credit check, criminal background, motor vehicle, and reference checks.

I had not yet met the hiring manager, nor was I clear on the job description. When I met the hiring manager, she immediately asked me to consent to the screening. I mentioned I was not comfortable proceeding with the extensive screening process until I understood the position and company better. The manager generally answered a couple of my questions about the company, but she did not ask me any interview questions and indicated that a formal “interview” would not occur without my consent to the screening. I was caught off-guard and did my best (which, admittedly, was not great) to explain to her that I was uncomfortable disclosing the information at the time, and she politely ushered me out the door.

My understanding is that, while California is not a “ban the box” state, and the city where the company is located is not either, best practices are to present an offer, or, at a minimum, seriously consider a candidate prior to conducting background screenings. Aside from possibly jeopardizing my current position by checking references prior to an interview, I have some concerns about giving my credit report to an employer I am still evaluating. This raised some red flags with me since it seemed they were not interested in me as a candidate until they obtained sensitive, and possibly non-job related, information about me.

Was I right to be concerned about this company’s hiring process? Am I correct that it would not be advisable to give my personal information to a potential employer prior to an interview?


Ugh. Your concerns are totally reasonable.

Unfortunately, though, it’s become increasingly common for employers to ask for all this information upfront. It’s not because they’re going to use it upfront (generally); it would a be a waste of time and money for them to do background checks on all candidates at this stage. They ask for it early because it streamlines their process later; once you’re a finalist and they want to move forward with a background check, it’s easier for them if they already have the information on hand and don’t have to ask you for it. It’s similar to companies that ask for references upfront; it’s rare that they’ll use them until much later in the process, but they ask for them early so that they have them on-hand when they’re ready for them. Both things understandably make candidates uncomfortable.

Some employers will be fine with you saying something like: “I’d be glad to fill out this form after we have an initial conversation and determine that there’s mutual interest in moving forward, but I’d prefer to do that before authorizing the release of so much personal information.”

Others, like the one you talked with, won’t–although that interviewer sounds particularly rigid.

Ultimately, though, you may just need to decide whether you’re willing to subject yourself to overly invasive demands in order to be considered for the job. Which sucks, but is also very much the reality of job-hunting these days.

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This article originally appeared on Ask A Manager and is reprinted with permission.

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