Surprise! Your behavior is on record
Every classroom contains a few kids who are bored and like to cause trouble. When I was in school, our teachers would threaten them by saying, "This will go on your permanent record!"
The threat was effective: none of us wanted to be prevented from going to college or from getting a job. It was also credible: we had no doubt that the school kept a file on each of us which included comments on our deportment — as our report cards did.
How pleasant it was to find out, as adults, that this information was not shared outside the school. There is no permanent record.
Everyone is a detective
There wasn't until a few years ago, that is. The adult equivalent — your credit history and your criminal record — were available only to the bank and the police, in theory. In practice, they were also available to private detectives posing as representatives of offices that had a legitimate right to know. And of course American citizens have a right to know what information is being kept on them.
With this information now available on the internet, more and more U.S. employers are using it to screen job applicants. According to the Society for Human-Resource Management (SHRM), 93 percent of U.S. employers do criminal background checks on some or all candidates and 87 percent check their credit background for evidence of fraud. Also, 79 percent do drug tests on candidates.
Employers are desperate to avoid the cost of hiring a person who makes bad decisions or is willing to do anything illegal — as well as the cost of having to look for a replacement. "You want to have a safe work environment. ... You're trying to make sure you're not bringing someone into the worksite [who] has a propensity for violence, or [a] past history [of violence]," Michael Aitken, spokesman for the SHRM, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Job applicants must give their permission for all this, but if they don't, they won't be considered for the job.
More and more people are lying
The increase in background checks began after 9/11, say employment experts. The recent economic crisis has led to even more scrutiny, as more and more desperate job-seekers stretch the truth on their applications.
"In better economic times, we see about a 20-22 percent inaccuracy rate in the information provided on applications," says Adrienne T. Taucher, vice-president of Corporate Investigations, Inc. "However, in these difficult economic times, we have seen up to a 30 percent inaccuracy rate, as increased volumes of applicants are vying for fewer jobs. This situation requires employers to be on the watch for fraudulent credentials, such as inflated or fictional employment or education history."
It isn't even necessary to lie on your résumé. David Rea of Catalyst Connection, a business consultancy in Pittsburgh, says: "One of the biggest challenges employers will tell you is that they are having a hard time finding people who show up for work and have a clean record."
So if you're responsible and are willing to play by society's rules, you're already halfway there. To go the rest of the way, you'll need to send in a good job application. The cover story in September's Spotlight magazine — penned by yours truly — offers you 50 tips for writing the perfect CV.
Be sure to get your copy today!