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Don't Let a Background Check Knock Out Your Candidacy

Don't Let a Background Check Knock Out Your Candidacy

Forget about Big Brother. Your next prospective employer is likely to take an uncomfortably close-up look at you.

In this post-9/11 and corporate-scandal age, 'employers want to know exactly who's working for them,' says Mark Esposito, a managing partner in the financial-services practice at executive-recruiting firm Christian & Timbers. So companies are checking more often and digging deeper into the professional and personal lives of potential employees.

Last year, 80% of employers did criminal-background checks on potential hires, up from 51% in 1996, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, and 35% did credit checks, up from 19% in 1996. In addition, 79% checked previous work history. For top-level positions, employers asked for as many as 10 references, not the four or six they might have wanted before Sept. 11, 2001, says Mr. Esposito.

There are abundant anecdotes and statistics illustrating why companies are being so careful. There were more than 18,500 arrests for embezzlement in the U.S. in 2002, the most recent numbers available from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Meanwhile, Christian & Timbers looked at 7,000 executive resumes that same year and found exaggerated or flat-out false information on 23% of them.

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