Background Checks for Life Sciences Professionals: What to Expect

Background Check

Background checks, especially at the executive level, have become routine in the recruitment process.  What has led to the pervasive use of background checks? Resume and credential fraud. Various studies report discrepancy rates ranging from 20 to 56 percent between what candidates claim about their past employment and academic credentials compared to what background checks uncover.

Just 2% of life sciences employers in a 2018 survey by HireRight said they did not conduct background checks when hiring. In the life sciences field, particular employer concerns addressed by background checks include theft of intellectual property and the possibility of hiring an activist who might disrupt animal testing.  

An employer, or more likely, a third-party firm that specializes in background checks, may scrutinize a wide variety of elements in the background-checking process, including the following:

  • federal, state and local criminal proceedings and convictions
  • federal, state and local civil litigation
  • bankruptcy court records
  • magistrate’s court records
  • U.S. tax court records
  • federal and state tax liens and warrants
  • surrogate and probate court records
  • matrimonial and family court records
  • judgment indices
  • pending suits
  • UCC filings
  • mechanics’ liens
  • property records
  • educational verification
  • corporate/partnership filings and entity filings
  • fictitious business name indices
  • regulatory checks
  • arbitration records
  • Department of Motor Vehicles records
  • local, national, international Internet/social-media review
  • general-interest, trade, and limited-access publications
  • business databases, including general information, business relationships, and records of stock ownership
  • professional registration and licensing
  • prior employment
  • federal agencies, including, EPA, FTC, FCC, EEOC, Department of Energy, Federal Home Loan Bank Board, Federal Election Commission
  • state agencies, including secretary of state, attorney general, casino control, consumer affairs, environmental
  • local sources, including city agencies, Better Business Bureau, local law enforcement
  • reputation inquiries with former employees, associates, employers, and industry sources.

In this vetting process, the employer or investigator attempts to identify misrepresentations or omissions, unreported financial difficulties, illegal or unethical business practices, undisclosed legal proceedings, criminal or regulatory actions, sanctions, debarments or de-listings, and troubled transactional histories.

New twists in background checks include the use of artificial intelligence in the vetting process and “continuous background checks” (also known as “re-screens”) on employees that are already hired.

To prepare for and handle background checks, do the following:

Know the red flags in your own background. As you can see from the foregoing list of items checked in a background inquiry, virtually no stone is unturned in a background check, so you can assume nothing in your background is protected from discovery. Some background-check experts advise paying a service to conduct a background check on yourself before you begin interviewing so you know what an employer might find. You can then take preemptive action in some cases, such as when someone who shares your name has an unsavory background. You can at least let the hiring decisionmaker know that while a background check may reveal an issue, the person named is not actually you. 

Ordering a credit check on yourself can also warn you of any checkered financial history an employer might come across. Conducting a search for yourself on Google and social media sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram) is a must, as is removing any questionable content that you can control. Set up a Google e-mail alert for your name so you receive notification whenever you are mentioned online. 

Eliminate any issues you can. Eliminate any troublesome skeletons. A particular value in ordering your own background search is that you may uncover and correct information that is inaccurately reported. You can also delete any questionable posts from social media and change your settings so your posts are seen only by your friends.

Be scrupulously honest in any paperwork you submit during the interview process. Honesty is essential in applications or any other paperwork you are asked to submit as part of the hiring procedure.

Understand the value of preemptive disclosure. Early in the hiring process, strongly consider disclosing and contextualizing any problem aspects of your background. Perhaps mitigating factors, once explained, would lessen the impact of the information. The issue also may have minimal relevance to the job you would be doing; the hiring manager may appreciate your honesty and overlook the blot on your background. In a strong economy with a tight supply of potential hires, employers may be more lenient in areas such as substance abuse, blue-collar crimes, and motor vehicle violations, reports Kathryn Vasal on CNN Business. Being upfront can even differentiate you from other candidates.

Know your rights and protect your security. An employer must obtain your consent before performing a background check, as well as divulge what the background check consists of. Ask how your data will be protected as it is transmitted from the background check form to the employer. Be aware that in many states the prospective employer can request that you pay the costs for your background check.

Final thoughts: Remain calm and relaxed during the process. Accept that background checks are part of the hiring process and be proactive in ensuring your background looks as clean as possible. It’s always unnerving to feel you are under tight scrutiny, but if you prepare, sailing through a background check will become as routine as shaking hands at an interview.

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