Workplace Wellness: Do a Background Check on Yourself

Conducting your own ‘background check’ can make you a better professional.

Workplace Wellness: Do a Background Check on Yourself (Getty Images)

Imagine that you are a background investigator. Your job is to comb through the backgrounds of several candidates in order to find ones that fit the needs of the organization you’re working for. 

Your research will include the verification of an applicant’s employment history and potentially phone calls with former employers. You might touch base with organizations that candidates have volunteered for or are affiliated with. You’ll examine their education journey, including their performance in high school, college or in any other institutional setting. Depending on the nature of the role you’re hiring for, you might look even deeper. You’ll run a candidate’s finger prints to see if they’ve ever been arrested or charged for a crime. You’ll interview friends, family members, neighbors, past girlfriends or boyfriends and several references provided to you by the candidate and uncovered during your inquiries. 

As a candidate inevitably subjected to this level of scrutiny, how does the background check process make you feel? Some might feel nervous, haunted by mistakes and strained relationships that they wanted to leave in the past. Others might feel concerned about their lack of experiences and how they can set themselves apart from other candidates considering their skimpy work history. No matter how you feel about the prospect of a background check, everyone has something that they can learn from going through the above exercise and figuring out ways to articulate what they bring to the table. 

Think about your past through the lens of a background investigator and how they might perceive it. It can be instructive on steering one’s career aspirations forward in the following ways. 

Be able to articulate your challenges and what you’ve learned 

Whether you’ve been fired, resigned from a position that didn’t fit you or have struggled to find a job, you need to understand how to talk about the challenges you’ve faced and lessons that you’ve taken from them. That ability shows potential employers that you’re a resilient and clear-thinking professional that can make smart decisions, own up to mistakes and appropriately rectify issues if needed. Being able to signal this to organizations you want to work for will place you at the top of the hiring list. 

Surround yourself with advocates 

The people you surround yourself with will have an immense impact on the job opportunities you obtain. Not only can they give insight into your work ethic but your character and traits that aren’t always reflected in a resume. Knowing that your relationships will be under the microscope during a background investigation, make sure that you form meaningful connections wherever you go. Treat everyone with respect and dignity. Always tell the truth and be honest. Own up to your mistakes and be open to feedback. The people who experience you will take notice and be happy to advocate for you when the time comes.  

Choose the right experiences

Your past isn’t always predictive of your future. You can still choose the kind of work and life experiences that can shape you into the person you want to be and the employee that organizations want to hire. If you haven’t been engaged in team meetings in the past, be intentional about starting now. Share an idea or ask a question. If you received a poor performance review at your last organization, do what you can do to prevent it from happening at your current one. Understand what the feedback was about, communicate consistently with your supervisors and create a plan for addressing areas of improvement. 

Noah Johnson is a Chicago-based journalist.

Edited by NaTyshca Pickett

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