• By THERESE M. BOLDT
FOX 2 Career Coach
If you are truly doing a good job of finding a job, you will find yourself (and your career) placed under a huge microscope. Active participants in the job seeking game put themselves under the microscope to assess their current reality (where they are), and their vision (where they want to be). They identify their strengths and their weaknesses so they not only know what they are most suited to do in a new job, but how to communicate their value to potential employers. In essence, informed job seekers know themselves and how to communicate that effectively to the people who are apt to hire them.
But after the interview — after you have filled out an application — and before the offer, what can these hiring authorities really learn about you? Besides the presentation of the strengths and weaknesses that you formally present to an employer, what will they find out when they look deeper into your background?
When you are searching for a job, make sure that the picture you paint for a potential employer matches the picture they will see when they look behind the scenes.
Consider the following methods many employers use to find out about the REAL you:
Reference Checks: What Will Your References Say About You?
Many more sophisticated employers do not divulge much information about a former employee other than their dates of employment, title, salary and their eligibility for rehire. Because of the threat of lawsuit, employers over the years have become very tightlipped about the information they will share about former employees. Still, there are people who, despite their company’s policy on reference checks, will share information about you that could potentially hurt your chances of landing a job. And believe me, people like to talk, and these same people LOVE to be asked for their opinions! So when an employer asks for references, think about a few things:
Who Should You Use as a Reference?
The easy answer is to use only people that you have worked closely with; a direct boss, a peer, a customer or vendor. Ask people who have seen your behavior within the context of work. But, talk to these people BEFORE you give out their names. I am amazed at the number of people I have talked with about candidates who were surprised by my call. Call your references. Ask them what they feel are your greatest strengths. Ask them what they feel are your weaknesses. Let them know about the jobs you are going after. Give them the heads up that they will likely be called to comment on your behalf. If, when you talk with your references, you find that they are less than enthusiastic about providing this information or if their presentation of your skills or talents is weak, DON’T USE THEM! Remember, their comments could be interpreted as Law by your potential new employer.
Background Checks: What’s Your Record Say about You?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act states that before an employer can get a consumer report for employment purposes (which a background check is), they must get your written authorization. Once you have given your permission to an employer to check into your history, they are free to at a minimum, verify your social security number and at most, look into your work history, the people you know, your credit history including your credit payment records, driving records or criminal history. (Michigan law allows employers to ask if you have ever been convicted of a crime or if there are felony charges pending against you.)
Of course, all employers’ inquiries should be related to the job, but to be on the safe side, know what’s in your history before you give carte blanche to an employer to investigate you. The best way to prepare for a background check is to be aware of the information that an employer might find about you. Check your motor vehicle record by requesting a copy of your record from the Secretary of State (driving records are not confidential and can be released without your consent), get copies of your personnel records from your former employer, and make sure that the application you completed truthfully states the facts about your departure from an organization.
What Can’t an Employer Check?
School records are confidential and cannot be released without your consent. And, legally, although you can’t be discriminated against because you have filed for bankruptcy, because bankruptcies are a matter of public record, it’s easy for employers to obtain the information and potentially make a judgment. Employers also can’t request your medical records and they cannot make hiring decisions based on an applicant’s disability. (They can only inquire about your ability to perform a particular job.)
Credit Checks: What Does Your Credit Report Say about You?
Some jobs (especially in industries like finance, banking, etc.) are more likely to require that an applicant’s credit history checks out. So get a copy of your credit report. If there is information on the report that you disagree with, dispute it with the creditor before a potential employer uses it to rule you out from a job.
Internet Checks: What Is Your Online Image?
The world wide web has opened up a big can of worms when it comes to availability of information about you. If you are looking for a job, you need to be aware that anything you put on the web can… no, WILL… be used to form an opinion about you. And that opinion could mean the difference between you getting an offer and remaining unemployed.
What Does Your Facebook Page Look Like?
Are there pictures of you there that promote other than a professional or appropriate image of you? What does your MySpace page look like? If an employer “googles” you, (and I have one client who does this before making any offer of employment) what comes up? What comments have you been posting on other people’s blogs and web pages? And what are the blogs that you have been posting to? These are all questions that you need to ask yourself when you are determining how appropriate your internet image is. What kind of message is this information sending out about you? If you were hiring you, would your internet image raise any red flags?
Again, as you search for a job, especially in an economy like ours, your image is one thing that can make or break your chances of landing an offer. Be sure that it checks out with the people who check you out.