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3 Things to Check Before You Start a Job Search

Robin Reshwan

According to LinkedIn, fall brings a flurry of job-seeking activity measured by profile enhancements, resume updates and increases in online applications. With many major cities at or near historically low levels of unemployment, job prospects have never been better for workers looking to make a career change. Before you start a job search, here are three less obvious things to verify first.

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Confirm that you have a clear background and credit check. As verbal references become more challenging to secure, many employers run background and credit checks as a final step of their hiring process. If you are new to work, have been in your current job for a while or if a background check wasn't part of your hiring process in the past, you need to verify that you do not have anything on your record that would be viewed as a red flag. For example, maybe you drank too much in college and were arrested for telling a police officer that you did not want to come down from the stage during a concert. Or, if you took a prolonged break from paying your bills while you traveled Europe and now have a lousy credit score.

Bad things happen to good people. The key here is staying in control. First, you must have knowledge of what a potential employer will see. Do not leave your results to chance. Second, determine if past issues rule you out of certain positions. You will do better if you focus your job-search efforts in the fields where your background will not be an issue. Third, if the background will not necessarily preclude you from being hired, plan on revealing it before a company initiates a costly background or credit check.

I have seen many qualified candidates lose out on an offer because they just assumed a check wouldn't actually be run or that something from the past may not show up. Lack of upfront disclosure, even about something small, can result in you being viewed as untrustworthy or as clueless. Either one is not a trait employers seek when hiring. Practice the least inflammatory way to reveal your past and be strategic about timing and to whom you share the information. Simple honesty at the time of the offer (but before the background check is initiated) is typically best.

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If you are lucky, maybe what shows in your background or credit check is either an error or has a statute of limitations for reporting, like a foreclosure or a bankruptcy. If so, by checking your record before you begin a job search, you have ample time to go through the process to have the record removed. If you cannot have the record removed, you can at least put together any additional supporting documentation that may help to explain what occurred or outline when it may come off of your record.

Know your dates of employment. Any company that requires you to submit a resume or an application may verify the dates of previous employment you submitted. Typically, when a company is verifying dates it is more for completing your record than for making an employment decision. One method of verification is to contact past employers to see if what you supplied matches company records. Another method is via a central "clearing house" that ties to dates of pay. It is worth your time to keep offer letters and any documentation of separation from each position so that you know your exact dates of employment. If you are unsure of dates, you can always contact your previous employer to confirm what information they have and will provide.

Track previous compensation. To reveal or not to reveal? That is often a topic of debate where some people will advise taking an "it's none of your business" approach when asked about what you have made in the past. I have recruited and hired 1,000s of professionals over the past 20 years and can tell you that honesty is the best policy regarding compensation. All previous payroll data can be verified -- so trying to inflate your compensation to get a better offer is usually a waste of time if you are dealing with a savvy hiring manager. Many employers will have you fill out an application in which you list your past jobs, dates of employment and compensation. If a company has asked you to sign the application, rest assured you have just given them permission to verify everything submitted.

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This means that you should keep records of your pay rate, salary, bonus, other compensation tools as well as what you recorded on your W2 each year in recent positions. Saying that your current role has a salary valued at $60,000 falls apart when your W2 showed you made $45,000 last year. The good news is that if you are currently employed and doing well, you can tell a prospective employer that you are not looking for a change unless the compensation is a certain amount (typically more than your current compensation). No one can force you to accept a job -- so if the pay doesn't work, don't take the role. Misrepresenting or just not knowing what you actually earned, however, puts you at risk for looking untrustworthy or clueless.

The devil is in the details. Employers want employees who are detail-oriented, self-aware and honest. You can cement this image when you know your professional (and sometimes personal) past and have an effective way to communicate any less-than-ideal aspects of your background. Verifying background and credit history, employment dates and compensation before you initiate a job search prepares you to do your best.

Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting and staffing firm that connects college students and business professionals with the organizations that hire them. She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. She is a Careers contributor for USNews.com and her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs, associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association.

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