Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human-resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest HR professional society.
The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
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Question: I’m retiring from the military after 24 years and very interested in working in human resources. Are bachelor’s degrees from regionally accredited for-profit universities viewed unfavorably by employers, and are online universities viewed differently than brick-and-mortar schools? Also, do certificate programs help in HR? – John
Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: I salute you for your service and congratulate you on your retirement from the military.
More than half of veterans say employment is a top challenge when transitioning from military service to civilian life. That’s partially because employers – and veterans themselves – may have difficulty translating military experience to the civilian workplace.
But it appears you are well on your way to meeting that challenge after identifying a civilian career path and educational opportunities.
Veterans are entrepreneurial and resilient and exhibit advanced team-building abilities – all of which are crucial to success in the workplace. Two-thirds of employers say veterans perform better than their civilian peers, and veterans also tend to stay in jobs longer.
These positive traits and skills transfer well to HR, so your interest in our profession is well-founded, and I think you’ll find yourself well-suited for the role.
Where you earn your degree is not the most important aspect of your qualifications. It’s just one dimension of you as a candidate – and experienced hiring managers understand that.
To illustrate this, many HR professionals say they view online degrees favorably, and most organizations hire candidates with these degrees.
Employers care more about what you studied and how your education and related experiences equip you for a position. You’ll want to work to distinguish yourself in your studies and supplement your education with related work experience and volunteer activities, as well as participate in HR professional organizations.
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Certification matters, too, because HR is more than the facts and figures you know. It’s also about translating those concepts into practical action. Being certified in HR shows employers that you can put your knowledge to use effectively in the workplace.
Keep in mind that certifications differ from certificates because they must be renewed and kept current. That’s what employers are looking for. Keeping your certification up-to-date shows employers you are continuing to gain new knowledge and competence. That’s particularly important because of the pace of change in HR’s work and role.
Whether you decide on certification or certificate, regionally accredited or nationally accredited, online or brick-and-mortar, those traits that made you successful in the military will serve you well as you prepare to enter the HR profession.
I look forward to welcoming you to HR.
Q: What information is included in a background check? – Aaron
Taylor: Most employers conduct background checks of some sort. Many of us have some familiarity with them because they are commonly used in hiring. But current employees can be subject to background checks, too.
A background check can screen for criminal history; verify identity, education and employment; and gather professional references.
It also can include credit history checks, scrutiny of motor-vehicle records and reviews of social media accounts.
The information collected during a background check varies from employer to employer and depends in part on the industry and geographic region. Jobs in government, transportation, medical, education and child care, for example, mandate extensive background checks. The finance industry frequently checks credit history, utility companies (gas and electric) commonly review driving records, and most real estate employers conduct criminal background checks.
As for what is covered, a criminal history – by far the most common type of check – can contain information on arrests and convictions as well as information on unpaid parking tickets and similar infractions. Employment history examines dates of employment, job titles, duties performed and circumstances surrounding the worker’s departure.
The period covered by a background check depends on an employer’s practices and state regulation.
Why are they done? Primarily to minimize risk and liability and to ensure the safety and security of the workplace. But they also can be mandated by law.
In hiring, background checks usually are conducted after a contingent job offer to independently confirm the information provided by a job applicant.
Rescreening of existing employees is less common and primarily a practice of employers in regulated or high-risk industries to ensure employees remain licensed and authorized to work and have not committed any crimes or been involved in driving accidents since they were hired.
What happens when concerning information surfaces? Employers generally review the overall results of a background check and weigh them against the impact on a person’s ability to perform the duties of a job.
Many employers agree with me that a criminal record should never be viewed as an automatic disqualification for employment. When a criminal check comes back positive, more than half of employers allow the job candidate to explain the results before they make a hiring decision.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Does it matter if a degree is from online or brick-and-mortar schools? Ask HR