If a job offer is made contingent on the outcome of a background or reference check, it’s always possible that a skeleton in the closet (which the job seeker was hoping nobody would find) could be unearthed and the job offer will have to be withdrawn.
On the other hand, it’s also possible that a credit bureau, or other data collecting agency, has mistaken the job seeker for someone else. For instance, there are many John and Jane Smiths out there; credit bureaus sometimes report back on the wrong person.
Another common mistake is to confuse a father and son who have the same names. Spelling errors can also cause identification errors.
Occasionally, credit information isn’t up-to-date, and a problem that existed two year ago has been satisfactorily resolved. Many things could have happened that may produce a questionable credit report. That’s why the Fair Credit Reporting Act gives a job seeker the right to be told that a background check is going to be done and requires that a job seeker be allowed to see the results and be given the chance to prove that he/she is not the person cited in the report.
There is another issue regarding contingent offers of employment based on reference checking: If the job seeker is the one providing the references to the prospective employer, which is normally the case, he ought to have a pretty good idea of what those references are likely to say. If he doesn’t know what his references are going to say, then he hasn’t done a very good job of selecting references. That’s not to suggest, however, that totally positive comments by references will guarantee a job offer, either. If the job offer really is contingent on what references say and the candidate doesn’t get the job, it doesn’t always mean the reference necessarily sabotaged the candidate’s job prospects. It could mean that the job seeker just isn’t the right person for the job. Suppose, for instance, that the prospective employer is looking for a real hands-on manager, and the job seeker’s references all say he’s much better at delegating responsibilities to others. All that really means is that the job seeker isn’t right for the job and a probable mismatch has been avoided.
The ultimate bottom line, however, is that it’s far better to do all the preliminary background and reference checking before a job offer is made because, if something does come up, it’s much easier to move on to the next candidate than it is to be put in the awkward position of having to withdraw a job offer that’s already been made.