Who Knew A Background Check Would Be So Intense?

I’ve said many times before that I wound up with a boatload of debt thanks to the many years of University I did in my late 20s and early 30s. I’ve got a couple of degrees under my belt, but I still love my retail job and the people I work with. Unfortunately, when you spend that much on schooling, you’re kind of expected to make more than retail wages in order to pay back all those student loans you had to take out to afford it. So, even though I’ve love to just work where I am for many years to come, I’ve been looking at other jobs for years now.

Now, I’m not talking about getting a second retail job or anything like that. I’m looking at government positions, jobs in certain sectors I’m trained in, and careers that my degrees would be useful in. I mean, I out a lot of time, energy, and money into those degrees. I sure as hell want to put them to good use! Applying and interviewing for these jobs is a lot more intense than I had anticipated, though.

Case in point, the process to get a very important “administrative pool” position for a law enforcement agency. I was applying and interviewing to be a roving secretary, filling in when other people were sick or had too much of a workload at the moment. I’d be answering phones, typing up reports, doing a bit of data entry, and working the front desk. It’s not like I was applying for a law enforcement job, so I didn’t expect it to be this intense.

First, there was the testing. A group of us were tested in spelling and grammar, basic math skills, typing speed, and a short essay. Those of us who passed that went on to the next round of testing in Microsoft Office programs, mainly Word and Excel. Now, this wasn’t too bad. I’ve had a tonne of places I’ve interviewed at have done at least this much testing before the actual interviews. In this day and age, computers are an important part of the workplace. When you have 500 people applying for one position, you want to figure out who is actually proficient in Word and Excel, and who just knows how to spell “proficient” on a resume.

From there, things got intense. I had a group interview. Then an individual interview with a panel of people asking me questions. I had to come back for more testing in dispatch software. Then there were the psych tests. First I came and filled out a few really long psych questionnaires on their computers. From there, I was sent to a city two hours away to see a psychologist and his assistant for a one-hour psychological evaluation.  He picked apart every question I was asked on those questionnaires, asking me stuff about my relationship with my parents and my experience in high school. It was probably the roughest part of the interview at that point.

The most time-consuming part, though, was the background check. They ran a full, in-depth background check on me, which really taught me a few things about stuff you should be keeping a record of just in case you ever need it.

1. Different Types of References

I know that you know that you need to have references ready in case you’re ever asked for one when applying for a job. I needed two different types of references and had to rush to find replacement references in the middle of the background check.

First, I needed professional references. Not just any professional references, either. I had to have someone from my current position, someone from my most recent past position, and someone who could attest to the fact that I can handle deadlines and a high-pressure environment.  Finding someone from my current job was the easy part. We’re all very close and have openly offered to each other to be references if any of us ever need them for something. It was the other two that were a problem. My position before this was a temp position filling in on a sick leave, and the manager there has moved to a new department. And my reference for the third option is a position I haven’t worked in more than 4 years now!

The more difficult part was the personal references. I needed three people that could attest to my character, who had known me at least 5 years, and who knew me well. I chose a close friend of mine who still does a lot of charity work for his fraternity to this day, and who I volunteered with and worked with on a variety of things. We’ve also been friends since just before I went back to university full-time.  My second reference was my mother’s best friend, who I’ve known since I was born. I babysat her oldest daughter. We’ve all hung out together at my parents’ place watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding and drinking wine together.  She knows me almost as well as my own mother knows me.

My third reference originally was a good friend of my dad’s. I’ve known the man somewhat since I was a little kid. I see him at my parents’ New Years party every year, and he stops my parents’ place on weekends sometimes. My dad pressured me into using this man as a reference solely based on the fact that I have known him a long time. He knows nothing about me though. He didn’t know anything about the jobs I’ve worked in, my schooling, hell he didn’t even know that I lived across town from my parents! In the end, the private investigator had to ask for a new third reference, because this man wasn’t able to answer a single question they asked him about me. In a panic, I had to ask another good friend from the fraternity to step in and be that reference.

When you’re being asked for references, I learned, it’s really important to choose people who not only can answer whatever questions the interviewer may have, but they have to make you look good. They have to make you look damn good. They have to make that interviewer think, “Damn! I NEED this applicant to work for me! I can’t live without this applicant working for me!”.

2. A Record of Past Jobs, Managers, Pay Rates, Raises, Promotions, Lateral Moves…….

Ok, you probably have a list of your past jobs somewhere, with dates of when you started and left those jobs. That’s a good start. I needed so much more than that. I needed a list of every job I’ve had in the last 15 years. I needed managers’ names, supervisors’ names, department heads’ names, and the main bosses’ names. I needed to list the physical address and phone number of every place I’ve worked at in the last 15 years, even if those places didn’t exist anymore.

I also needed to throw in an extremely detailed history of the work I did. A job like “barista” was easy because I was a barista the entire time. I just had to list my start date, my end date, my basic duties, why I left employment there, my hourly wage, how many hours a week I usually worked, and all of the above information. Yes, that was the “easy” job!  But my first office job was…….. intense to record. I started there as a telemarketer, filled in for a few different positions when needed, was transferred around the office a few times, and ended my stay there as a service dispatcher. I was supposed to list each and every position I had there, when it started when it ended, my rate of pay, who my immediate supervisor was, and a brief explanation of the position and why I was in it.

What made things even more difficult was that for every single job I’ve ever had, either my manager has moved to another company, or the company I worked for no longer exists. The only jobs I’ve had where my old manager is still there are my Teaching Assistant job in University (since it was the advisor for the course who I answered to), and my very first job at a well-known sandwich shop that was managed by its owners. I had to call places and try to figure out not who is in a manager position now, but who was in it in October of 2007. It was hell, I tell you!

This would’ve been so much easier if I had just kept a list somewhere. I do it now, adding on to the documents I had to create for this background check. I keep track of all my managers at my current job (I’ve had 4 now) and assistant managers (3 of them), and where they all are now. You want to know who I worked for as a seasonal worker? Who hired me as a part-time worker? Who I did the 6am Christmas shift for a certain holiday season? I can get you that info super easy now.

3. Every Single Place I’ve Lived in the Last 15 Years.

For some people, this would be pretty damn easy. Some people spend their entire lives in one house. I am not one of those people.

In my University years alone, I lived in 6 different homes. I left my parents’ place, moved in with some friends, left there to live with different friends, left that house when it was sold and got an apartment, left there for a basement bedroom near a beer store, and then moved into my current home. Even just living with my parents, we had 4 different homes growing up.

An ex-boyfriend and current friend of mine had to make a similar list for a security clearance once. He grew up as a military brat and lived all over America, Canada, and parts of Europe. While he had stayed in each place for multiple years (as opposed to the few months I had at some places), his list was still ridiculously hard to work on.

Even just for sentimental purposes, keep a list of all of your past residences somewhere. I mean full-ass mailing address and everything. The worst part for me was tracking down the postal codes once I figured out some of the physical addresses.

4. An Online Background Check

I don’t use my real name anywhere but LinkedIn and my Gmail account. If you do a Google search of my name, you’ll find mentions of me in newsletters and school papers from University, and my LinkedIn. I have it that way on purpose, so that if any prospective employer does a search, they’ll find nothing incriminating.

For this, though, I had to list every single social media account I have, full web address and everything, even if it couldn’t be directly linked to me at first glance. That meant blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr….. everything. I learned a few things from that.

First, the private investigator didn’t actually read any of my blog posts. He just used the search function to look for keywords, and read anything that came up from that. He was basically making sure I wasn’t committing any crimes online, wasn’t bragging about committing any crimes, wasn’t spreading stuff like Nazi propaganda, and wasn’t stalking anyone. I think in all he read two posts, both because the word Nazi popped up. They were both about anti-Nazi protests in my area, and nothing to be alarmed about, he said.

The other thing I learned is that I was totally judged by the online company I keep. I had a friend from University who got himself into a bit of trouble with the law. We were friends on Facebook, and I’d see him at the odd charity event. It’s not like we were super best friends who did everything together. We just ran into each other from time to time, and we had a bunch of friends in common. Apparently, my association with him came up as a huge red flag, though. Even just having certain people on Facebook when applying for a job like that can hurt your chances, even if you’re not good friends with them. This goes for family members too. I know, it sucks when you have to unfriend a family member and then Aunt Janice gets on your ass at Thanksgiving dinner about how you unfriending cousin Jimmy is tearing this family apart. But if cousin Jimmy did time for grand theft auto and runs a meth lab in his shed, just having him as an online friend could mean the difference between a job anywhere near law enforcement, and saying “would you like fries with that” over and over and over.

5. Total, Utter Transparency

I worked a janitorial job for an entire 4 shifts, plus a one-hour training shift on the riding floor mop. Four whole shifts. I was already a seasonal worker at my current job that summer and told the janitorial job that my current job came first when it came to scheduling. I was supposed to be picking up shifts for the first few months, and then the end of the summer I would be added to the full rotation.  Instead, beginning of July, a janitorial coworker came into my other job and asked me if I was excited to be getting so many shifts now. I hadn’t had a shift in about a week, and that was the one-hour shift I did. Even then, I checked the schedule to see if I had been added early and left when I saw that I wasn’t.  Calls to my manager went straight to voicemail, since he was on vacation.

Came to find out that the day before the manager left on vacation, he put up an ‘adjusted’ schedule with me on it. He didn’t call me to tell me that, and he knew that I had just checked the schedule the day before and wouldn’t be back for another week to check it again unless I was called in by him for a shift. I had given him my schedule for my other job, and he somehow managed to schedule me shifts that conflicted with every shift I was already scheduled for. He had me starting an 8pm midnight shift on nights I was closing the store at 9pm. He had me working a 9-5 dayshift when my retail shift started at 12:45.

I managed to get a hold of a secretary who would only text with me and tried to explain the situation. I told her that every single shift he had scheduled me for didn’t work, and I wanted to switch my shifts around. She said she would talk to some people and get back to me. I never heard from her or anyone else there again. About 6 months later, I got a letter in the mail saying that my services there were no longer needed and that I had been terminated from the position on my very first day there, even though I worked more shifts after that.

I don’t put this job on my resume.

When you have someone doing an intense background check like this, though, they will find that job. They will come back to question you about that job. They will ask to see the letter you received about that job. And they will talk to your former manager and HR about why you were fired from that job. In the end, we both wound up finding it funny. The paperwork managers had filled out on me had dates that didn’t make sense, and they listed “communication issues” as my reason for termination. He said it isn’t something that should keep me up at night worrying about, and that in the end, it shouldn’t have too much of an effect on my job search. But, when having such an intense background check done, it’s something I need to list as previous employment.


I wish I could say everything turned out great after that interview, Sunshine. In a way it did. I mean, I’m still working my retail job with awesome people and amazing friends there. I did not get the job I was going through that entire process for. In the end, it came down to test scores. There were three of us they were trying to choose between, and one of them out-scored us both on some aspect of the physical testing. I don’t mind, though. I like where I’m at now, even if I’m broke and have to live with strange random roommates.