Background check for multiple jobholders

How Does Background Check Work For Multiple Employment

While multiple employment is legal, many are worried it could lead to “failed” background checks at a later date. Is this a valid concern? Our short answer is no, but we’re in uncharted waters. Here’s the reality on background checks: 1) employers must get written permission from you before having their employment screening company run a background check; 2) employers and employment screening companies are limited by law to employment history, education, public and financial records, and 3) they MUST ask you the same questions as every applicant, regardless of race, national origin, color, sex, religion, disability, medical history, or age. Sound all too familiar? Read and understand your rights.

This article will walk through what is a background check, what information is collected, and how HR and hiring managers use background checks for hiring. We’ll close by assessing if there is any real impact on employability as a result of multiple employment.

What are background checks, really

Generally speaking, background checks fall under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rules regarding consumer reports much like credit checks. Rules are enforced by FTC and overseen by EOCC. However, if employers really want to find out about your past employment, they can do a credit check and cross-reference with background checks from ADP and TWN (The Work Number). The truth is though, who has got time for that? What employers, HR, and hiring managers really want is a fast and reliable way to hire good employees. They’re not out on a crusade to hunt down the multi-employed, at least not yet. For all they know, you could have gotten the permission to work both jobs simultaneously (uncommon, but it has happened).

Therefore, background checks are not a simple pass/fail. Rather, they’re jigsaw puzzles collected and verified by employment screening companies from the information you provided, e.g. job application and resume. This dossier will contain explainable discrepancies, such as when you got laid off but were left on the payroll, or why you left a part-time job off your resume. This is all very common. An employment screening company is responsible for verifying the information you provided and identifying any discrepancies. They then provide the dossier to HR and hiring managers to review and make a final hiring decision.

Why companies do background checks

As employers, companies assume a lot of legal risks and liabilities, including the actions of their employees. Consequently, it’s prudent for companies to vet hires for potential criminals and insider threats. Most companies delegate this not-so-glamorous task to their HR function who then contract with an outside employment screen vendor to handle the background checks. Below is the CFPB’s description of what employment screening companies do:

Employment screening companies provide verification information such as credit history, employment, salary, and education and professional license verification to employers and others. They may also provide residential address history and Social Security Number verification; criminal arrest and conviction information, as well as fingerprint information from state and federal criminal record databases; motor vehicle and driver’s record information; drug and alcohol testing and health screening information; and non-profit and volunteer activity verification. Many employment screening companies won’t have information on you unless you authorized an employer or other end-user to obtain a report. If possible, when you give your authorization, ask for the name(s) of the employment screening company being used. Contact those reporting companies to fact-check your reports. If the employer is checking your credit history in separate reports, from one or all three of the nationwide providers of consumer reports [Experian, Transunion, and Equifax], request and review those reports too.

Different types of background checks for different industries and jobs sensitivity

As suggested above, there are different levels of background checks. Each check, e.g. fingerprinting, criminal check, or employment verification, builds on top of one another. It all depends on what level of background check the employers have requested. Moreover, it’s a balancing act between thoroughness (e.g. intrusiveness) versus speed. As you can imagine, as intrusiveness or speed goes up, so do the costs of running a “top secret” background check. What companies try to do is strike a balance between thoroughness, speed, frequency, and costs. 

Now, some industries, job types, or seniority could attract more scrutiny (and quite rightly so). For example, an SVP of Finance for a mid-size financial service company will need to go through a financial regulatory check and a credit history check at a minimum. Some might even go as far as requesting character references (e.g. interview their neighbors). In another example, a remote customer service representative will likely only require a criminal background check and a drug screening. Background checks are all about minimizing potential liabilities for employers.

Example solutions provided by an employment screening company

  • Criminal background
  • Employment and education
  • Credit history
  • Address verification
  • Social security number
  • Drug screening 
  • Global screen (across 196 countries)
  • Fingerprinting 
  • Media/social media
  • Motor vehicle records
  • International sanction and fraud check
  • Financial regulatory check
  • Government ID check

What information is collected in background checks

Are you curious about your background check? Find out for yourself. No seriously, you can request a free background check report on yourself, much like a credit history report. 

Start with The Work Number, a comprehensive database utilizing pay data provided by employers. Warning: this might freak you out, but rest assured you’ll be ok because you can request a data freeze here. Other vendors will require you to have gone through a background check with them in the past two years to retrieve your old report.

Major employment screening companies you might run into

For a semi-exhaustive list of employment screening companies, visit CFPB and download their report. Go to page 10 in the PDF. Below are the big hitters (applicable for US-only), some are not included in the CFPB list. Note: some states like California have more stringent consumer protection laws than the FCRA. Always know your rights and mention them when requesting to review and freeze your data.

The Work Number 

Provides employment and income information. It includes data collected from employers and large private sector payroll processors. The Work Number provides this information to employers. It also provides this information to government agency clients to determine, for example, an applicant’s social service eligibility, or, say, to inform child support collections and enforcement. Equifax Workforce Solutions, also known as TALX Corporation, operates The Work Number. TALX is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Equifax. 

  • Free report: The company will provide one free report every 12 months (required by FCRA) if you request it. Website: TheWorkNumber.com 

ADP Screening & Selection Services, Inc. 

Provides background screening services. The company is a subsidiary of ADP, LLC. 

  • Free report: The company will provide a free report completed in the past two years if you request it and if the company has a file on you. Website: adpselect.com

HireRight

Provides background screening services.

  • Free report: The company will provide a free report(required by FCRA) if you request it and if the company has a file on you. Website: HireRight.com

Sterling

Provides background screening services.

  • Free report: The company will provide one free report every 12 months(required by FCRA) if you request it and if the company has a file on you. Website: sterlingcheck.com
  • How to request your free copy: Follow their FAQ and fill out their online contact form stating you want a copy of your past background check report. 

First Advantage

Provides background screening services with integration into HR systems like Workday, iCIMS, and SAP Success Factors.

  • Free report: The company will provide one free report every 12 months (required by FCRA) if you request it and if the company has a file on you. Website: fadv.com
  • How to request your free copy: Follow their FAQ and make the request by email, phone, fax. or snail mail. You can also request a data freeze or remove your data completely from First Advantage.

How HR and hiring managers view background checks

As a hiring manager, I can tell you that if a job candidate is verified for the last employer and education and doesn’t have any major discrepancies – I’m good to hire with HR’s approval. Remember, my incentive as a hiring manager is to fill my hire quickly or lose my allocated budget. This new hire will expand my charter and scope, help solve some of my pain points, and generally elevate my importance in the company.

What I don’t care about as much are selective omissions, like leaving past internships or part-time jobs off the resume. Now I’ll admit, my curiosity might get piqued if the background check returns another full-time job that was off the resume. But then again, how would I know if that information was never submitted to the employment screening company to verify?

It’s not like employment screen companies are going above and beyond to do an exhaustive background check in order to impress the client. Their job is to verify and deliver the dossier based on information the job candidate provided as automated as possible. No more, no less. They aren’t going out asking your neighbors about you and snooping around your trash for a bank statement (that’d be illegal, again). It’d also be very expensive.

There’s also an element of luck that a hiring manager might inadvertently find out you were multi-jobbing. For instance, if both your jobs used ADP and your prospective employer is using ADP screening and selection service – well, you’re out of luck. Could this happen? Absolutely. What are the chances? Maybe 1 out of 10. ADP is an HR payroll behemoth but few employers use them for employment screening (thankfully).

Key takeaways on background checks and multi-jobbing

This is all hypothetical at this moment. The data points we’ve seen in the community are people landing and accepting jobs even after having multiple jobs. We suspect a post-background check adverse action against an employment offer is rare and carries its own legal risks of rejecting a candidate for protected activity.

Moreover, the employment screening industry is fragmented, highly regulated, and very competitive. This means employers and HR have a long list of employment screening vendors to choose from and the winner is usually the low-cost provider. In another word, the employment screening industry relies on a high degree of automation to reduce costs. 

What does that mean for you as a multi-jobber? The good news is as long as you’re managing your consumer data carefully, such as placing security freezes and opting out of other data services like The Work Number and ZoomInfo, you can multi-job under the radar. Ditto for social media activities. Stay anonymous and off the radar.

Still don’t think multi-jobbing is legal? Check out what Bloomberg has to say.

Leave us a comment if you’ve run into a post-background adverse action or employment denial. We’d love to help!

This article was written with the assistance of our community members Tailorstack#7996 and sarahi#9760. Visit our Discord community to learn more.

48 comments

  1. I been working full time at J1 for many years, and been working at J2 for months but as a contractor – which is the #1 reason why I kept working at J1 as a full time employee. However as time progresses I feel I am about to get a full time offer at J2 –

    I’ve been waiting for this to happen since day 1, as I really like J2 and pay is better than J1, so I’m ready to leave J1. Now, I am wondering if another background check will be performed when accepting the offer even if the third party contractor company already performed that at the beginning some months ago or if the same will be used. Thoughts?

  2. Thinking way in advance here, I’ve been working J1 for a few months. J1 includes a Secret Clearance – which renews in 10 years i believe. Just accepted an offer for J2 which is a public trust clearance. When the time comes to renew my Secret Clearance, will the gov’t frown on evidence that shows I worked for multiple companies involved in federal contracts simultaneously?

    Any other words of caution from folks who have multiple gov’t security clearance jobs?

    TIA

  3. I’ve been with J1 for years and love it here. J2 is going to work to get me a top secret clearance. Will that cause them to find out that I never quit J1?

    1. You’ll probably have to reveal your true dates of employment on the TS background check forms (don’t lie), but that doesn’t mean that J2 will find out about the overlap. I am pretty sure the clearance process is between you and the government (just like your tax returns), so J2 will only find out if you were issued the clearance.

    2. You will absolutely be asked for your employment history on the SF-86. Do NOT lie. If you lie, especially about something so easily found in a TS clearance BI, you will be caught and be denied clearance. Don’t forget there are also possible criminal consequences such as fines and/or jailtime for willful deception on the Sf-86. I would not expect the employer to find out any details of your sf-86 unless they request you submit a copy to them, or you allow them to fill out any part of your sf-86/e-QIP (never allow anyone else to fill your forms, any mistake they make is legally your responsibility).

  4. if i put a freeze on TWN, future employer won’t be able to complete background check right? unless I remove the freeze temprarily.

  5. What’s so you mean by saying opt out theworknumber? Do you mean request a freeze at their website?

    1. Yes. Opt out = freeze. Do not allow them to share your data and profit from it while you run the risks of being “caught.”

  6. Hi,
    I’ve been working J1 for the past five years and contracting at J2 for the last 18 months. I’ve been offered a full time role at J2, and worry that once they run the background check they’ll see both jobs. Is there a good way to avoid running into this issue?

    1. Hi Patrick – I am facing a similar situation. Can you share what happened with yours? Did they find out you had two jobs? How did you handle it. Any feedback is appreciated thanks

  7. I was hired at J2 through a creative agency. Initially, it was just a 3-month contract then it got extended another 3 months and now they want to hire me. (I should add that my efficiency and performance at both J’s are awesome. I’m getting more work done in less time and it’s been really a pretty great experience.)

    J1 is super supportive of taking on additional work outside of J1, as long as deadlines are met, although I’m not sure how they’d feel about a full-time position at J2. The Creative Agency knows I have J1, but now I’m being told about a background check (in order to go full-time) and I ran my check as per the article stated and J1 is showing up as active.

    If I freeze my records, that might throw up a red flag since I’ve been with J2 for six months now… what should I do in this case? Leave it unfrozen and just see if I get dinged or freeze the account and make an excuse. I literally need the money and don’t want to lose the opportunity. I even thought about using the excuse to J2 that I’m a contractor or that I’m looking to leave or just being straight up with them about what’s going on…

  8. I’ve been doing this “overemployment” stint since 2016, sometimes with 3 full-time jobs, most of the time with 2, but all in very different industries (finance, media, federal consulting). And I’ll tell you this background check issue isn’t much of a concern. At first I thought it would be, and I worried, but it turns out there’s nothing to worry about — and I’ve been “studied” through lots of these services. Bottom line is this: there’s really only one organization that can actually know your entire employment history, and that’s the IRS — and believe me, they aren’t disclosing anything to anyone about any taxpayer unless compelled by a federal court. What that means to you is that the employer’s background check is ultimately guided by what you put in your resume and the references you provide, and you control all of that. As for criminal checks, credit checks, education verification, and residence history, well, those are are all fair game, so you would be strongly advised NOT to hide or lie about any of those.

    1. What if the new employer called your last employer and find out you still wok there.

  9. Hi- a little concerned here. I started job1 a month ago and they used Sterling for the background check. I just accepted a position for job2 in a different industry and they just emailed me notifying me that they are going to use Sterling for the background check. What are the odds that both companies use the same company. Am I going to get caught? The guy doing my background check for job1 was a little more persistent than how I’ve heard Sterling usually is, so I’m scared there is a record of me or something in their database. What should I do?

    Freaking out a little. Thanks in advance for your advice.

    1. If you only have one job right now, you should be fine. At most, the background check will show that you just started working at J1. If J2 asks about it, tell them you just started with J1 because you were interviewing with multiple places in parallel and you have to eat, but you didn’t want to drop out of the process with J2. Then stop talking.

      That should satisfy them, because hardly anyone is trying to root out overemployment. If they keep pressing, don’t lie, but understand that it’s also none of their business. The less you say, the better.
      Don’t “fill the air” or volunteer anything. Worst case they ask “are you going to quit J1?” I’d answer this one with a question: “What’s your policy on moonlighting?” — and don’t let them take the conversation back to J1 until you get an answer.

      If they are adamant that you quit J1, this might not be a good 2x opportunity. You don’t want to get caught in a lie later. Most likely, though, the conversation won’t get past your saying that you took J1 because you weren’t sure if you were going to land anything else and you needed the job.

  10. I’m going through a background check with cisive and they’re asking really thorough questions (unlike HireRight). They asked for my current manager’s title and contact info. Should I be filling this out? Also if I select “no” on don’t contact my employer, does this raise a flag? They ask you to list why and when can they eventually contact within the calendar year. What should I reply?

    1. Cisive is one of the toughest used by sensitive industries. In my opinion, that’s a pretty invasive ask. I’d put a vague title and first name only, and ask them to respect your privacy. Submit the minimal info and see what they come back with.

  11. Hi, currently working 2 jobs and looking to leave both for a new opportunity. My worry is that J2 is a role that I was rehired for by my former director. J1 is a contracting role and ending in June. I was employed at J2 for 7 years and left in 2017 and rehired in 2020. My question is, if I freeze my employment data, will they request a contact at J2 to confirm employment and if so, will J2 be obligated to mention that I was a rehire and currently working there or will they only respond to the dates they are being asked about? My resume only lists J1 as current employment and will obviously leave out J2 but J2 is on my resume from 2010-2017 since I worked there before. Hope that all makes sense.

    1. J2’s taking you back is a good look. If it comes up, just run with it: they took me back to moonlight because they liked me / they needed my skills / whatever. If J3 asks if you’re going to quit (and you are), then “yes, the project is done.” If not, then “what’s your policy on moonlighting?” You should be fine.

  12. I had a company that in addition to 2 psych evals type things also said they were going to check back with J1 to make sure I had left a couple weeks after starting. How common is that? I believe it falls under the same umbrella as the TWN check, but I was also curious if that J1 HR might get flagged as well that I took a second position.

    1. That’s very unusual and weird. If you could, email me the name of the company so I can look into it some more if this is a common practice of theirs. Sounds like a consulting type of company.

  13. I am about to accept J2 offer and not to leave J1 (for a while at least). Offer comes with a consent form to allow background check by Sterling. Both J1 and J2 are full time employments. Background check will start after I start working at J2. Will it reveal that I keep working for J1? It seems like a risk to loose both j1 and j2.

    1. I work for a major tech company in recruiting /hr. We are aware of the rapid raise in dual or triple employment. In your case, it will depend on what type of background check your employer selected.

    2. What worked for me is to provide J1 information but just check mark do not contact my present manager. Give them W2s and they will be completely satisfied. The employment verification companies will be satisfied with W2s of J1 so that they dont have to spend time contacting the J1 HR and manager. Thats my experience. I had as much as four IT jobs at the same time, long before covid also, but not for a long time.

    3. Ok, Jimmy — I don’t think you can drop a bomb like that here and just walk away. What do you mean they are “aware” of 2x’ing? What does that mean? What are they trying to do about it? Who are “they”? How can we keep 2x’ing?

  14. I still don’t think I understand how a background check could stumble upon a J2 if you didn’t list J2 on your resume, and didn’t put it on your employment history in the background check?

    Incidentally, I just cleared a background check in the last few days – and realized I had inadvertently left off my very first job after grad school. But, it was a 3-month contract job, so maybe they noticed but it wasn’t a big deal?

    If you take contract jobs and do it as a C2C, would this help the background check issue?

  15. So..
    Juggling between two jobs. J1 was when I joined that company in 2019 while J2 was when I was trying to leave J1 and move to a better position. But later decided to keep both. J2 has no idea I am still at J1.

    Now, J2 has sent out emails from a BGV service that wants my information along with relieving certificate or last three months pay slips at J1. They also asked me details about J1’s manager I was working under and J1’s HR.

    I need to see how to manage and get through this.

    1. Is this really an immigration issue? Your handle and terminology (BGV, relieving certificate) indicate that you are Indian—are you working in India or on an employment visa somewhere else?

      Or is this really an India-specific question about their laws and processes?

  16. What if J1 and J2 use the same payroll provider? Is there is risk of J1 finding out about J2 if that’s the case?

    1. If the payroll company shares information of one customer with another that’s a bigger problem!!!

    2. I have this exact situation. J1 uses a different partition than J2. So, I just have two different usernames and log-ins. Also, it asked me for a personal email to sign up, so i used two different emails. Either way, you’ll be fine as it is HR protected data.

  17. Hi,

    Thank your for your post. I don’t understand why you recommend freezing data in The Work Number but not other sites like Hireright or ADP. How are they different? And what should I do if the new company uses the Work Number for background check? Will they find out that I have several jobs.

  18. If you put your employment data in freeze, the background checking company won’t be able to use information in work number. Will that be an issue? Will they ask you to remove the freeze in work number so that they will complete the background checking on you?

    1. You’ll have to play that by ears. TWN is just one data source any an employment screening company may use, their job is to complete the verification best they can — and they may ask you to unfreeze which you could just decline as ask for alternative ways to verify. Not your problem.

  19. Should I list both my 2x-ing jobs on future applications? I’m wondering if they would still come up.

    1. We advise listing only your J1 on your resume. You can try both and see what happens in a background check — some of our community members have done that and still passed. The bottom line is “have you met the minimum of the info you submitted on your job application?” Everything else, no one is really looking or cares enough to dig. Some might get curious though.

    1. Most likely not. Often the left hand isn’t talking to the right hand. Plus, no one really cares that much — that’s what most people afraid of doing OE don’t fully understand.

    2. Most companies of reasonable size refer inquiries to third parties for that kind of thing (e.g., if a bank needs to verify your employment for a loan application).

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