Job Seeking Red Flags: How to Conduct a Background Check on Your Future Employer

Dr. Ryan Giffen

Background checks are a two-way street, and job seekers can screen companies and organizations before applying for an open position. Yet, many people skip this step and send their job applications before checking the employer history, reviews, and former employee insights. On the other hand, companies assess public information and contact references most of the time.

Ninety-four percent run at least one type of background screening, while 73 percent had a documented screening policy. Most employers run background checks to protect employee and customer safety, improve the hiring quality, comply with the law and regulations, protect company reputation, and prevent theft and embezzlement. Besides screening criminal history, they also verify previous employment, credit reports, professional licenses and assess social media. Hence, employers thoroughly check job applicants, full and part-time employees, temporary workers, volunteers, and vendor representatives.

Although 86 percent of employees and job seekers look for company reviews and ratings to decide on where to apply for a job, there are other methods to run an in-depth employer screening. Extensive background checks are more significant than people realize because only 47 percent trust the job descriptions accurately depict job responsibilities.

Why You Should Screen Companies Before Sending Your Job Application

1. Identify Potential Red Flags

Employers screen candidates to discover whether a job applicant could jeopardize what they stand for, their reputation, and workplace safety. The same should apply to job seekers. Whenever you apply for a job, you dedicate your time and energy to crafting a top-notch cover letter and resume. Moreover, you often undergo various steps to reach the final stage only to get a rejection email. Because of that, you should use your time wisely and spend it only on companies and organizations that have a stellar reputation and a history of positive experiences.

Instead of giving an employer the benefit of the doubt and applying despite negative reviews, avoid risks and choose those that continuously receive outstanding feedback. For example, 41 percent of employers wouldn’t consider a candidate without an account on social media or active profiles. Why would you consider applying for a job in a company that might have a history of misconduct, unfair processes, or discrimination?

2. Understand Company Culture, Values, and Objectives

Ensure that you stand a chance and would be a good fit for the company by researching its values and company culture. That will help you understand if that could be where you can grow, adopt new skills, and reach your professional goals. The research will help you identify whether your experience and personality match the company expectations and work environment. Moreover, you’ll discover whether your convictions go against what the company believes in and if you’d feel uncomfortable in the workplace.

Recruiters can also identify when a candidate isn’t the right culture fit. Hence, screening can help you avoid rejection and apply for jobs incompatible with your capabilities, viewpoints, and objectives.

3. Discover Whether a Company is the Right Fit for You

Besides identifying whether you’re the right fit for a company, you should also understand whether an employer can address your career needs and expectations. It’s essential to discover whether the job description matches the actual responsibilities, salary details, and professional development opportunities. Although it’s possible to negotiate the compensation during the interview, you can’t change your assignments and workplace culture. You should also ensure that the job title matches the job descriptions and that you’ll use and gain relevant knowledge and skills.

The screening will help you identify what you get from joining a particular company and whether that experience will contribute to your growth. Finally, you will also find out if an employer shares the same ethical code as you and whether they’re committed to values you find significant.

4. Find Out What to Expect During the Selection Process and Afterward

Finding relevant information can help you understand how the selection process might look and how long it takes to hear the final results. You might even find out what HR manager or recruiter will assess your job application and other candidates’ experience with them. Moreover, the research could help you identify how many steps the selection process has, whether you’ll have to submit an assignment or do a skill test to reach the final stage. That way, you can prepare or decide to look for a company that has a shorter recruitment time.

On the other hand, you’ll also discover what to expect if you get the job. For instance, you’ll find out if the company provides an onboarding program, or you’ll jump into your new role without prior training.

5. Gain Insights Necessary for a Stellar Job Application

Besides finding out what kind of selection process a company typically provides, you’ll get insights into how to make a well-rounded job application. Use reviews of previous candidates and employees as guidelines on what kind of cover letters and resumes had the most success and what recruiters expect to see. As a result, you’ll learn what categories you should highlight, what skills you should have, and what to avoid. For example, some companies prefer creative job applications, and others might eliminate you due to not sending a portfolio with samples of your previous work.

Thus, you will find the latest news and information about a company, which will come in handy if they invite you for the interview. You will have the necessary knowledge and understand their needs, potential, and weaknesses.

5 Tips on How to Run an Efficient Employer Screening

1. Understand What You’re Looking For

If you don’t know the potential red flags, you might fail to spot them. Because of that, your search should start with identifying what information and data should worry you. For instance, look for reviews, interviews, or blog posts of former employees who reported abuse, harassment, or not getting their salary regularly. Any potential misconduct on the company’s part should set the alarm off.

Moreover, be careful with employers that don’t reveal the salary as they often withhold this information to ensure they have more negotiating power. Research the average and minimum compensation for your job role in your city to know what to expect. Also, avoid job offers that imply the employee will perform two functions but receive payment for only one.  

2. Conduct an In-Depth Examination of the Company’s Website

The next step is to find the company’s website. If they don’t have one, that could be a warning that the organization doesn’t take the employer branding vigorously or that the job ad is fishy. When you evaluate a website, focus on the About Us category and identify the company’s strong points, objectives, and workplace culture. Find out what they stand for, their history, and whether they actively foster inclusion.

Look for employee perks and benefits information, career development opportunities, and testimonials. If the company doesn’t nurture the growth of its staff, you risk professional stagnation and the inability to obtain new skills. You should also seek financial statements and find out whether they’ve been experiencing challenges recently. Finally, check their oldest company news and blog posts to learn more about the culture and business.

3. Assess a Company’s Social Media Accounts

Social media networks say a lot about what the company cares about, how they interact with their followers, and whether they give enough credit to their employees. Focus on LinkedIn and Instagram and check if the employer actively engages in the industry and puts effort into innovation and excellent services. Screen whether the company acknowledges its employee accomplishments on social media and gives them enough exposure. Moreover, check their followers to understand the target audience and the values they embody.

However, if the company has no social networks, they might lack tech-savvy skills or the eagerness to connect with their customers and keep up with trends. Nowadays, having an online presence is among the crucial elements of employer branding and credibility, so it might be wiser to skip those that don’t have it.  

4. Read Reviews of Former Employees and Candidates

When checking job ads on career websites and job boards, scroll the page until you find reviews. Read what former workers and other candidates said about the company and what kind of experience they had. Although you should take each feedback with a grain of salt, if the negative comments are detailed and credible, try to find out more about the employer. However, if there’s a lack of positive reviews, you might prefer to look for other opportunities. But you should also pay attention to how companies respond to criticism and whether they get defensive or calmly explain their side. Assess the big picture to ensure you can make a well-informed and accurate decision.

5. Check Google Search Result and Relevant Forums

Many job boards don’t have many employee reviews, and it’s even rarer to find the opinions of the other job applicants. Extend your research to Google Search Results and look for articles, blog posts, and news that mentions the company in any context. Analyze whether the mentions typically have positive connotations and if the employer has been involved in suspicious situations. You might also find interviews of their former workers or personal blogs and videos that talk about the experience of working in the company.

Finally, you should also check local forums and Reddit. Use the search tool to look for posts, topics, reviews, and discussions about the organization. That might be the best place to dig for uncensored content and unique information concerning the employer.


Although there’s a variety of blog posts and articles about the importance and techniques of candidate screening, seeking guidelines on how to research a company might lead to scarce results. Yet, knowing potential red flags before applying for a job opening is equally significant as knowing who you’re hiring. Because of that, you should always take time to check reviews, news, and data before considering an organization as your employer. Company screening helps you understand whether you should invest your time and effort into a job application or move on and find a more credible one.

About Dr. Ryan Giffen

With over 20 years of experience, Dr. Ryan Giffen is an expert in human relations and business culture. His career began in hospitality, leading operations and human resource departments for Fortune 500 companies and the like. Not long after, Ryan found his passion for teaching and consulting. He earned a Ph.D. in Hospitality Management with a Human Resources focus from Iowa State University and now works as an assistant professor at California State University, Long Beach. For over a decade, he continues to research and speak on organizational culture, relationship intelligence, and leadership effectiveness. Ryan is also the founder of Inospire, a company helping bosses and employees build stronger relationships with one another. Lastly, Dr. Giffen is producer and host of the Corporate Shadow Podcast, a show helping everyday employees build stronger relationships with their bosses and organizations.