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Learn the Basics of Employment History

Almost all job applications ask for employment history, and most request the contact information of previous employers. This information can give you valuable insight into the applicant's past, so it's important to carefully review this section of a prospective employee's resume.

Employment history involves more than simply where the person worked and when. If you're involved in the hiring process at your workplace, you should understand what employment history is, why it's so important, and what you can do to review and verify the working history of your applicants.

What Is Employment History?

Employment history is a detailed record of all of your previous jobs. As a hiring manager, you might request this information on applications, or you may review it on candidates' resumes. Most employers are interested in the following pieces of information:

  • Job title
  • Job description
  • Name of company
  • Years employed
  • Salary
  • Employer contact information

Applicants may not put the contact information of their past employers on their resumes, or they may choose only a couple previous supervisors to include as references. If you plan to verify all of their past jobs, you'll need to request the phone numbers of their previous employers on the application.

It's also important to recognize the difference between verifying employment history and doing a reference check. With employment verification, the goal is to confirm that the information the applicant provided regarding their job title and dates of employment are accurate.

With a reference check, your goal is to learn more information about the prospective employee than what they provided on their resume. For example, you may ask the reference about the employee's skill set, why they left the job, and what their overall job performance looked like.

Why Employment History Matters

An applicant's employment history may be the most valuable information on their resume as it reveals their experience, qualifications, and tendencies as an employee. There are several factors you can consider when reviewing and verifying employment history.

Employment history shows whether or not the applicant has experience in the industry or role they're applying for. Sometimes, employers hire applicants with little relevant experience and train them with great success. If you're looking to fill an entry-level job, you shouldn't expect a lengthy employment history. However, if you want an employee who's an expert at the job, their employment history is the most obvious way to review their qualifications.

In addition to reviewing their job title and responsibilities, you should consider how long the applicant has spent at each of their past jobs. If they switch jobs every year, it may be a sign that they won't stay at your company for long. Look for gaps in employment history, too. This shouldn't necessarily be a disqualifier as there are sometimes valid explanations for taking a break from working. However, it's definitely something to ask about in an interview.

Employers also use employment history as a way to gauge how truthful applicants are during interviews. It can be very tempting during interviews for prospective employees to stretch the truth or exaggerate their past job responsibilities to sound more impressive. If you've already familiarized yourself with their job history, you can tell when applicants aren't representing themselves honestly.

How to Verify Employment History

Verifying employment history is a key part of the hiring process. It's a helpful way to narrow down your applicant pool before interviews, and it ensures that you're familiar with each candidate's background. Contacting past employers isn't always easy, but it is worth trying.

You can start with the phone numbers the candidate provided on their resume or application. If you're able to reach the past employers, confirm the applicant's job title and dates of employment. Be aware, though, that an applicant may list the phone number of a friend who pretends to be the employer. Although this is rare, you can avoid this situation by verifying the company's phone number online or in a directory. The internet is also a valuable resource if the candidate doesn't include the contact information on their application at all.

If you can't find the contact information or don't hear back from the past employer, ask the applicant if they can reach out to the company to follow up. They may be able to offer you an alternative phone number or get in touch with someone who will call you back.  

Keep in mind that some states have laws that regulate what information previous employers can share. Before getting in touch with a candidate's past workplaces, review the laws in your state to find out what you can and cannot ask. Some companies have policies that restrict what they disclose, too, so you may not be able to get all of the information you're looking for.

Hiring managers sometimes choose to verify employment history as part of a larger background check that includes criminal history, education history, driving record checks, and other relevant information. These professional background checks are protected under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, so if you utilize them, you must get written consent from the applicant beforehand.

Even if you don't use a background check service, being transparent with candidates about the employment verification process is still important. Starting your professional relationship with transparency and truthfulness is helpful for both parties. It also gives the applicant a chance to come clean and clarify any misleading information before you speak with a past employer.

Verifying employment history can be a time-consuming task, especially if you're hiring for multiple positions, so put aside plenty of time to reach out to your candidates' past employers. In the interest of time, it's typically better to complete this step after you've already significantly narrowed down the applicant pool. Although it can feel tedious, remember that it's a necessary step toward choosing the best candidate for each opening. You want to be sure that your new employees have the right experience for the job, and reviewing and verifying employment history will help you feel confident in your decision.

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Martin Winklevoss