Zinc’s complete guide to background checks

zinc logo icon

Background checks can be conducted for a variety of reasons where someone wants to investigate or verify a person’s identity and history. Conducting checks on prospective employees is a vital step in safeguarding your customers, staff and suppliers. The kinds of checks focused on in this guide are background checks for employment. These checks are usually done in the latter stages of the interview process.

Background checks for a job are where an employer investigates a candidate’s history to verify the candidate is who they say they are. This can consist of checking records and verifying documents to ensure the candidate has the appropriate credentials and is safe to work in the position they are applying for.

Conducting background checks often entails trawling through databases to verify documents and discover information about a person which can take a lot of time and resources. This is why many companies choose to hire a 3rd party like Zinc to conduct their background checks on their behalf. Automated services like Zinc can save companies precious time, reducing the checking process from weeks to a matter of days, significantly improving their time to hire.

How much a background check costs depends on the type of check, how many years’ history you need to verify and, where in the world you are hiring, as different territories have different requirements and permissions. Because of data privacy laws, checks should only be conducted with good reason, i.e. they are relevant to the work the person will be required to do. Requirements and restrictions on what checks need to be conducted vary globally, so you should of the country you are hiring in.  

Background check types

There are many ways of background checking someone and the kind of background check an employer chooses to conduct depends on the role they are hiring for and the qualities they desire in a candidate. Below we cover the most common background checks, what they are and what they involve.

Employment background checks

Employment background checks are where a person’s work history is investigated and verified to ensure the person has the experience they say they have. These checks are often called professional reference checks, or. For more information about reference checks, take a look at our referencing guide.

ID checks

This can range from confirming the addresses the person has lived at to verifying that the identification documents the person has provided are authentic, such as their passport or driving license. ID verify checks checks ensure that the person you are hiring is who they claim to be, safeguarding your company and reducing risk.

Criminal background checks

For many roles, employers want to ensure the people they hire do not have any criminal convictions. This can be for safety reasons, for example, if the job is to work with vulnerable people, or if they will be working with sensitive data.

Depending on the country you are hiring in, there may be different levels of criminal record checks. At their most basic, criminal record checks will disclose any unspent convictions, i.e. any convictions that have not yet passed the rehabilitation period. Higher levels of checks may disclose spent or expunged convictions and other details. In most cases, you will only be able to request the level of check proportionate to the role. Further, some regions only allow registered companies to make more invasive checks so you should check with your local regulating authority which checks you are able to conduct.

Global sanctions and watchlist checks

Sanctions are preventative measures put in place by governments and other legislating bodies to prohibit behaviours and activities that are undesirable or unacceptable such as money laundering, fraud and terrorism. Multiple organisations around the world produce and update watchlists which are databases containing information about high-risk, prohibited, sanctioned or restricted individuals. It is in many organisations best interests to ensure that the people they hire are not on one of these lists.

Sanctions and watchlist checks are necessary in most industries, but are particularly important in the finance and non-profit sectors where employees may be handling sensitive data or have access to vulnerable groups.  

Credit checks

One way for an employer to gauge the financial trustworthiness of a candidate, is to conduct a credit check. Credit checks show any accounts where a person has taken out credit, for example loans, mortgages or credit cards. They can also show whether the candidate has taken anything out on finance. Credit checks will also show whether the person has missed payments, made any late payments or declared bankruptcy. These checks help an employer understand the candidate’s past financial behaviour which can help them decide whether the candidate has the right attributes for the role.

Education checks

For many roles, having the right qualifications is just as important as having the right work experience. Education checks are conducted when an employer wants to verify that a candidate has the qualifications and grades they claim to have. For most qualifications, a certificate will be sufficient, which an employer will have verified by the awarding institution to ensure that it is genuine. Some employers will also ask for a transcript, i.e. an official record of your grades from your course. These are more common for higher qualifications such as university degrees where multiple modules and grades are accumulated.

Background checks for specific industries

Depending on the industry you are hiring for, you may have extra regulations and requirements to meet when conducting a background check on a prospective hire. Here are some of the sectors that require more stringent screening and the considerations you will likely need to account for, and the check packages we recommend for each industry.

Financial services

Due to the sensitive information that financial services process, it is vital to ensure your new hires are trustworthy and reliable. Most financial companies will be FCA or PRA regulated, meaning hiring in these companies has to be done according to strict requirements. One way of demonstrating you have conducted your hiring diligently is to conduct background checks in the financial sector.


In recent years, technological advancements have taken the financial industry by storm, be it artificial intelligence, digital payments, banking apps or blockchain. Although many of these advancements tear down a lot of red tape within the industry, Fintech companies still need to comply with regulations and laws depending on the activities the company carries out and the countries they operate in. The background checks conducted should be relevant and proportionate to the duties of the role. If you are not sure which checks you need, you should check with your local regulating authority.  


In the UK, since the 9th December 2019, the FCA’s SMCR regulation came into force. These regulations are designed to improve the integrity of the sector and to protect consumers. This includes for any new hires to a company at a senior/manager level or regulated roles (such as finance or legal). Among other requirements, regulatory references require 6 years of verified work history. Using Zinc makes background checking simple, as the amount of verified years’ experience is summarised at the top of each candidate’s report. The checks mandated by the FCA are:

  • Regulatory references to cover 6 years of work
  • A criminal record check

Outside of certified positions, no further checks are required by the FCA. But it’s common for teams in the financial industry to conduct the following checks:

  • 3-5 years of employment references
  • Criminal record checks
  • Credit and
  • Identity and global sanctions checks


Because healthcare work requires personal care for vulnerable individuals, checks are rightly more stringent than other industries. Healthcare workers should pass an enhanced criminal record check to ensure they are not barred from working with vulnerable people. Both criminal record checks and identity checks can help you verify that the person’s history is compatible with this line of work. Employment reference checks evidence the skills and experience the candidate claims to have on their CV providing insights into performance, and highlighting any red flags that could jeopardise patient and staff safety.

For the healthcare industry, you must check with your regulator since it’s common for roles in this industry to have set groups of checks you’re required to conduct. For instance, individuals working in the care sector under the  are required to complete:

  • Employment references
  • ID
  • Education and industry license checks
  • Criminal record checks


Background checks are an essential stage when hiring staff for schools, particularly where the students are under 18 years of age. Anyone working with children or vulnerable people should have an enhanced criminal record check to ensure they are not barred from working with these groups, and to ensure the person does not have a history of illegal activity.  


Online education and e-learning platforms have really proven their worth since many schools and universities were closed during the lockdown period. Many of these companies have online tutors and content creators that work virtually with children or other vulnerable people, helping students complete their education at home. One way of generating trust and protecting your organisation’s credibility is to vet all your customer-facing employees with the appropriate background checks for the country you are operating in. For the education industry we recommend adding the following checks to your package:

  • Criminal record check
  • ID check
  • Employment reference check

Additionally in most regions globally, hiring those in teaching roles require a teachers register check, and often checking barring lists for working with children is required alongside the criminal check.


Charities and other non-profit organisations pursue objectives that may be philanthropic, benefitting certain communities or groups of people rather than profit. They therefore have to ensure the people they hire are aligned with their values, which is why background checks are an important stage in their hiring process. The kinds of checks required depend on the nature of the non-profit organisation, for example if the organisation is a charity that works with children, prospective workers will need a criminal record check.

For the non-profit sector we recommend adding the following checks to your package:

  • Criminal record check
  • ID check
  • Employment reference check

Digital and tech

The digital and tech sector is a fast-growing sector with little to none regulator guidance around hiring diligence. As an industry, it’s less regulated than others like finance and healthcare, but that doesn’t mean background checks can be forgotten. At a minimum, reference checks can be useful to verify the skills and experience of the candidate and ask further questions about their suitability for the role.

For the digital and tech sectors we recommend adding the following checks to your package:

  • ID check
  • Employment reference check

If your business also has a physical store or finance department, criminal and credit checks are a sensible addition for anyone that will be handling cash or financial systems.

Background Check FAQ for recruiters

Why conduct a background check?

Background checks equip employers with the information they need to know to make safer hiring decisions. Background checks are conducted at the late stages of an interview to ensure credible hiring decisions, and as a protective measure for the company against any risks. They are a way of ensuring the employee is who they claim to be and has the history, experience and skills appropriate to the role.

How to background check someone?

It’s never been easier to conduct background checks thanks to the Internet, however for employers, it is important that your background checks follow the correct procedures. Simple internet searches can be useful but it is easy for you to fall foul of GDPR and invade the privacy of the person you are checking. For more stringent checks, you will also need to scour databases which you may need permission to do. Because there is a lot to do to ensure a thorough check is carried out, many employers get a third party to conduct the checks for them. This ensures that the checks are carried out thoroughly and diligently with the candidate’s consent.

How does a background check work?

Broadly, background checks investigate the background of someone. Because there are a wide variety of background checks available, there are many ways in which a background check can be conducted. Firstly, you must decide the criteria you wish to investigate, such as the candidate’s identity, credit, or criminal record history. The simplest way to conduct a background check is to ask a third party to conduct them on your behalf. Companies like Zinc will assess your needs and suggest the checks that fit your hiring needs. Once your account is set up, all you need to do is click a button and Zinc automatically contacts your candidates for the relevant information and then contacts any referees or cross-checks the relevant databases, returning your background checks in good time with minimal effort from you.

Why are background checks important?

Background checks for employment are important for a number of reasons. Firstly, they help you ensure that you are creating a safe environment for you, your staff, your customers and other stakeholders. Secondly, your background checks prove you are conducting your due diligence when recruiting new members of staff. This can be particularly important if you are ever audited, as you will be able to prove you took all the necessary precautions when recruiting. Thirdly, conducting a background check helps protect the reputation of your company that you have carefully built up over the years. The conduct of your employees can have profound effects on your company reputation and brand, so you want to ensure that the people you hire are trustworthy and conduct themselves in a professional manner.

Depending on the sector you are hiring in, some checks may be more important than others, for example if they are dealing with money or financial data, a credit check may be important. If they are working with vulnerable people, a criminal record or watchlist checks may be top of your list. See our section on background checks for specific industries to give you an idea of the commonly recommended checks in your sector.

How much does a background check cost?

The cost of background checks depends on what type of information you need about a candidate, how many checks you need to conduct (i.e. how many per candidate, and how many candidates per month), and where in the world you are hiring. Typically checks will range from £20 for a basic candidate check to £200 per candidate for an extensive range of checks. Some checks are more expensive than others because they require searches of databases that are not available to the public, such as criminal records or watchlists, which incur a cost each time the database is accessed. Because of the multiple databases that need searching, the easiest way to conduct a background check is to get a third party like Zinc to do it for you. The advantage of Zinc is that once you’ve told us which checks you need to run on your candidates, all you need to do is click a button and Zinc does all the hard work for you.

Which background check service is the best?

When selecting a background checking service, there are a few things you need to consider. You need a company that you can trust to conduct the background checks. For example, Zinc takes a transparent approach with technology by recording reference checks on a blockchain to allow candidate’s to keep their checking data. You can also check to see which  use the checking service and read their testimonials.

The candidate experience is another aspect that needs to be taken into consideration when selecting a checking service. Background checks can be daunting for candidates, so the easier the company makes the process the better. Modern background checking companies use intuitive forms that can be used on any device, and send automated updates to keep the candidate informed. Zinc takes this one step further by gifting candidates their reference and background checks in a reusable format so they can reuse checks throughout their career.

Another aspect to consider is whether the candidate will recognise the third party as part of your candidate journey. This is where  may be important, to ensure that even though your checks are carried out by a third party, each contact point will be immediately recognisable as your employer brand.

Zinc ATS integrations

A final point to consider when choosing a background checking service, is whether the tool integrates with your other HR software. The last thing you’ll want when tracking a candidate’s progress is to go to another system to track and chase their background checks. Applicant tracking systems and other HR tools so you won’t need to leave your dashboard to request all the checks you need.

Background check FAQ for candidates

How does a background check work?

Background checks are where someone investigates the identity and past behaviours of someone. When a background check is done as part of the hiring process, they help ensure the person is a good fit for the role they are interviewing for and to mitigate any risks associated with making a new hire. Often, the people who are being background checked will only need to provide information and documents to prove their identity or their address. These will then be verified and investigated by the employer or a third party background checking service. However, for more senior roles, deeper checks are often conducted, particularly in industries such as finance, healthcare or education, as these industries are subject to regulatory scrutiny. Jobs that require certain tasks such as handling money, working with vulnerable people or driving may ask for additional checks such as credit checks, criminal record checks or driving history checks. For these checks, prospective employees may have to give extra information or documentation so the company can conduct the checks.

Which jobs don't require a background check?

There isn’t a specific list of jobs that don’t require background checks. If you are looking for a job and have something in your background that you think could hinder your chances of getting a job such as a criminal record or bankruptcy, it would be best to be upfront and open about these with your prospective employer. Not all roles require a thorough background check and some employers may be open to hiring people who have committed certain offenses but are working towards rehabilitation. However, this all depends on the nature of the role, how regulated the industry is and the employer’s preferences.

For example, if you have a poor credit history and the job requires you to work with financial accounts, this may bar you from being employed in this position. But if the role has no financial duties and the company does not work in the finance sector, your financial record may not be of interest to them. Carefully reading through the duties of the role can give you an idea of what kinds of background checks the company may want to conduct. If you are in doubt, open up a conversation with the recruiter to see whether you may be a good fit for the role.

If you have a criminal record, searching for a job can be a daunting experience. Some employers may take into account certain factors such as the severity of the crime and whether it happened only once or if you have multiple offenses over a long period of time. The period of time that has passed since your conviction may also be taken into account. Getting career advice and help with your resume can be a good starting point. Also, being honest and upfront with employers could help put you in a better position.

Why are background checks important?

Background checks are primarily a safety measure. Hiring a new person entails risk, especially if the person is new to the company. Checking someone’s background can help mitigate these risks by ensuring the person is who they claim to be, has the experience or education they claim to have and has no history of criminal offenses. In regulated sectors, background checks are even more important as they prove the company has acted diligently when hiring new employees, particularly in senior positions.

Can background checks reveal past employers?

If your hiring manager asks for professional references, then this will reveal that you previously worked for the company the referee works for. They usually ask for references from the last two to three jobs, but some sectors like require references that cover the past five years.

How much does a background check cost?

Most employers will not charge a candidate for their background checks. The cost of a background check can vary depending on the type of checks needed, how thorough they need to be, where in the world they are conducting the checks and how many people the person is background checking at once.

What background checks do companies use?

The kinds of background checks companies use depends on the type of work their employees do. At a minimum, most employers will conduct an employment reference check and an ID check. Some employers also will want a criminal record check, although the level of criminal record check that companies can conduct depends on the role and the sector they are working in.

Thank you! You're now subscribed!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

More from Zinc