When I think there will be a hiccup in my background check?

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Q:  I just accepted a role and the “fine print” in the offer letter states that the offer is “contingent upon the completion of a successful background check.”  This was mentioned early on during the process, but honestly, I forgot about it.  I have nothing big to hide but I have had an issue in the past.  The issue is that I have a relative with the exact same name and we have lived on the same street.  This relative has had drug problems in the past and gotten involved with some illegal activities.  About 10 years ago, this relative’s information surfaced and it appeared (during a background check) that it was me.  It caused a lot of problems when I accepted a job about 10 years ago.  It was finally resolved, but it took some time.  Do I disclose this or are these checks more sophisticated now?

A:  You are right to be concerned.  It sounds like you this should not be problematic but it is better that you notify the employer.  Explain the situation and ask them to contact the background check company.  Ask your company contact to keep this information confidential. Most background checks are run using your name but also other identifying information like your Social Security number, your current and former addresses and your date of birth. But mistakes do happen.  Many years ago, I had to delay a candidate’s start date because of a similar reason.  He shared the same name with an uncle who also lived at 2 Main Street.  We also think the uncle may have been using the nephew’s information, which further confused the candidate’s background check process and final report.

Every background check is not the same.  Some employers are running checks on your Social Security number, education, employment history and criminal history.  Others are running motor vehicle checks, especially if it is job-related.  Some are running credit checks, again if it is job-related.  Still others might be running CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) or SORI (Sex Offender Registry Information) checks.  It is ok to ask what is included in a company’s background check process.  Additionally, if you have lived out of state, often times these checks take a bit longer.

Finally, I think it sets the tone with your prospective employer.  It sends the message that you are honest, forthright and candid about a potential hiccup in the process.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.