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What actually constitutes a background investigation?

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  • What actually constitutes a background investigation?

    1) Will my past work references be contacted over the phone, will background investigator actually show up at the job, or will the agency mail some kind of employment verification form to HR?
    2) Also, does will a previous agency I applied to actually get contacted for their background packet?

    I'm currently about half a year out from finishing my Master's program with intent of applying to FBI Special Agent program. I have relevant work skills and speak a foreign language in demand, but about 6 years back I was a bit naive while applying to local agencies without any guidance. I was recently mentored by two sincere individuals (one retired Marshal and one retired FBI) that I was a bit too straight forward in my previous packets almost to the point of incriminating myself. They suggested to reword things differently and to not "help" background investigator do their job by listing negative references (i.e. list a supervisor who will give positive feedback instead of the technically actual supervisor who will talk trash). In other words, be honest and know you can pass polygraph, but don't make yourself look bad on purpose.

    I have a concern over it as great emphasis was put by local agencies on keeping background packets identical. Also I have no idea whether feds actually look at past local background packets or even care about that.

    Could anyone please advise?

    Thanks for your help.

  • #2
    There is no standard among agencies. If you apply to the FBI you will probably receive far more thorough vetting than with most agencies, primarily because the Bureau has the budget and resources to dig deeply anywhere in the world.

    At minimum you can expect national, state, and local agency checks for criminal history, in depth credit reports (much more than credit ratings; these contain much history on residence addresses, employment history, civil actions, and more), verification of employment history, verification of educational credentials, public records (civil actions, marriage/divorce, foreclosures, lawsuits, etc), driving history, and contact with references.

    Much of this can be done on-line these days, and "data mining" companies offer services that never could have been matched back in my old days of shoe leather and telephones.

    Polygraph exams are relatively common as a means of verifying application and background information, as well as directing the scope of the background investigation.

    It is not unusual for background investigations to continue for months after the selection process, and many agencies will repeat the process after hiring (frequently annual updates on public records, criminal history, driving records, etc).

    Back in my days of background investigations (1970's to 1990's) just about everything was done by phone, by mail, and face-to-face. I used a 3-step process to expedite backgrounds and eliminate obvious fails before committing a lot of time and budget dollars. The three steps included the employment application, a background questionnaire, and a background interview, all of which were done separately (different dates). Comparing the information provided on the application, background questionnaire, and in the interview resulted in about 70% disqualification rate, simply because that many people can't remember to tell the same lie each time.

    Moving on to the actual investigation process, I seldom relied on employers (actual bosses or HR departments) because about all you will ever get is confirmation of dates of employment and whether or not the subject is eligible for rehire. I looked for direct supervisors and coworkers, and contacted those sources away from work whenever possible. I also interviewed landlords and close neighbors whenever possible. As indicated above, credit reports are a wonderfully productive source of information that can guide the investigator to multiple other potential sources.

    Rather than concerning yourself about how to "massage" the process or how to respond to particular questions, my advice is to be 100% truthful at every step of the process, be ready to admit any possible negative factors, and don't be a whining excuse-making baby about the process. That alone will make you stand out in the crowd of applicants.

    Comment


    • comrade
      comrade commented
      Editing a comment
      So let me ask this as a real world example. I have had one written complaint at my previous employment and specifically asked my old director about the incident for my background. He explicitly stated that they do not have any record of that incident and that is what he would say to my background investigator. He said I do not need to list that even though I know for a fact I signed that warning myself. So do I say the real truth that I got a warning or the politically correct truth that there is no record of it?

  • #3
    Federal Tier 5 (Top Secret/SSBI) backgrounds are pretty standard across the board. FBI has their own investigators, but have to conduct theirs in accordance with Federal standards. Suitability is the part that nails people for that particular position. As far as the Federal system is concerned, prior investigations conducted (I.E you served in the military with a prior clearance, so the previous one is looked at). All that happens is that references are talked to (supervisors, co-workers, neighbors, friends, etc) are talked to, and various records are pulled. As far as references go, its expected there will be someone who has something negative to say about you for one reason or another.

    As far as the polygraph is concerned, be honest obviously. If you fail you fail, if you pass you pass. IMO they should be conducted after they investigate someone rather than before.

    Comment


    • #4
      I have a concern over it as great emphasis was put by local agencies on keeping background packets identical. Also I have no idea whether feds actually look at past local background packets or even care about that.

      Here's the deal: you fill out the paperwork. It gets assigned to an investigator (I don't claim to know how the bureau does it, but for almost every other component in the G, it goes to OPM or an OPM contractor). As long as all the blanks are filled in and there aren't any gaps, they proceed forward. No one goes looking for the background packet you submitted to Julip Township PD in 2013 to compare answers.

      RE: only listing people who will say nice things. Sure, go ahead. Play the name game, as in 'Here's the name of the guy who liked me instead of my real supervisor.' The reality is most investigators will quickly figure out who the actual boss was, and note the discrepancy in the file. Perhaps the smarter approach is to simply tell the truth- then there's no question about the information you provided. And here's the deal with that: investigators run into this all the time, and are usually able to identify workplace personality conflicts for what they are, and A holes bosses for who they are.

      Fyi- I FOIA'd my background file a few years back and there were a few eyebrow raisers from former bosses. Some deserved, some not. But I'd rather have that stuff in my file than "applicant intentionally provided misleading information about actual supervisor."
      Chance favors the prepared mind.

      -Louis Pasteur

      Comment


      • #5
        So these “mentors” told you to not be truthful about issues in your background...

        Sound advice. I would listen to them.
        Now go home and get your shine box!

        Comment


        • #6
          I would always ask those listed as references who you worked alongside, or who might know you, even in passing. These chains of talk led down some interesting paths. Give them the good and the bad, I always thought better of those applicants that did. I am sure that holds true for almost all potential employers. They aren’t looking for angels, just honest people that can move ahead with character.

          Comment


          • #7
            Originally posted by CCCSD View Post
            So these “mentors” told you to not be truthful about issues in your background...

            Sound advice. I would listen to them.

            RE: Mentors....I'm sure they mean well but sometimes one has to filter out "good advice" from "stupid bullsh*t".

            Example from about five presidents ago....

            A couple of my early *mentors* would tell me about never paying cover charge at bars. "Just roll the gold dude. The doorman will let you in. They love off duty LEOs in the club. In case something goes down." Being the impressionable naif I was, I take their word as solid gold.

            So one Friday night, out with some buddies, I try it. Instead of coughing up five bucks for the door fee, I roll the gold and get into a loud and packed bar.

            A couple of minutes later, a man wearing a shirt and tie taps me on the shoulder. "I'm the manager and saw you show something to the doorman and walk in. Can I see it?"

            I comply and he asks if I was present on official business. No, I'm not. Just here with some buddies.

            "Look," he says. "Five bucks isn't going to kill me. But don't do this again."

            He could've called the local department and filed charges for defrauding an innkeeper. Which would have been totally justifiable. And I would've gotten canned, with a mark on my record.

            (disclaimer: I'm totally out of the biz now so I have no reservations sharing this so that others don't buy the BS and step into a trap that may cost their career. And for what's its worth, I never repeated a similar bonehead move again in the subsequent 27 years. I've made plenty of mistakes; just not the same ones twice.)

            My point is this: when a so-called mentor gives some advice which sounds a bit sketchy- like trying to game the background process- the smartest move may be to not follow it....

            Chance favors the prepared mind.

            -Louis Pasteur

            Comment


            • nonotnow
              nonotnow commented
              Editing a comment
              Takes a solid person of character to share that story for the younger folk. Much appreciated.

          • #8
            Originally posted by Ratatatat View Post


            Here's the deal: you fill out the paperwork. It gets assigned to an investigator (I don't claim to know how the bureau does it, but for almost every other component in the G, it goes to OPM or an OPM contractor). As long as all the blanks are filled in and there aren't any gaps, they proceed forward. No one goes looking for the background packet you submitted to Julip Township PD in 2013 to compare answers.
            https://nbib.opm.gov/news/nbib-news/...moving-to-dod/

            OPM is moving NBIB under the new DCSA (formerly DSS). Just so you know who's looking into it, basically going to be all the same previous contractors under a new agency.

            Everything else is accurate. These folks are right, be 100% accurate and don't try to cherry pick friendlies for the BI references. You'll give ammo to the overzealous investigators and slow down your process.

            Comment


            • #9
              Originally posted by Levithane View Post
              Federal Tier 5 (Top Secret/SSBI) backgrounds are pretty standard across the board. FBI has their own investigators, but have to conduct theirs in accordance with Federal standards. Suitability is the part that nails people for that particular position. As far as the Federal system is concerned, prior investigations conducted (I.E you served in the military with a prior clearance, so the previous one is looked at). All that happens is that references are talked to (supervisors, co-workers, neighbors, friends, etc) are talked to, and various records are pulled. As far as references go, its expected there will be someone who has something negative to say about you for one reason or another.

              As far as the polygraph is concerned, be honest obviously. If you fail you fail, if you pass you pass. IMO they should be conducted after they investigate someone rather than before.
              I have to disagree about use of polygraph exams. The basic function of the polygraph is pass-inconclusive-fail, certainly, but too many agencies rely on that without meaningful investigation or use of the information developed. Proper use of the polygraph is to assist the investigator in directing the investigation toward the most productive directions. Short version: polygraph is an investigative tool, not a substitute for investigation.

              In doing backgrounds it is quite common to use polygraph exams as a means of thinning the herd, too frequently resulting in a subjective analysis being used as a big stick. This saves investigative time and expense, but cannot truly be called an objective process.

              Comment


              • #10
                Originally posted by retired1995 View Post

                I have to disagree about use of polygraph exams. The basic function of the polygraph is pass-inconclusive-fail, certainly, but too many agencies rely on that without meaningful investigation or use of the information developed. Proper use of the polygraph is to assist the investigator in directing the investigation toward the most productive directions. Short version: polygraph is an investigative tool, not a substitute for investigation.

                In doing backgrounds it is quite common to use polygraph exams as a means of thinning the herd, too frequently resulting in a subjective analysis being used as a big stick. This saves investigative time and expense, but cannot truly be called an objective process.
                We can agree to disagree. The reason for my position is that there's been quite a few instances where there's derogatory information developed during a background investigation for a polygraph position that should have been disclosed. Example: Person puts no for financial delinquencies/issues (that they have not been working towards resolving), passes their polygraph, and then when we go digging the person has outstanding delinquent accounts within the time frame. I'm reasonable and don't expect people to have their account numbers memorized, but people should have a general recollection of debts that they owe.

                Comment

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