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How do Employers Verify Education?

Natasha Serafimovska

At any stage in your professional journey, you may come across an employer or a recruiter who asks to verify your educational credentials. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as 30% of candidates admitted to lying on their resumes, yet 79% of them never get caught. In fact, 85% of employers in the US who conduct background checks find that candidates have lied on their resumes or job applications. 

This can have serious repercussions on business performance. So it’s no surprise that employers may want to verify your educational credentials. But as a job searcher who is generally transparent and has nothing to hide, you may be wondering, “How do employers verify education” and “What are they looking for?” In this article, we’ll dive into the nitty-gritty of education background checks and how employers use them to ensure they’re hiring the most qualified candidates.

What Is an Education Background Check?

Employers verify education with education background checks. An education background check is a process that confirms the information you’ve provided in your resume, job application, or interview. More specifically, employers check for the type of degree obtained, the date of attendance, and the educational institution’s accreditation.

This process doesn’t take very long, and it serves as an extra layer of protection during the hiring process. 

Why Do Employers Conduct Education Verification?

You may think that conducting education verification is superfluous and unnecessary. After all, who lies about where they attended school? Well, you’d be surprised to find out that over a quarter of candidates lie about their education history (26% in 2020 as opposed to 17% in 2018).

The world actually abounds with examples of high-profile individuals who falsified their records to land lucrative and highly coveted jobs. Just take a look at the example of the Australian woman, Veronica Hilda Theriault. She fabricated her resume to land a job as a Chief Information Officer at an Australian regional government company, netting a $185,000 annual salary. Or Yahoo’s former CEO, Scott Thompson, who falsely claimed to have obtained a degree in computer science.

Considering how common this practice has become, it makes sense that employers want to verify whether candidates have the skills and credentials they claim to have. In some industries, like healthcare and insurance, employers may be mandated by law or professional institutions to check for specific credentials to stay compliant with industry standards.

What Shows Up on an Education Background Check?

When an employer conducts an education background check, there are a few things they look for.

  • Institutions attended: the names of the schools, colleges, or universities the candidate attended and if they are fully accredited.
  • Dates of attendance: the dates of enrollment and graduation, ensuring the candidate’s timeline aligns with their claims
  • Degrees or certifications earned: the type of degree, diploma, or certification earned by the candidate, ensuring it matches the qualifications listed on their resume or application
  • Major or field of study: the candidate’s major or field of study, which is particularly relevant for specialized roles.
  • Honors or awards: in some cases, employers might also verify any honors or awards the candidate claims to have received during their education.
an employer reviewing a resume at the computer so he can verify the education

How Do Employers Verify Education?

So, the big question… how exactly do employers verify education?

There are several ways an employer goes about verifying a candidate’s educational background. Before every process, however, they will ask candidates to share all the details about their educational history. Then, depending on their budget and timelines, they will source the original transcripts or contact the institution’s registrar. Employers can also submit a verification request with the National Student Clearinghouse, an education nonprofit that conducts education background checks.

If they have a bigger budget, they will consider hiring a professional third-party service. These third-party services can integrate with the company’s application tracking system (ATS) and keep all candidate’s records in a central place.

The pros and cons

There are pros and cons to each of the aforementioned methods.

  • Hiring a third-party service – outsourcing the verification process can remove a lot of the hiring overhead, especially if the company is looking to fill many positions fast. However, these services cost money. So businesses would need to budget for them upfront.
  • Contacting the educational institution directly – this is the most straightforward approach, but it can be labor-intensive for HR managers. It can also take longer, as some institutions do not issue transcripts to third parties. Instead, they may ask for the student to make this request directly.
  • Asking for the original certificates – some employers may be satisfied with an original copy of the transcript or a diploma alone. This is by far the fastest way to verify one’s education, but it isn’t completely fault-free. Nowadays, there are sophisticated ways to issue original-looking transcripts. Diploma mills are quite common, and thousands of people have used them to obtain a fake degree.

Things can be a bit trickier when it comes to checking a candidate’s high-school diploma or GED. An employer would need to contact the Department of Education in the respective state where the person obtained the credential and wait for a response. Since this is a government body, things can move a bit slower. 

How Long Does It Usually Take?

Education verification isn’t that common, mostly because the recruitment process itself can take a while, and businesses assume these verifications would further delay things. Likewise, companies fear that a candidate will accept another role in the meantime, and they’d miss out on a great hire.

That said, the time it takes to complete an education background check can vary, depending on many factors, such as the number of institutions to be verified and the responsiveness of those institutions. Typically, education verification can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Third-party verification services may expedite the process by having established relationships with educational institutions or access to relevant databases.

What Are Things an Employer Might Check?

Education verification is only one of the many things an employer cares about during their screening process. Depending on the type of job you’re applying for, the industry, and the seniority of your job position, companies can be much more thorough in their screening and look at all aspects of your history. 

Here’s a list of other things in your application an employer may check:

  1. Employment history: 92% of recruiters look at previous job experience as the most important factor when hiring an employee. So they’re very likely to check a candidate’s previous job titles, dates of employment, and reasons for leaving past positions. This helps ensure that the candidate’s work experience aligns with their resume and supports their qualifications for the role.
  1. Criminal history: A criminal background check is often conducted to assess a candidate’s potential risk to the organization. Depending on the nature of the role, certain criminal convictions may disqualify a candidate from being hired.
  2. Credit history: For positions that involve handling finances, employers may conduct a credit check to assess a candidate’s financial responsibility and trustworthiness.
  3. Professional licenses and certifications: Employers may verify any professional licenses or certifications that are required for the role, ensuring they are current and valid. So be sure that any continuing education is up-to-date.
  4. Professional references: Employers may contact the candidate’s professional references to gather insights about their work habits, skills, and character. This information helps to paint a more complete picture of the candidate’s suitability for the role.

Final Thoughts

Education verification may feel like an extra, unnecessary bureaucratic step to landing a job, but it’s an essential aspect of the hiring process. It doesn’t just allow employers to confirm a candidate’s qualifications and protect their organization’s reputation. It also protects qualified job seekers from those who aren’t.

And let’s not forget that falsifying your resume records can stay with you for life. You don’t want to be the next Hilda Theriault, whose career fell apart like a tower of cards once her lies were unveiled. Not only can this have severe career consequences and cause recruiters to ghost you, but in most cases, it’s not even necessary. There are many employers who look beyond one’s education and appreciate people’s skills, experience, and overall personality above their degree. In the long run, honesty and transparency will lead to a far more successful and fulfilling career than any false degree can.

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