Top 10 Background Check Terms You Should Know

Man asking question to audience in workplace representing 10 background check terms you need to know

The purpose of hiring is to find the right people to bring on board to grow your business, right? Background checks are essential to the hiring process because they provide verified information about a candidate so you can have confidence you’re making the best choice. On top of validating the candidate’s legal identity and work status, they can uncover information that might impact the person’s ability to perform the role.

If you’re in charge of hiring or work in the industry, or are simply a jobseeker who’s had multiple jobs throughout your career, you know background checks go by many names. Background checks go by names from pre-employment screening, to criminal record checks, to police checks, and more. On top of that, there’s a lot of screening-specific jargon to decipher. In this blog post, we cover the top 10 background check terms you should know:

  1. Consent
  2. Pre-Employment Screening
  3. Alias
  4. Pass-Through Access Fees
  5. Consumer Report
  6. Turnaround Time (TAT)
  7. Cleared
  8. Pre-Adverse and Adverse Action (PA/AA)
  9. Pardon
  10. Verifiable Credentials
Happy collaborative workplace with diverse colleagues at conference table about to dive into background check terms

Test Your Background Screening Knowledge: Top Background Check Terms


Consent in background screening is the green light the person gives you to look into their personal history. Privacy laws require employers to obtain written consent from candidates before beginning the screening process (a digital checkbox counts). 

Companies must also be upfront with candidates about what data they’re using to run their background checks, who their personal information is being shared with, and why. Consent is the crucial agreement that ensures transparency, respect, and fairness in the screening process.

Here’s a link to Certn’s Privacy Policy to learn more.

Pre-Employment Screening

Pre-employment screening is the umbrella term assigned to a bundle of background checks and verifications that are done before a candidate is officially hired – employment offers are often conditional pending the completion of this screening.

There’s no one-size-fits-all screening program, but common pre-employment screening includes:

The aim of pre-employment screening is to mitigate risks for employers by ensuring that candidates possess the necessary qualifications, have a trustworthy history, and align with the organization’s values and requirements. It’s a way to make more informed hiring decisions and to safeguard the workplace environment. We cover this in the blog post: Employment Background Checks and Employee Screening.


In the context of background screening, an alias refers to any alternative name that an individual may have used at any point in their life – it’s not just for superheroes. This could include nicknames, maiden names, previous surnames due to marriage, or any other names they may have legally changed to or used informally. 

Understanding aliases is crucial in background screening because it helps ensure that a comprehensive search is conducted across all possible identities of an individual, allowing for a thorough assessment of their background, criminal history, and other relevant information. This helps to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the screening process. 

Given this, ask whether they process aliases, in addition to these other questions when choosing the best background screening vendor.

Pass-Through Access Fees

Simply put, pass-through access fees are what background check companies pay to get information. Some data is available through federal or national databases at little cost, more accurate information is only available directly from the original source and is subject to data acquisition fees (e.g., information from county criminal records, DMVs, licencing bodies, etc.). It’s common for these fees to be passed on to the client and as supplemental charges added to background checks and verifications; they’re not markups. 

Here’s our list of Certn access fees by region. We work with each client to ensure the best cost structure and timeline for their needs.

Consumer Report

A consumer report is a detailed document that provides information about an individual’s creditworthiness, financial history, or other personal characteristics. These reports are often generated by consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) and may include information such as credit scores, credit history, payment history, outstanding debts, and public records like bankruptcies or liens.

Consumer reports can also encompass more than just financial data. In the context of pre-employment screening, consumer reports may include information on an individual’s employment history, education verification, criminal history, and other relevant background information. These reports are subject to regulations such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in the United States, which governs the collection, use, and dissemination of consumer information to ensure fairness, accuracy, and privacy protection for consumers. 

Here’s a blog post about FCRA Requirements for Employers.

Turnaround Time

Turnaround time refers to the period it takes for a screening process to be completed from the moment the request is initiated until the final report is delivered to the requester. This time frame can vary depending on the complexity of the background check, the types of checks being conducted, the responsiveness of the sources providing information (such as previous employers or educational institutions), and the efficiency of the screening provider.


A “cleared” status indicates that the individual’s background check has been completed satisfactorily, with no red flags or issues identified that would pose a risk or concern to the organization or employer. This generally implies that there aren’t disqualifying factors found in the individual’s background that would prevent them from proceeding with the intended purpose, such as employment or volunteering.

Though, it’s still important to review the report to ensure you understand the results and are making informed decisions for you and your business.

Pre-Adverse and Adverse Action

“Pre-adverse action” and “adverse action” are terms used in the context of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in the United States, particularly concerning background checks conducted for employment purposes.

Pre-Adverse Action: Pre-adverse action refers to the initial step taken by an employer who is considering making an adverse decision based on information contained in a background check report.  Before making a final decision based on the contents of the report, the employer is required by the FCRA to notify the applicant that adverse action may be taken based on the information found in the report. This notification typically includes a copy of the report and a summary of the applicant’s rights under the FCRA.

Adverse Action: Adverse action occurs when an employer decides to reject a job application, withdraw a job offer, or take any other adverse employment action based on the information contained in a background check report. The employer must provide the applicant with a formal adverse action notice that includes specific details about the decision, such as the reasons for the adverse action, the contact information of the consumer reporting agency that provided the report, and information about the applicant’s rights to dispute the accuracy of the report.

These steps are mandated by the FCRA to ensure that candidates are given a fair opportunity to review and dispute any potentially inaccurate or misleading information in their background check reports before adverse action is taken against them. We cover how you can automate parts of this process in the blog post Adverse Action Notice Requirements.


In Canada, a pardon, officially known as a record suspension, is a legal process that allows individuals with a criminal record who have demonstrated good conduct and rehabilitation to have their criminal record set aside. This means that the criminal record is effectively sealed from public view and is not disclosed in standard background checks.

Obtaining a pardon in Canada typically involves completing an application process through the Parole Board of Canada (PBC). The eligibility criteria and process for obtaining a pardon can vary depending on factors such as the nature of the offence, the length of time since the conviction, and the individual’s behaviour since the conviction.

A pardon in Canada provides individuals with the opportunity to move forward with their lives without the stigma and barriers often associated with having a criminal record. However, it’s important to note that certain exceptions may apply, and a pardon does not erase the conviction from the individual’s criminal record entirely.

In the United States, a pardon is an official act of forgiveness granted by the President or a state governor that exempts an individual from the legal consequences of a conviction or removes certain legal disabilities resulting from a criminal conviction.

A pardon can restore various rights and privileges that were lost due to the conviction, such as the right to vote, serve on a jury, hold public office, or possess firearms, depending on the laws of the jurisdiction. It can also help individuals overcome the stigma and barriers associated with having a criminal record.

Pardons in the United States are typically granted on a case by case basis and often involve a thorough review of the individual’s criminal history, conduct since the conviction, and other relevant factors. While a pardon does not expunge or erase the conviction from the individual’s record, it can provide significant relief and opportunities for those who have demonstrated rehabilitation and remorse for their past actions.

Verifiable Credentials

Verifiable credentials are cryptographically-secure and fraud-proof digital credentials. They’re a standardized, digital way to authenticate a person’s qualifications or skills with peace of mind the documents weren’t modified.

As covered in our 2024 Background Check Industry Trends, the potential to enhance security, simplify user authentication, and provide greater control over personal data using verifiable credentials has a crucial role in shaping the future of background screening. Our vision for verifiable credentials and goal of changing the way trust is established encompasses a trusted verifiable credentials network and a consumer-owned digital wallet on a smartphone. You can read more here: How Certn is Building the Future of trust: Certn’s Vision for Verifiable Credentials.

The old way, you have to provide physical copies of certificates and references, which is time-consuming and can be difficult to authenticate. With verifiable credentials, you can create a secure digital profile that stores your education and work history. In this scenario the credentials are verified using a decentralized system, making the process more secure and transparent. The same applies to identity verification. Verifiable credentials are a game-changer in identity verification by streamlining processes, reducing time and resources, and facilitating more user-friendly information management and sharing.

Looking up online background check results on a smartphone

The Importance of Background Check Compliance

In addition to understanding background check terms, it’s crucial for employers and individuals alike to grasp the significance of compliance with relevant laws and regulations. Depending on your jurisdiction, there may be specific legal requirements governing the use of background checks in employment decisions.

For instance, in the United States, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which we covered above in the “Pre-Adverse and Adverse Action” section, sets guidelines for the use of consumer reports, including background checks, in hiring. Similarly, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) imposes strict rules on the processing of personal data, which includes background checks. By ensuring compliance with these regulations, employers can protect themselves from potential legal liabilities and maintain trust with applicants and employees.

Industry-Leading Online Background Checks

Whether you run HR at a global company or are looking for copies of your own records, Certn offers accurate online background checks with industry-leading turnaround times. Plus, our screening experts are around 24/7 if you have more questions about screening-specific terminology or products.

There are even more benefits to choosing Certn background checks:

#1-Rated Usability – From the front-end UI to the back-end data sources, Certn’s AI-powered checks are built with clients and candidates in mind. It’s that easy.

Deliver a Better Candidate Experience – There’s no leaving the house or waiting online. Whether you’re running a background check on others or yourself, the identity verification and background check steps can all be completed online via SMS or email invites.  

Deploy Out-of-the-Box or Integrate Flexibly – Certn integrates with leading hiring and applicant tracking systems, compliance platforms, and property management software. If you’re running bulk checks as part of your business, you can learn more in our Partner Marketplace.

Click here to request a demo so you can start screening with Certn.