The power of reverse background checks: Why you should research potential employers

Feb 15, 2023 - updated Sep 13, 2023

8 mins

The power of reverse background checks: Why you should research potential employers
Kim Cunningham

Senior Editor at Welcome to the Jungle

Job hunting can be a nerve-wracking experience, but it’s crucial to keep in mind that you’re not just vying for the job, the company is also competing to win you over. That’s why it’s essential to conduct a “reverse background check” on potential employers before you fully commit. In today’s cutthroat job market, doing your due diligence on a company can mean the difference between landing your dream job and ending up in a nightmare scenario. By flipping the script on traditional job-hunting methods and taking control of your career, you can ensure that the company you choose is the right fit for you.

What is a reverse background check and why should you perform one on a potential employer?

A reverse background check is the process of researching a company before you apply for a job. This can include looking at the company’s website, social media accounts, news articles, and employee reviews. While it may be tempting to send your resume minutes after seeing a job advertisement online, at some stage or another, you’re going to have to research who they are.

Think of it like this: if a company is going to put time and effort into reviewing your application and profile to determine if you would be a good fit, you should be doing the same thing on your end. We’re talking about going beyond checking their website for surface-level information. Getting into the nitty gritty details of who the company is, what its values are, and what life is like on the inside. As the saying goes, “knowledge is power,” and by researching a potential employer in-depth, you’ll be able to decide whether or not it’s a good fit for you.

Job search strategy and interview preparation coach Lori Ginsberg, who runs a coaching business called Interview Ace - Coaching by Lori, highlights three main benefits for job hunters conducting reverse background checks.

It helps you determine if the position is right for you

While the idea of a particular role or job title may intrigue you, the culture match with the company you’d be applying to is not to be neglected. By conducting thorough research on the company, you’ll be able to pinpoint key pieces of information that will tell you more about the culture. Ginsberg warns that a culture mismatch “could impede career development and negatively impact comfort and enjoyment on a day-to-day basis.”

If, for example, you value diversity and want to find a company that does too, conducting a reverse background check could help you filter out options that don’t put as much emphasis on DEI practices or don’t have a diverse workforce. Ginsberg recounts a particular example of one client’s personal experience: “I had a client who specifically was looking for a company with a solid representation of women in positions of leadership. Before applying for roles, she researched companies looking for this element specifically and chose to prioritize companies with women represented in positions of leadership.” This kind of exercise can save you a lot of time in your job search by allowing you to weed out incompatible roles early on.

Another element you’ll be able to gain insights into is the company’s stability and growth trajectory. Ginsberg explains that, as a job hunter in today’s economy, it’s important to understand a company’s position in an industry. “If a company is growing and thriving, it can be an exciting and motivating place to work,” she says. “Alternatively, while there is really no such thing as “job security” at most companies, if a prospective employer is facing severe competitive or financial headwinds, it can negatively affect job security and morale.”

Finally, Ginsberg shares how performing a reverse background check can help you get a sense of the pros and cons of applying for a role there. Before you even send your application, you can measure whether or not the company meets your expectations and ambitions. “A good understanding of the pros and cons weighed against personal preferences will help a job seeker to determine if the opportunities outweigh the negatives for them, and if the negatives are things they can tolerate,” she explains. Doing this at such an early stage in your job hunt will save you valuable time to focus on more relevant opportunities, while also saving you from a workplace that potentially doesn’t meet your needs.

It provides you with valuable information you can use to your advantage

It’s no secret that generic cover letters are the bane of recruiters’ existence, but how exactly can you master the art of a personalized cover letter and application? Well, by collecting information on the company in the form of a reverse background check, you can translate your findings into a genuine cover letter and catch the eye of the recruiter. They want to see your motivation for applying to their company in particular. “The prospective employer wants to know that a job hunter is interested in working for that specific employer, not for just anyone who will make them a job offer,” Ginsberg shares. By doing your due diligence on the company, you can boost your chances of being spotted as a top candidate. “Incorporating a couple of nuggets of information in a cover letter sharing what it is about this particular employer that makes the job hunter excited to apply for the position demonstrates that,” she suggests.

Your reverse background check can also serve as an information collector for screening calls or first-round interviews with prospective employers. You’ll set the tone for the rest of the process and show how serious you are about working for them if you show up to the very first meeting well-equipped. By doing so, job hunters can “demonstrate they are engaged and excited about the potential employer and that they are the kind of person who does their homework,” Ginsberg shares. “Prior research also allows the job seeker to prepare intelligent and thoughtful questions about topics that can’t simply be researched online.”

It helps you prepare for the interview stage

It’s no secret that it’s important to research a company you’re interviewing with to be able to accurately and intelligently answer questions. However, the earlier you do this research, the sooner it will stand to you at the interview stage. One common question that’s often asked early on is, “Why do you want to work for us?” and if you come out with a generic or lazy response à la “I’m looking for a new challenge,” your application will likely be pushed to the (near) bottom of the pile. That’s especially true if a competing candidate has an extremely relevant and interesting answer because they did a reverse background check.

Being able to incorporate information you found through press releases, social media, or other communications from the company will show dedication and motivation in the interview. “An interviewer is looking for someone who is enthusiastic about the company and the role,” Ginsberg explains. “They want to know that you have a specific interest in working for them, not just collecting a paycheck or parking there until a better opportunity comes along.” By infusing your answer to this question with up-to-date information on the company or reasons that relate back to this information, you’re proving yourself as a serious candidate.

Additionally, conducting a solid amount of research on a potential employer will help you prepare knowledgeable and informed questions about the company and its industry. “Questions for the interviewer should not only help you to get information about the company or the role, but should also demonstrate to the company that you’ve done your research on the company and latest industry trends,” Ginsberg says. “This communicates that you like to be prepared, you do your homework, and you’re putting effort into landing the job. It also shows that you have a genuine passion for the role and the specific company you are interviewing with. These are all attributes any interviewer wants in a candidate.”

How to conduct a reverse background check

There are three main avenues Ginsberg recommends when conducting a reverse background check. While this is not exhaustive, it should give you a good idea of how to go about conducting research on a potential employer.

Diving deep into the company’s website

While the obvious starting point for conducting a reverse background check is the company’s website, this is not your only resource. Ginsberg explains that while their website can provide you with valuable insights into the company’s mission, values, goals, and what they look for in an ideal candidate, what’s boasted on their website “doesn’t guarantee that it lives the value it touts,” she says. “At the very least, the job seeker can see what the employer believes is and isn’t appealing to potential new employees.”

Additionally, digging through the company website can lead you to valuable information regarding company news, press releases, recent developments, and company results. “These are valuable data points you can use to assess a company and to develop talking points for cover letters and interviews,” Ginsberg shares.

Analyzing external company review websites

Beyond their own website, Ginsberg suggests utilizing sites like Glassdoor to get a more first-person perspective of how the company operates. “Many companies, particularly larger organizations, have anonymous company reviews on Glassdoor written by current and former employees. The reviews include sections for pros, cons, and suggestions the reviewer has for company leaders,” she explains. Using these types of sites can give you a good indication of a company’s culture and pros and cons. However, Ginsberg warns, take sporadic extreme (positive or negative) comments with a grain of salt. “One or two reviews may not be a reliable indicator of what life is like for an employee at that company as those one or two employees may be particularly happy or dissatisfied with that employer,” she describes.

Another resource Ginsberg recommends is, a website that analyzes companies on a number of factors. Among other things and based on employee ratings and reviews, the tool provides a culture score for companies, a CEO score, salary insights, a gender score, and a diversity score. However, one of Ginsberg’s favorite key indicators on the site is the retention score. She says it allows job hunters to “get a flavor for how well a company does with retaining employees,” which is a very telling detail. If you notice a high turnover rate, you may want to investigate.

Conducting informational interviews with employees

Once you’ve collected sufficient information from online resources, you can also reach out to people who work or have worked at the target company. Ginsberg recommends setting up an “informational interview” to find out what the company really values and measure the employee’s perception against your research findings.

Speaking to someone who’s on the ground at the company you’re considering can help you make an informed decision on whether or not you want to apply or, further down the line, if you want to accept a job offer from them. Once you’ve met with the employee, Ginsberg suggests analyzing your conversation to reveal key information by asking yourself questions like, “What does the employee say about the employer and what don’t they say? How enthusiastic and sincere does the employee sound about their employer? How long has the employee been at the company and what do they say about what drew them to or keeps them at the company?”

An additional benefit of speaking to a current employee before starting an official recruitment process is that you’ll quickly gain insights into things you may not discover naturally. “An employee can also tell you what their day-to-day life is like at the company, key priorities communicated by company leadership, and trends/changes they’re seeing and how it is impacting the experience of being an employee at the company,” Ginsberg explains.

Key takeaways: The power of a reverse background check

In today’s job market, it’s not just the employers who have to make the right decision. As a job seeker, it’s important to be vigilant about the companies you’re applying to and ensure that their values and culture align with your own. Conducting a reverse background check before applying for a job can provide valuable insights into the company’s culture, stability, and growth trajectory, as well as help you prepare for the interview stage. By doing so, you can tailor your application to stand out from the crowd and demonstrate your dedication and motivation.

Some key points raised by Ginsberg to bear in mind when starting your job search:

  • Reverse background checks are an important step in the job-hunting process, and can help you make sure you’re getting into the right role and working for the right company early on.
  • By doing your research on a potential employer, you can gain a better understanding of the company’s culture, values, and reputation, which will help you decide if it’s the right fit for you.
  • As a job hunter, you can leverage the findings of your research to help you prepare a personalized cover letter and nail your interviews.

Remember, knowledge is power, and doing your research on potential employers can save you valuable time and energy in the long run.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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