When applying for a practicum, internship, postdoc or job, psychology students and recent grads may find their past up for scrutiny in a background check--particularly for positions involving work with minors, with the federal or state government or in forensic settings.
So what can you expect if you have to go through one?
Employers may obtain your driving and education records, look for your name in court or criminal records and sex offender lists, examine your state licensing records, or contact past employers or personal references.
They may also check for a history of child abuse or neglect--especially if you will be working with children. Some states may also require employees to be fingerprinted--for example, California requires new applicants for licensure to do this.
As long as applicants are honest with the employer, they shouldn't have problems, says Raymond E. Crossman, PhD, the president of Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago.
He recalls a student who applied for an internship in a prison facility and said he never had been fired from a job. However, during a background check, the employer found the applicant had been fired in high school from a pizza restaurant job. He lost his internship.
"Simply be honest and forthcoming," Crossman says. "The internship probably wouldn't have cared if he had told them about something so minor that happened so long ago. But there was a mismatch between what was reported and what the facts were."
In fact, it's not that uncommon for students to have had such adolescent misadventures as shoplifting, drug possession, driving while intoxicated or a minor property crime. Such blemishes on a record, however, rarely keep a student from completing practicum, says Timothy Melchert, PhD, an associate professor and chair of the department of counseling and educational psychology at Marquette University.
At Marquette, all psychology students who go on practica at a school, hospital or child care agency are required by a Wisconsin state caregiver law to have a background check.
Melchert says that if blemishes arise on a background check, the applicant may be asked to provide an explanation of the incident and how the issue has since been resolved.