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Background Investigator Duties and Responsibilities

Based on job postings that we analyzed, most background investigators share several essential responsibilities:

Investigate Potential Hires

The central role of a background investigator is researching a potential employee’s background to verify application information. This typically includes information such as previous employers and education but can also include more detailed information related to criminal activities, conflicts of interest, or credit factors. The specific nature of the investigation depends on the industry in which the business or organization operates.

Gather Background Information

The primary focus of a background investigator is gathering and analyzing information related to an individual or business’s past activities. Background investigators use a variety of means to gather information, including contacting the applicant’s previous employers and coworkers, accessing publicly-available data through law enforcement and credit databases, and obtaining information through social media and other websites.

Conduct Interviews

Many background investigators also conduct interviews with parties related to the individual or business they are investigating. These interviews are typically used to confirm application information but may also follow up on falsehoods or conflicting information that the investigator uncovers over the course of the investigation. On some occasions, the background investigator may also directly interview the applicant to clear up questions.

Prepare Reports

Throughout the investigation process and after completing their work, background investigators also prepare and present reports to managers and other decision-makers. These reports generally cover the findings of the investigation and highlight any potential issues that the investigator uncovers. If the background investigator successfully confirms all of the information provided by the applicant, the report will provide verification information and sources.

Oversee Due Diligence Investigations

While background investigators typically focus on applicant background checks, many also play a central role in corporate due diligence activities leading up to sales, acquisitions, and mergers. In this aspect of the role, the background investigator identifies potential conflicts of interest, verifies tax filing information, and investigates the finances of involved parties and personnel to ensure that their employee has complete information before making a decision.


Background Investigator Skills and Qualifications

Background investigators locate information, usually related to job applicants, using a variety of investigation methods. Most workers in this role have at least a bachelor's degree and the following skills:
  • Investigative skills – background investigators should be familiar with a wide range of investigative techniques, ranging from thorough searches and information verification to conducting interviews to confirm information
  • Information gathering – this role also requires excellent data gathering skills, and background investigators should be able to collect and compile information from a large number of sources
  • Analytical skills – background investigators need to be highly analytical and able to synthesize information to draw conclusions. They also need to be able to follow a trail of information and verify its accuracy
  • Industry knowledge – in this role, background investigators should have thorough industry knowledge. For example, a background investigation for a public servant has different needs that for a financial professional
  • Communication skills – effective communication is central to this role, since background investigators need to speak with a variety of individuals and prepare reports on their findings


Background Investigator Education and Training

Although this role does not require any formal education, most background investigators have bachelor's degrees in related fields such as criminal justice or police science. Additionally, most background investigators have some experience with investigation, sometimes through previous careers in law enforcement. In many states, background investigators are also required to be licensed. There are few opportunities for on-the-job training in this role.


Background Investigator Salary and Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes background investigators in the larger private detectives and investigators category. According to the BLS, workers in these roles earned a median annual salary of $50,700 as of May 2017. The highest-paid 10 percent of workers in these roles earned more than $86,730 per year, while the lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $28,780 per year.

The BLS expects employment in this field to grow at a faster-than-average pace of 11 percent between 2016 and 2026.


Helpful Resources

If you're interested in starting a career as a background investigator, we found several useful resources on the web:

Association of Certified Background Investigators (ACBI) – the ACBI is a professional organization for background investigators, offering publications, training materials, and networking events.

Business Background Investigations: Tools and Techniques for Solution Driven Due Diligence by Cynthia Hetherington – this book explores basic and advanced techniques for conducting background investigations for businesses in any industry.

The Background Investigator – read this blog to learn the latest industry news and developments for background investigators, along with information on emerging technologies that background investigators can use in their work.

Pre-Employment Background Investigations for Public Safety Professionals by Frank A. Colaprete – while this book focuses on background investigations for public safety employees, it features techniques and advice that any background investigator will find helpful.

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