Credit Checks And The Finance Job Search

by Derek Loosvelt | March 10, 2009

Maybe in college you got a little crazy with your new credit card and forgot to pay off a few bills. Maybe a few years later you started a web site to sell rutabagas online but filed for Chapter 11 instead of an IPO. Maybe after that, you got divorced and your spouse refused to pay the mortgage on the house you won in the settlement.

And maybe now you want to get into the banking field.

Well, maybe you'll have a few problems.

"A credit investigation is probably one of the most important things for a banker to pass before handing other people's money," says Mary Mallett, the president of SearchPro in North Carolina and a recruiter for the commercial banking industry. "If you are delinquent on your own bills, how on earth can you handle other people's money?"

Commercial banks, which use their own money to set up financing or to underwrite loans to companies, appears to conduct credit checks more regularly and vigorously than do investment banks. Almost all the commercial banks Mallett works with conduct credit checks. A tenth of the commercial banking applicants she tries to place fails to get a job because of deficient credit records.

Applicants with a charged-off credit card, consistent delinquencies, or even tardy repayments on student loans have gotten dinged, Mallett said.

"Anything less than a good rating is a bad credit report - at least it is for a banker," Mallett says.

Banks thinking of offering loan officer positions typically run first a credit check, then a criminal background check, and then a school transcript check.

"Bankruptcies do count, drunk driving arrests do count," Mallett said.

Besides listing financial blunders, a credit check can also flag inconsistencies that might make an employer suspicious. An applicant who claims a 1998 Harvard degree on his resume but lacks a Massachusetts address on his seven year credit history probably has some explaining to do, for example.

Investment banks contacted by Vault were less forthcoming about their credit and background check procedures, and several bulge bracket I-bankers said they didn't recall going through a credit check when they got hired as investment banking analysts.

At Credit Suisse First Boston, which does conduct credit and school transcript checks for all incoming analysts and associates, a spokeswoman says, "I can't think of a time where we rescinded an offer because of a credit check."

Though CSFB's relatively laxity may be startling compared to the one-in-10 rejection rate Mallett experiences for commercial bankers, every company has its own threshold for the creditworthiness of their employers.

"What we do is just report the information the companies that are requesting it," said Ken Chong, the director of marketing for U. S. Search, a Los Angeles company that charges corporate clients $15 to $40 to run a credit and background check on a prospective employee. "It's up to them how to interpret that information."

So what should you do if you think your prospective employer is going to run a credit check on you? ~

First, know your rights. Legally, a company must ask your permission before running a credit check. And if a company turns you down for a job because of your credit, it must tell you so and provide you a copy of your credit report. And an employer has to provide a legitimate business reason for running a credit check.

Secondly, know your credit. Contact the three major credit reporting agencies, Experian (formerly TRW), Trans Union, and Equifax, and ask for your credit report. (All three agencies are online at www.experian.com; www.tuc.com; and www.equifax.com.) In six states, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont, a credit report is free; if you've been turned down for credit or a job because of credit, you can also get your report for free. Otherwise, you will have to pay up to $8.50 to see your report. Look over the report for mistakes or irregularities, then call the agencies to make corrections.

For jobs at top corporate spots, a full background check might involve everything from a records check at the county courthouse to interviews with neighbors. "If you're hiring a CFO, and the CFO has extended, nonsecured credit debt of 100 grand, you'll know he'll be under pressure. And that's scary. You could draw the inference that he might be under pressure to steal," said James Miller, a private investigator and president of Chicago-based Investigative Services Agency Inc.

Miller went so far as to suggest that applicants for high-ranking positions pay for an investigation about themselves, which could dig up areas of concern they might want to address.

Thirdly, if there's a blemish you can't erase from your credit report, draft a letter to your prospective boss explaining why you screwed up.

"Get your credit report, go through it line by line, and then sit down and write a letter to the HR department of your potential new employer as to any bleeps and blunders on your credit report," Mallett says. "They are far more forgiving if you tell them up front is you were late. I had one guy who had been late on his student loans, but he wrote a letter, and he got it straightened out."

Filed Under: Finance


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