I have just been made an offer for a job I really like, and I have been told that I will now have a background check. What is this?
Well, first of all, congratulations! Background checking takes a few different forms and is becoming more common. For example, I have had a 'working with children' background check when working on school canteens.
The type of background checks you may be subjected to could be a criminal check, a qualification check and, in addition to your references, a work history check. You may also have a clause in your letter of offer or employment contract advising that your continued employment is subject to a background check. This is necessary, as background checks can take weeks and you may already have commenced your new job. You may also be aware that medical, drug and alcohol checks can be required for some roles (e.g. the operation of machinery). You haven't specified what type of job you have been offered, but let's say it's an office role.
So you don't think you have been singled out, background checks are becoming more common for a variety of types of positions and reasons. It has a lot to do with many organisations not wanting to provide references any longer, and so prospective employers are using other methods of checking the bona fides of their prospective employees. For the overwhelming majority of the population, you do not have anything at all to worry about, and I'm sure you fall into that category, but if you have a common name, then your background check could take quite a long time, even if you have nothing at all to fear.
For example, there are a lot of John Smiths to search through before they get to the right one to even commence the checks. I believe the one check that a lot of people may have cause to worry about is the working history and qualification check. As seen with the high profile case involving Myer, prospective employers have been spooked by the publicity surrounding alleged overstatements of qualifications and experience. Now, in this case, it involves a senior executive. However, embellishing experience, omitting some jobs and the old chestnut, hiding a short term permanent job under the guise of a 'contract', are quite common.
Fabricating or falsifying qualifications, whilst not as common, does happen, and a lot of people try their luck, normally safe in the knowledge that a background check won't be undertaken and they will be taken at their word. So in short, don't be worried; make sure that whatever you have stated in your resume stands up to scrutiny, and if you do think there is something in your background, it's better to be upfront about it.