The background investigation is one of the final phases of the selection and hiring process. A department will typically not begin a background until it has determined that you are a serious candidate for the position.
A candidate has typically made it through the written exam, physical agility test and at least two interviews before a formal background check will even begin.
However, just because you made it to this stage does not mean you've got the job. It is not uncommon for departments to do backgrounds on two candidates, even if they only have one opening.
The background investigator will be looking at many things. Most candidates think about the obvious ones, such as criminal and driving records and employment references, but most do not consider their credit score.
A low credit score can have a negative impact on your background, and when combined with any other questionable remarks or history, it can mean not getting a job offer.
A credit score is a tool used to determine your financial responsibility when applying for loans, housing tenancy or credit of any kind. It is a common measuring stick of one's overall level of responsibility.
In the eyes of those who do not know you, such as a future employer or background investigator, if you don't pay your debts, pay late or have allowed yourself to get in over your head financially, you may be irresponsible in other aspects of life as well and perhaps be impulsive or untrustworthy.
One can have bad credit for many reasons, and this tool is not always a fair way to measure character. But like it or not, it will be used to measure your ability to be trusted, whether by a creditor, landlord or prospective fire service employer.
Many young people do not realize the importance of establishing and maintaining good credit. A bad credit history can come back to haunt you, and if you're an aspiring firefighter, it can mean the difference between being hired and being rejected.
I wrote this article because I have seen candidates not get hired because of bad credit. Their credit scores became deciding factors in a department's decision to hire them.
Bad credit was always combined with some other factor that arose in their background investigation, such as moving violations and employment terminations. All can hurt your chances of getting hired in the final selection phases. Like bad credit, these things can be improved or erased over time, but why shoot yourself in the foot? The fewer hurdles you need to jump, the faster you will get to the finish line.
We all know you need to avoid felony and misdemeanor charges, but many don't realize that the background investigator looks at much more than these obvious crimes to gauge your character.
Pay your bills on time, and stay out of debt. You'll be glad you did for many reasons. It will not only help you start receiving that paycheck; it will also come in handy when you want to invest that paycheck in your first home.