CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Job hunters battered by the recession have one more thing to worry about.
More employers are examining job candidates' credit history along with their employment history, references and driving records.
Security firms that help check out job candidates said the number of employers that include credit histories in their examinations increased 15 percent to 20 percent over the past five years.
Naturally, some of the unemployed who might have fallen behind on their bills worry that a credit check could stand between them and a coveted job.
"With the recession, there may be a lot of people who fall back on their bills," said a Salisbury, N.C., reader, who learned her spotty credit history figured prominently when an employer terminated her after five months in 1990.
The woman, who finally got another job, didn't want her name used. She said she fell behind on bills after she was injured in a car wreck and didn't work several months.
She learned about the credit check when her former employer challenged her application for unemployment insurance and told the Employment Security Commission she was fired because of credit problems.
"They didn't even ask me about it," she said.
What's a job applicant with problems like these to do? Should you tell prospective employers before they find out? And if so, when? In your cover letter or during the interview?
Employers, career counselors and security firms say opt for candor.
"It would make a big difference if they told us on the front end that something is there," said Clente Fleming, NationsBank Carolinas personnel executive. "You are going to feel a lot more favorable toward someone who is truthful and honest to you."
Steven Jesseph, senior vice president of Fox Morris & Associates, an outplacement and executive-search firm with offices in Charlotte, said job applicants should always volunteer information that could be negative.
"It's in your best interest to address it rather than to wait for the company to find out," said Mr. Jesseph, whose firm does placement and recruitment.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting law, applicants must sign a release to allow prospective employers to check their background.
Employers who check credit histories say it's stated on the application forms that job candidates sign.
Personal credit histories give employers a snapshot of a prospective employee that other records can't.
"It tells us whether you are capable of balancing your own finances," said Edna Norwood, First Union's vice president of human resources.
But employers caution that a credit history is just part of the process. They say they consider mitigating circumstances, such divorce, sickness or unemployment.