Of all the pre-employment background screening tools out there, which ones reveal the most telling information, and allow you to hire with the most confidence?
As an HR professional, you can appreciate that much depends on the degree of responsibility and the sensitivity of the work they’ll be doing. Also, some job types and industries require more rigorous pre-employment screening: positions of security and trust (such as for caring for vulnerable groups like children, the disabled, and the elderly), fiduciary or security duties to individuals or companies, or the operation of machinery or sensitive equipment.
If a job doesn’t clearly fall into one of those categories, you’ll still want verification of some kind that the person will be a trustworthy and loyal employee.
Whether to do a background check versus a reference check on that person is a question you need to ask yourself. Here are some insights to help you hire with confidence.
What’s the bottom-line value of a reference check vs background check for employment?
A reference check is conducted with a previous employer to confirm the potential employee’s work experience, how much they were paid, their attendance record, if they got along with their colleagues, performance issues, and why they left the job. At least, those are the things you most want to know but you won’t always get the answers you’re looking for.
Reference checks often don’t give you the confidence you’re seeking. Usually, a previous employer will only supply bare information as a matter of internal policy, in order to protect them from litigation.
When contacting references, you also must be aware of what you cannot ask, so you’re not open to charges of discriminatory hiring practices. Age, race, health and marital status are all areas you must be scrupulous to avoid.
There are several grades of background checks available for pre-employment screening. As with the rule of all things commercial, you get what you pay for.
DIY background checks may be as cursory as Google searches and LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter perusals. Many employers satisfy their curiosity this way, and most of the time a social media check can give you a decent sense of your candidate’s online presence and personality. Beware, though – some information gleaned from social media searches – including race, ethnicity, and religion –can expose you to potential discrimination lawsuits. In general, you should avoid soliciting any extraneous background information that is irrelevant to the job description.
Many online, flat rate background check services that charge you $2.95 per person or $10 a month for unlimited background checks are what we in the industry might call “lemons.” In most cases, these types of services are non-compliant with FCRA regulations governing pre-employment background checks, and hence not suitable for use in pre-employment screening. Most of the time they won’t mention that, so it’s up to you to verify their methods and practices.
An example of why this is important: When you have somebody come back with a hit — and by that I mean, let’s say, any kind of criminal activity, maybe two years ago — you can’t just tell the person, ‘Well, we can’t hire you because this came up.’”
Perhaps the person had a misdemeanor on their record but served probation and the offense has since been expunged, but the database you’ve used hasn’t been updated. They may say, “Wait a minute, that’s not right, this has been cleared up.” So there’s conflict there, and they can come back and sue you.
Most professionals in the investigations field recommend a cross-verification check to avoid this situation, but those aren’t included in the cut-rate services.
Full service, professional background screening services generally are the best bet. They provide the most reliable, legally compliant and relevant information you need to make a good hiring decision.
They’ll also have customer service people available to help you select exactly the type of background screening you need for the positions you’re filling, so you can buy only what you need and keep the rates affordable. Cross-verification services (to avoid situations like the one described above) are usually included by the professional background screening companies.
Depending on the type of information requested, background checks come with varying price tags. When initiating a background check, you focus only on information directly relevant to the job position you are hiring for. This will save you money on the hundreds of checks you may have to perform each year; for example, a desk worker’s driving record isn’t really relevant. Likewise, credit checks should only be performed for positions in which the candidate may have to make important financial decisions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has brought actions in the past against companies that inappropriately used credit checks as a barrier to employment.
Before you go the DIY route for your next hiring round, consider how much time and effort you can save knowing that the entire process is safe, legal and fair to everyone concerned. It may cost a little more, but the savings in stress and potential for future problems is well worth the investment.