Hire with confidence: How to Conduct an Employer Background Check

BY -

Evelyn Duskey

June 17, 2020

So you did it. After much searching and interviewing you seem to have found the perfect job candidate — now what? Well, if you’re like 95 percent of employers, you’re about to confirm their employment with the last and final step of the vetting process: the background check.

If you mention employment background screening to the average layperson, they’ll probably think you’re talking about checking criminal history (or lack thereof). But proper employment screening has several touch points, including but not limited to: credit history, education or work history, personal references, social media, motor vehicle violations, and criminal records.

Why Conduct a Background Check?

Hiring the wrong person is one of the most expensive HR mistakes your organization can make. From the time spent hiring and onboarding a new candidate to their ultimately doomed performance management attempts, the cost of bad hiring decisions adds up quickly. Here are three of the most commonly cited reasons for conducting employment background checks.

Protect your people (and your organization)

Perhaps the most obvious reason to conduct a background check is to protect your employees, colleagues, and customers from anyone with a less than stellar history. To avoid any potential liability down the road, you will want to ensure that you’re not hiring any applicant with a history of sexual harassment and/or assault, workplace violence, negligent driving, or worse. Failure to do your due diligence with a thorough criminal and public records check can result not only in harm to your employees, but also in being sued for negligent hiring, which will negatively impact your organization’s image and bottom line. 

See what they’re really made of

There are a lot of fakers out there. A stellar-seeming candidate can sell the best version of themselves in an interview, only to fail to deliver their promised performance after starting the job. The best way to circumvent this possibility is a thorough reference check. Past performance is typically the most reliable indicator of future performance, and can shed light on an applicant’s professionalism, skills, productivity, and more.

Trust, but verify

Many applicants may be tempted to “fudge” their resumes to get ahead. According to a 2018 report, 85 percent of employers surveyed discovered a lie or misrepresentation on a candidate's resume or job application during screening, an almost 20 percent  increase since 2013. By conducting a thorough resume screening process, you can move forward with a candidate in confidence that they are who they say they are, and actually meet the required qualifications of the candidate. 

The Various Types of Background Checks

Whether you’re building your background check process from scratch or inventing a new process, you should familiarize yourself with the different types of checks and what they include to better build that time into your process and make expectations clear for all stakeholders. These include:

Criminal record checks:

Vandalism, violence, public intoxication, disorderly conduct, sex crimes, fraud, and embezzlement — these are all examples of past criminal convictions that a criminal record check will cover. A records check will also reveal current pending court cases, as well as dismissed charges from the last seven years — this will vary from provider to provider. 

Civil court checks:

For small claims, restraining orders, civil rights violations, and bankruptcies, a county and federal civil court check will comb through court records and reveal any cases in which the candidate is a respondent. While many small-claims cases may seem too personal to be significant, it’s more than relevant for any positions that include financial or management duties. 

Credit checks:

These can be useful for positions in which a candidate will be required to handle assets, transactions, and make financial decisions. An employment credit report reveals a candidate’s complete credit history including bankruptcies, civil judgments, tax liens, unpaid bills, and credit inquiries, but not their credit score. Credit checks are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), and its amendment, the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act, or FACTA). Both acts require proper written disclosure and notification of the candidate before requesting the report, and ensures that consumer credit information is later disposed of securely. 

Driving record checks:

In addition to validating identity, motor vehicle reports can provide further insight into an employee’s judgement and behavior, revealing any past DUIs, suspensions, and moving violations. These types of checks are crucial for any positions in which the employee will need to operate a vehicle on behalf of the organization.

Drug testing:

Employers typically use a five-panel screen that includes amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates and phencyclidine (PCP). However, with medical and recreational marijuana use more widely accepted than ever — and state legalization fast behind it — many employers are dropping marijuana screening from their drug panels. 

Education & training verification:

From verifying school attendance dates to the diploma and/or certificates earned, an education verification will help reduce the risk of hiring a candidate with false credentials — a surprisingly common issue amongst even the C-levels of large corporations

Past employment verification:

Organizations can confirm that a candidate is indeed qualified for a position by validating their employment history, along with titles held, achievements claimed, and past responsibilities. This is best supplemented with a reference check, in which hiring managers or HR receives written or verbal recommendations from the candidate’s former employer.

Social media 

While controversial, studies shows that 70% of employers use social media to screen employees during the hiring process. While perhaps invasive, it may be worthwhile for organizations to examine this readily available information to prevent a hiring disaster.

Specific industry requirements

For some jobs such as health care, child care, education, and public transportation, federal or state law may require background checking, or specific checks such as OIG searches and healthcare sanctions. Always check with legal counsel for the compliance requirements in your state.

Choosing Your Background Check Provider 

Due to its numerous regulations and overall complexity, it’s usually not cost-efficient to perform background checks in-house. Luckily, there are a number of third-party service providers who are exclusively dedicated to conducting background screening for employers. Depending on your company’s size, hiring volume, HR team, budget, and legal resources, you’ll want to select the provider that best meets your specific screening needs.  

From FCRA-compliance to ongoing screening, take a look at our top background check services and choose the right one for your organization.

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