By Michael Klazema, special to Octane Blog
Most recruiters and hiring managers know that background checks are a vital part of any employee screening and onboarding process. However, while pre-employment background checks are commonplace in most jobs today, there are still numerous aspects of these checks that remain woefully misunderstood by most employers. Here are eight such aspects that every recruiter and hiring manager should know.
1. There is no “ultimate database” of criminal history
On television, the background check process seems so easy. Protagonists run the bad guy’s name through some magical database and voila: they have that person’s entire criminal history file on their computer screen within six seconds. In real life, the process isn’t so simple. There is no “ultimate database” of criminal information. Instead, criminal records are scattered nationwide and are stored at county courts and state repositories. As a result, there is no background check you can conduct on an applicant that is going to cover everything at once.
2. Criminal background checks are location-based
Why is there no database that collects every United States criminal record in one place? Because criminal records are location-based. Most criminal charges are lodged in county court, so that’s where those convictions are filed. Many of these county courthouses don’t have digital records, which means that the only way to get those criminal files is to go right to the source. Some county courts report to state repositories, but not all of them do so, which means that state checks don’t always naturally supersede county checks. To add to the complexity, there are also federal court districts with their own records. You can’t hit the whole map, so you have to decide which locations to target with your background checks.
3. The best criminal background check reports are pulled together from multiple sources
In dealing with location-based background checks, the best criminal history searches are often pulled together from multiple sources. You can start by checking your applicant’s name against county criminal records in the area where your company is based. To get a better sense of that person’s full past, run an address history check and then order county criminal checks in the areas where that person used to live. By using a variety of different sources, you minimize the chances of a major “red flag” offense going undetected.
4. The criminal history check should not be the full extent of your company’s background check process
Criminal background checks are not the full extent of your pre-employment background check process— at least, they shouldn’t be. Consider checking your applicant’s driving history and credit history, depending on the responsibilities that the job entails. Civil court checks can give you some sense of a person’s character. Sex-offender and child-abuse registries can tell you whether or not a person can safely or legally work with children. And then there are verification checks— processes that can help you determine whether or not your applicant lied on his or her resume.
5. Verifying schools and past employers might be more difficult than you think
Since instances of resume dishonesty have become more common in today’s competitive job market, it’s important to verify CV information. In particular, you want to make sure that your applicant has the job experience, college degrees, and professional licenses he or she claimed to possess. Some of these credentials might have been prerequisites for the job that you set yourself. In the case of professional licenses, they might even be legally essential. When it comes to verifying resume information with schools and past employers, the verification process can be difficult. Schools and companies go out of business all the time, and even those that are still around aren’t always easy to contact. Employers are also often wary of disclosing much information about past employees for fear of defamation lawsuits. Just be aware that your verification checks might not be as “open and shut” as you want them to be.
6. You might be restricted regarding when in the hiring process you can run background checks
Ban-the-box policies have become increasingly popular in the past few years through local ordinances or state laws. The majority of these policies tend to apply to public employers, not private companies. However, you should check to see if your state, city or county has a ban-the-box policy in place— and if so, if your business is required to follow it. If you do need to follow such a policy, you might be required to do more than remove questions about criminal history from job applications. Many of these policies bar employers from running background checks on applicants until after conditional offers of employment have been made.
7. Your background check process might be rendered ineffective if the applicant uses a false name
Unless you are using a fingerprint background check, the criminal history checks you are ordering for your applicants are likely name-based. As such, a false name can allow a candidate with a rap sheet to avoid detection. Luckily, there are alias checks out there that can use social security numbers to beat false names and find the truth. Ask your background check provider if these types of checks are available.
8. Social media background checks aren’t the best idea
There has been a lot of chatter in recent years about companies that rescinded offers of employment after checking out their applicants on Facebook. Employers like the idea of checking up on candidates via social media and looking for offensive posts, questionable photographs and other objectionable content. However, social media accounts can also reveal a slew of information that employers are not supposed to know— including an applicant’s sexual orientation, religion and political views. Running a social media background check can impair your ability to judge an applicant objectively. And, in the long run, it could get you in trouble with the EEOC.
Michael Klazema has been developing products for pre-employment screening and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com.