Automation, integration, and mobile tools allow background screening providers to perform their critical role better than ever.
By Russ Banham
Nearly every month in the United States this past year, more than 150,000 open jobs were filled—a welcome sign that the dour employment legacy of the Great Recession is a fast-fading memory. As competition intensifies to recruit qualified workers of all kinds, from full-time employees to the expanding contingent workforce, timing is of the essence.
What we mean is this: The quicker a company can fill an open position, the less likely the chance the quality worker will go elsewhere. This reality has elevated the importance of the time-to-hire metric in managing the effectiveness of a company’s recruitment strategy. What key factor is eating up precious time in this vital metric? Background screening.
“We’re always the last piece of the puzzle and the one that feels the most pressure to reduce time to hire,” says Justin Raprager, senior solutions executive at SmartStart Employment Screening, a provider of background screening services.
“Nowadays, before you can conduct a background check, you have to make the job offer. This means we have to work fast. The good news is that we’ve made great strides in our turnaround time.”
A substantial reduction in turnaround times has become an expectation, although a difficult undertaking given the complex processes required. For one thing, today’s job candidates hail from all across the country and increasingly from across the world. Providers must vet their educational attestations, the existence of criminal records, and the veracity of past employment and related experiences and referrals—all under the thumb of vastly different, yet equally strict national and international compliance mandates.
“Reducing time to hire in the background checking process is a balancing act,” says Todd R. Carpenter president of IntelliCorp. “It requires that CRAs [consumer reporting agencies] improve the delivery time of information, while maintaining the highest level of accuracy.”
Brandon G. Phillips, president and CEO of Global HR Research, agrees. “Speed is great and we are certainly much faster and more efficient than ever,” he says. “But companies must realize that if they hire the wrong candidate because of a shoddy background check, they will confront liabilities and extended costs. It’s better to do it right and thoroughly than focus just on speed.”
Being thorough in the collection of data is one way to quicken the process. “Having all of the information needed to conduct the background check is key to a timely and efficient screening process,” reports Ryan Krostue, chief operating officer of Universal Background Screening, Inc. “When the information is collected up front—or as part of secondary application or workflow—background screening firms can complete checks more quickly.”
The move to efficiently reduce the time it takes to conduct a comprehensive background screen is one of four trends underway within the industry. These developments are at the behest of client demands. Customers also want a more civilized background screening experience for employment candidates; wider screening practices that reach out across the extended workforce, such as temporary hires, vendor partners, and contract workers; and more centralized screening capabilities on a global scale.
A case in point is Intrexon, a fast-growing synthetic biotech company that sought reduced time-to-hire metrics. “We are always seeking quality job candidates who share our passion for excellence, hard work, game-changing creativity, and moving beyond the limitations of traditional biotech,” says Sarah Castle, Intrexon’s associate director of human resources. “The challenge is they’re skittish about leaving their current employer, a consequence of the recession.”
Once enticed to make the jump, the candidate wants to be sure the job offer is secure. “The challenge is that we make the job offer and they want to give a two-week notice,” Castle explains. “It was getting to the point where the background check was taking longer than the two-week notice. The longer they hold off on giving notice, the greater the chance they will stay put in their current employment.”
On the other hand, if the candidate does give notice and the background check later reveals an inconsistency in their educational or employment criteria, the person will be out of work. Says Castle, “Obviously, it’s extremely important to us for the background checks to be a more efficient and shorter process.”
The tighter turnaround times that clients are demanding are becoming table stakes. “Either you conclude the process within 24 hours, depending on the sophistication of the background check, or you’re really not in the game any more,” says Ben Goldberg, president Aurico Reports Inc.
They’re in the game thanks to automation—the use of social, mobile, data analytics, and the cloud to create a digital ecosystem. Not that this is an easy adjustment or a journey completed. Today’s technology tools help streamline the screening process, but some organizations with which screening companies interface with may lag in this regard. These entities run the gamut from international law enforcement and U.S. and foreign courts, to employers and educational institutions worldwide.
But this hasn’t prevented leading organizations from investing in the tools to digitize and automate the information extracted from courts and other data sources to help their clients. Most background screening tools can be integrated with applicant-tracking systems, and have mobile applications and other automated tools. IntelliCorp, for instance, has applied an automated tool at the front end of its clients’ applicant tracking systems to ensure the subject information is correct, thus avoiding the need for downstream corrections.
Automation ensures greater accuracy of the information presented clients. “We all need to present the correct forms at the correct time to applicants, aligned with the regulatory documents required at the federal, state, city, and municipality levels,” Goldberg says.
These forms differ markedly in number and content on a geographic basis, he notes. “The overarching goal is to do this all within one workflow and yet be accurate and compliant at the same time,” Goldberg says. “To do this requires ongoing investments in automation.”
While Castle from Intrexon agrees that automation and integration are important, she also wants a provider to have boots on the ground to manually pull information when an automated solution is untenable. “Automation is critical, but not all states have automated systems,” she explains.
Focusing on specific types of screens is another step in paring the time it takes to conclude a background check. SmartStart, for instance, is aligning its screening questions more specifically with the concerns that clients have about an applicant. “Maybe they just aren’t concerned about the employment or education verification,” Raprager explains. “This can really streamline the process, as the busiest department in any company is HR and recruitment.”
Global HR Research is responding to the need for speed by delivering mobile and e-signature solutions to its customers. “Everyone lives on their iPhones and are not going to put up with bad technology or a cumbersome hiring process,” Phillips says.
In the past, people would put up with the headaches, simply because there was no other alternative. “There was no ability to consolidate a candidate’s background into a single report or platform,” Phillips says, resulting in candidates entering their personal identifiers multiple times, “document after document.”
No candidate will put up with this experience today, particularly younger ones. “It sends a bad message about the employer’s brand—that its technology is antiquated, time-consuming, and not integrated with the CRA,” he adds.
A candidate screening process that is less taxing on applicants is more important than ever. “There’s a growing trend to engage the candidate throughout the experience,” says Carpenter. “For instance, our customers are increasing their use of candidate portals to collect authorization and provide disclosures and consumer rights to applicants.” This allows for clearer communication with the candidate, while also putting them in charge of their information, he explains.
Raprager concurs: “The more you can eliminate the back and forth with the candidate, the better the experience.”
Improving the candidate experience from application through onboarding is a major objective of many HR organizations. According to the 2015 screening benchmark survey by HireRight, 25 percent of HR professionals stated that this was one of the most significant talent acquisition challenges they faced. This percentage increased to 42 percent for organizations with more than 4,000 employees. More than one-third (36 percent) of respondents say they put forth plans to invest in improving the candidate experience.
The Screen Widens
Providers also are being asked to screen the backgrounds of workers that heretofore had escaped the net. “While companies may have a relationship with a preferred screening provider for direct hires, they often rely on their contingent workforce provider to handle the screening of temporary employees,” Aurico’s Goldberg says. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for the staffing firms to “miss something,” he adds, “causing a misalignment that can result in a costly situation.”
This explains why more businesses are asking their screening providers to apply the same standards to their extended workforce, comprising of temporary hires and contract workers, as their full-time employees. “We’ve seen an increase in demand from our customers to view their extended workforce in a way similar to how they view their own employees,” Carpenter says.
This workforce includes such non-employees suppliers and vendors. “Anyone who goes onsite to perform some form of labor creates an operational and safety risk,” Goldberg says. “Even the crew that comes in unsupervised after hours to clean the plant or office creates risk that should encourage the company to conduct a background check.”
Nowadays, everyone is considered a liability. “Companies are accountable for their entire supply chain today,” Carpenter agrees. “This is critically important if personal or account information is shared with or processed by a contractor.”
Global HR Research also is vetting more than just traditional hires. “With fewer people available for jobs, companies are more willing to take on the risk of hiring a full-time equivalent, then see if he or she can prove themselves,” Phillips says.
Unless the initial background check of the employee is conducted accurately and thoroughly, the employer may later hire the person on a full-time basis, only to learn their alleged educational criteria is false. “Employers rely on the temp-to-perm providers to conduct the background check, which is fine as long as there are no deviations in the approach. Not all are the same. You want consistency in your hiring practices across the board.”
Despite the additional cost of screening these individuals, Carpenter says the expense for many of his customers is less important than the risks of not conducting the checks. The HireRight study backs up this attestation, noting that 82 percent of companies responding to its survey currently perform some sort of background check on their extended workforce.
Consistency also is sought with regard to vetting the backgrounds of foreign hires, as well as U.S. citizens who have worked and studied abroad. Achieving it is more elusive, however. “Most colleges and universities abroad are not like here, where the documents are digitized and available electronically,” Raprager says. “If someone received a degree in India, for instance, we literally have to get a copy of the diploma, and then go through a process to have it hand delivered to our office in that country and pay a fee called a ‘demand draft.’”
The time it takes to verify the educational criteria can be as long as two to three weeks. “I know that sounds really long, but anyone who regularly deals with India will tell you it’s actually phenomenal,” he says.
Phillips agrees that this is the case. “Every country and territory is different insofar as how to access data and transport it to the U.S.,” he says. “There is no centralized global version of the Fair Credit Reporting Act that we have here in the states. The European Union is working on this, but more work needs to be done.”
More work also needs to be accomplished on a related issue. Companies must complete a Form I-9 for every individual they hire, including non-U.S. citizens (the form verifies the identity and employment eligibility of the candidates). While government efforts to simplify the form’s completion have been successful, the end result is a much longer I-9: nine pages now instead of five. Employers are at varying stages in using electronic versions of the I-9 Form (E-Verify), with many still relying on cumbersome paper forms.
“This is certainly a growing trend, increasing speed to hire while ensuring the documents are completed correctly,” Goldberg says. Nevertheless, progress is slow.
In the future, expect even greater reliance among employers on their background screening partners. The reason is the ubiquity of fabricated resumes. More than three-quarters of the respondents (86 percent) to the HireRight survey reported that background checks had unearthed a “misrepresentation, lies or false information” on resumes and job applications. Slightly less (72 percent) found that the checks had uncovered issues that would not have been found otherwise.
Every company wants to trust the claims made by qualified job candidates. No company would take the risk that everything they read is true.