Don’t let international employees become liabilities. Bring background screening to a global level.
By Russ Banham
Background screening has proven to be as vital to the recruitment process as the hiring of targeted skill sets. In the United States, companies can accurately vet the educational, criminal, and work experience histories of job applicants. But what about when prospective employees are recruited beyond U.S. boundaries?
It is not uncommon for an apparently talented individual in China, India, or some other emerging country where background checks are in their infancy to claim a particular educational degree or period of time working in a specific capacity for a local company. If the person has a name that is equivalent to a “John Smith,” vetting the truth of these attestations is an uphill climb often ending in crossed fingers.
Small wonder why several providers of background screening services in the U.S. say a key trend is either establishing footholds in foreign markets to conduct more in-depth background checks or partnering with organizations in these countries to provide the same services. Indeed, the subject was a front burner issue at the recent annual conference of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS). “In this era of globalization, with more and more companies stretching their operations across the planet and hiring foreign nationals at home, global screening has become a necessity,” says Robert Capwell, chief knowledge officer at Baltimore-based Employment Background Investigations (EBI), and head of the NAPBS’s Global Alliance Council. “A lot of employers have not conducted global background checks because of the time, difficulty, and cost this involves. Job applicants from outside the U.S. know this, increasing the risk of fraud.”
This concern has prompted companies like Pelican Products to retain EBI to do the spadework to ensure applicants don’t make any false claims. “We’re a global organization with facilities in the U.S., Canada, Spain, the U.K., Australia and other places in Europe, as well as sales offices in Japan, China and India,” says Christine Becker, regional HR manager at the Torrance, Calif.- based manufacturer of indestructible cases and lighting systems. “We are hiring people across the world and moving them from one region to another. Not knowing if they have an actual criminal background can result in harm to our workforce and other potential liabilities.”
Fact and Fiction
In today’s tight employment market, the sorry fact remains that some job candidates—and political candidates (see sidebar, Background Screening and Politics: Unearthing the Truth, on page 9) —will stretch the truth a bit. Others may completely invent their past. According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Managers, an eye-opening 78 percent of resumes are misleading. More than half of resumes (53 percent) contain falsifications, 33 percent are rife with inaccurate job descriptions, and 21 percent contain fraudulent degrees. When the job applicants are from foreign countries, these fictions are harder to identify and assess.
Small wonder why providers of background screening services say that global vetting of applicants’ credentials is a critical need today, especially as more businesses become players on the world stage.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in requests for international background screening,” says Todd Carpenter, president of IntelliCorp Records in Cincinnati. “There are far more foreign workers here in the U.S., as anyone can easily see among their colleagues. For all the right reasons, companies want to be sure they are applying the same standards consistently to these individuals as they apply to everyone else.”
While businesses can achieve a fairly consistent and highly accurate background check on job candidates living, working, and educated in the U.S., consistency and accuracy break down when the applicants hail from outside the country. “Both the availability and reliability of information is significantly different and elusive, which is problematic,” Carpenter explains. “This is why we are increasingly being asked to step in and help.”
Ryan Krostue, chief operating officer at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Universal Background Screening, Inc., agrees. “We’re seeing an expansion of the scope of due diligence requests by employers, both in terms of the initial background checks as well as the frequency (of screening),” Krostue says. “The scope now regularly includes criminal searches at the global, federal, state and county levels, in all jurisdictions where the applicant has worked and lived.”
With regard to the frequency of the screenings, the effort is largely confined to criminal and driving records, as well as Court-ordered sanctions involving the applicant. These ongoing checks typically occur post-hire at the time of a transfer or promotion. “For those in safety sensitive and other high-risk positions, employers want to apply the same level of due diligence to their current employees as they do to new hires,” Krostue says.
Criminal checks are the key concern of employers when hiring workers from abroad, but the process is time- consuming and cumbersome. “In India, for example, you have to physically go to the local police station and dig through paper police certificates of criminal activity,” says Capwell. “Unlike the U.S., there is no electronic database of criminal records to simplify the search.”
To find relevant background documents, a company must first know the primary or first residence of the candidate, as every parent in India must provide this address to the government for record-keeping purposes involving their children. “Even if the person moves a dozen times over the course of their life, the primary residence remains the means of conducting a records search,” Capwell explains. “Obviously, one must ascertain the truth behind the primary address first, before digging further. Otherwise it’s a waste of time and effort.”
Not just foreign countries are an incubator of fictitious resumes. Many of the same employer concerns also apply to job applicants living in the U.S. For instance, many companies now routinely request background checks on a candidate’s maiden name or other alias names they may have used in the past. “Unless a fingerprint-based background check is processed, court records in the U.S. are filed by name, so searching the ‘right’ name or names is crucial to a more thorough background check,” Krostue explains.
Is That Ph.D Padded?
While criminal background checks create the most concern for global employers, much of the record vetting internationally has been aimed at the accuracy of a job candidate’s alleged educational criteria. So-called diploma mills—unaccredited education institutions that offer illegitimate academic degrees for a fee—are a thriving business abroad. The challenge is separating the wheat from the chaff.
Say the job applicant’s resume indicates the person received a degree from a very formal-sounding university. To back up the information, he or she provides an email address or phone number. The prospective employer calls the phone number to verify the data and is told all is well. The person is hired. Unfortunately, the “degree” is nothing more than a piece of paper.
Equally alarming is the theft of a bona fide college graduate’s identity for the purpose of acquiring work as that person in another country. This happens more often than companies imagine. “Education is the one area where people tend to get the most fictitious,” says Becker from Pelican Products.
She explains that Pelican hires many engineers around the world. “Someone with a modest knowledge of the profession could create a fictitious graduate degree,” Becker says. “If the individual is going to conduct supplier quality audits, we could end up with products made from inferior goods. Obviously, we have to be absolutely sure what someone states on their resume is what they’re actually qualified to do.”
Companies can undertake this ferreting out process on their own, but as with many tasks outside their core competencies, the work is better left to experts like EBI, which handles Pelican Products’ background screening needs. Global screening can be handled by third-party providers through on-the-ground footwork or via outsourcing relationships with local background screening firms.
This work is expected to become less arduous and time- consuming as the NAPBS reaches out to government officials worldwide to discuss the benefits of background checks, while further encouraging them to implement standards and best practices similar to what exists in the U.S.
“So far, we’ve been able to create NAPBS chapters in Canada, Europe, and Asia Pacific, with the Global Alliance Council overseeing these and future efforts,” says Capwell, adding that the council’s mission is to “be the global voice of the background screening profession, providing the framework for the promotion of standards and ethical business practices through legal compliance and education.”
Carpenter from IntelliCorp Records agrees that compliance is a key factor in moving companies toward global background checks. “I just came back from the NAPSB conference, and one of the key topics among us was how regulations drive compliance, which then drives expanded background screening processes,” he says. “Governments and regulatory agencies are holding companies to higher standards, which is a good thing for everyone.”
Russ Banham is a veteran business journalist and author. His new book, “Higher: 100 Years of Boeing,” will be in bookstores in January. He can be reached at www.russbanham.com.
BOX: Background Screening and Politics: Unearthing the Truth
As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. At a meeting of parents at his son’s school, David Doud just happened to sit next to Todd Owens. The dads talked about their careers, as fathers tend to do on such occasions. When Owens mentioned that he was in the background screening business, Doud’s ears perked.
He had run for political office twice in his native Washington State, only to lose to candidates who had withheld from voters what he considered to be critical information. On his third try for office, running for a position on the Port of Seattle Commission that oversees the city’s major ports, Doud conducted a background check on his opponent. He learned that the opposing candidate reportedly had a state tax lien against him for taking too much in unemployment income, but couldn’t publicize the fact. He lost a third time.
The good news is that the experience gave him a renewed raison d’etre. Doud now runs CandidateVerification, a non-profit corporation that provides free background checks and resume verification services to candidates running for public office. While the organization does not automatically conduct background screening of politicians, when one candidate requests the screening it puts the onus on opposing candidates to follow suit.
“As I had learned myself, by law the screenings have to be permission-based and self-authorized,” Doud explains. “But once one candidate jumps on the bandwagon, the others feel the need to do the same, otherwise they risk error by omission.”
After it launched in 2013 in King County, Washington, CandidateVerification received a ton of positive press and political traction, with more than 70 percent of bipartisan candidates running for state office reaching out for a background screening. This started a trend that is now being picked up nationally, with California politicians now requesting the screenings. Once verified, the candidates’ employment, professional and educational credentials are released online, as are their 10-year criminal and civil records.
Conducting the background searches is TalentWise, whose CEO just happens to be Todd Owens, Doud’s conversation partner at their kids’ school. “Frankly, I was a little surprised to learn from David that the electoral process was void of any formal background checks, despite this being a standard practice in both the private sector and for government employees,” says Owens. Today he serves on the board of CandidateVerification. “I want to be a part of improving the underlying ecosystem of our democracy,” he explains.
Doud sees the services provided by the non-profit organization as vital to the electoral process in the U.S. “There’s a lot of cynicism in American politics, a lack of trust, and negativity,” he says. “While we can’t solve the underlying problems of the system, we can provide an antidote to the risk of someone claiming to be other than who they are.”
BOX: Best Practices for Global Screening
As verifying the credentials of international employees becomes more important than ever, our roundtable of experts recommend the following four best practices to follow:
• Maintain a consistent process for all candidates no matter their location.
• Verify educational credentials—illegitimate academic degrees are a thriving business abroad.
• Conduct criminal checks for the primary residence of the candidate.
• Issue background searches for all prior residencies of candidates.