Accepting the occasionally unavoidable lengthiness of candidate verification can improve outcomes.
By Jon Cano
When hiring to fill a position for which education, experience, credibility, and even liability are critical, managers have every right to know where each candidate stands with regard to the reliability of an application. That makes background checks critically important. International and domestic background checks can identify applicants and employees who have demonstrated unacceptable behavior for the workplace or falsified their credentials. The background check process can include county, state, or national criminal record searches, motor vehicle record, drug testing, prior employment and education verification, license verifications, and other investigations that can reveal potential warning signs.
While most background checks can be completed within three days, extraneous factors sometimes delay the timely completion of a comprehensive screening. As a veteran employment screening professional, I know that in our business you are only as good as your last screening and that time is of the essence. Companies are always looking for speed in the hiring and on-boarding process, and the comprehensive background screening process can exasperate some hiring managers who are befuddled by divergent local county and country regulations, laws, and delays.
However, when you look at background investigations that require more time, the reason is likely not a slow moving background screening professional, but rather a variety of extenuating issues that can extend the completion of a search from a few days to several weeks. Background checks require either on-site or online processes, depending on the investigation and the location and availability of local records. Key factors can delay a background check:
• Inaccurate or incomplete applications. An inaccurate Social Security number, date of birth, or name in a job application will delay a background screening. For example, the candidate might be known as Jon but have a legal first name of Jonathan. In the job application, he lists his first name as Jon, which is run through social verification systems and does not produce a match. At this point, the investigator must reach out to the client and make sure that they have all the right information—i.e., identifiers—in the application to ensure that only information tied to that candidate is reported.
• States and counties playing by variable rules. While some states and counties are well-staffed and use state-of-the-art computerized records, some are plagued by under-staffing and archaic record keeping. If the screening includes a criminal search in one of these areas, it can be further delayed.
• Weather delays. Although the weather where you are might be mild and sunny, the local courthouse near an applicant’s former residence might be experiencing inclement weather. Flooding, blizzards, or power outages that close court houses can also delay searches. A high-quality background screening company will keep you informed of any delays so that you understand the status of your search in the background screening process.
• Tardy education and employment sources. Employers and educators
are not obligated to get back to a screening professional in a timely manner. If an employer or college or university administrator fails to return phone calls, emails, or written correspondence about a candidate, the screening is stuck in slow motion.
• International challenges. International background screenings are pertinent to organizations in all industries with operations that reach across country borders or with workforces comprising individuals who might have resided outside of the United States at some point. These companies might need to ensure that the employment or educational credentials provided by new hires from other countries are valid, and other times they might want to check on a person’s criminal history.
Industry advances have moved international screening result times from between 45 and 90 days to generally between about eight and 16 days. Of course, exceptions exist, but typically a status report can be given two-to-three times a week during the screening process, with results soon to follow.
• Additional identifiers. As was widely reported in the news media, Samuel Jackson, a law-abiding 26-year-old man, was applying for a job when he was misidentified as a felon through a background screen. His pre-employment screening report suggested he was a sex offender who had been incarcerated. To avoid this type of mishap that can delay a law-abiding person from securing employment, the background screening company should cast a broad net, which then should be refined with as many identifiers as possible, including date of birth, address history, etc. This practice of researching court dockets and applying additional identifiers takes time; however, it strengthens the research so that only information related to the candidate being searched is reported. Further, responsible screening professionals should never tell clients they have a “possible felony or misdemeanor hit” before they are 100 percent sure they have the right candidate identified.
• Required sensitive information. A date of birth is one example of a critical additional identifier when researching court dockets pertaining to a similar name of a particular candidate. However, some companies, concerned about the risk around perceived discrimination, are hesitant to collect dates of birth for their candidates. Often times, the clients of background screening companies ask their screeners to obtain such information directly from the candidate. It is not uncommon for applicants to be suspicious and wary of background screening professionals who ask about their dates of birth, which can delay the background while the candidate determines the validity of the request.
The Real Importance of Screening
When people know that a company stands behind comprehensive background screening, they know that the company cares about their welfare. Applicants who have dubious backgrounds that include reckless acts may self-select out of the interviewing process. Applicants and existing employees who have clean backgrounds are rarely bothered by the screening process, because they appreciate the organization’s commitment to a safe workplace.
Additionally, it is critical to rescreen employees—and contractors—each year. Employees who keep their personal lives private might be involved in activities that could negatively affect your workplace. For example, an employee who joined the company with a clean record five years ago might have been involved in domestic disputes during the past few years. This new information is crucial for an employer, as domestic disputes sometimes travel into the workplace. The same applies for contractors.
Background screening is a vital part of the pre-employment foundation. When background screenings are performed, companies see lower employee turnover, less employer liability, higher productivity, and a better-qualified workforce. When you are trying to secure the best candidate and protect your organization and its brand, it is critical to screen all applicants, regardless of where the search is conducted. Challenges confront any process, but an experienced and knowledgeable provider can help you receive timely and thorough information about your candidates.
Jon Cano is vice president of operations and finance for HR Plus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org