Clearing up common misconceptions about background screening

Here we’ll go through the most common misconceptions about background screening, and provide you with some of the solutions we suggest to our clients. Information on candidates has to be gathered from diverse sources, and local laws dictate how you are allowed to obtain that information and what you can or can’t do with it.

Despite pre-employment screening being one of the most effective pre-employment filters that companies can use to ensure staff and the workplace are made safe from undesirable employees, even the most reputable organizations can fall foul of common misconceptions surrounding employee screening. Vetting processes are not infallible as there are numerous factors which can impact their effectiveness at weeding out potentially bad hires.

Background checks are not all the same

One of the misconceptions about background screening is that one check fits all. A comprehensive background screening service actually comprises a range of different background checks. There are thousands of background screening providers that you can hire for vetting job applicants, from individuals and legal experts to fully accredited consumer reporting agencies (CRAs). Each entity has its own way of researching or might focus on providing a particular type of background check. One screening agency may specialize in looking into credit histories while another might focus on criminal record research, which could be on a local or national or even international level. Checking education and qualifications falls under a different screening category altogether.

For performing criminal background checks, employers might consider running fingerprint checks through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to confirm information about individual candidates such as name, date of birth, address and any criminal convictions. However, the information is not always reliable or up to date, and shouldn’t be totally relied on for making hiring decisions without further checks.

Using a consumer reporting agency that’s accredited by the PBSA is an assurance that you’ll get comprehensive, in-depth background screening from a diverse range of sources. Accredited staff are trained and qualified to carry out research in the field, much like an intrepid reporter or private investigator, using reliable sources such as physical court records and databases.

Surprisingly perhaps, using the FBI’s resources doesn’t offer much in the way of such consumer protection. Accredited CRAs on the other hand are regulated by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, which ensures a high degree of protection over the handling of personal data.

Social media isn’t a viable background screening tool

The second most common misconceptions about background screening is that different social media platforms are considered as factual source of information. Platforms such as Facebook are the last place you should be looking for this kind of information about candidates to back any hiring decisions you make. Job portal CareerBuilder warns that more than half the hiring managers questioned in a survey said they decided not to hire a candidate after seeing their social media profile. But there are two significant reasons why you shouldn’t use social media as your primary background research tool:

  1. Social media posts are by their very nature relate to an individual’s social life, not their work or profession, unless the posts are on a business page. Even so, whatever is said on social media should stay on social media. Posts and comments are not a true indicator of the person making the posts, which may be done in jest or as a fake persona. Rarely do individuals use real information about birth dates, and marital status, either.
  2. You could be in breach of equality laws and accused of discrimination if social media was your primary source of information about a candidate and you made a hiring decision based on that.

Nevertheless, it’s reasonable to include searches on social media as a part of your pre-hire process, if only to help give you an indication of the kind of person you’re planning to hire. We recommend doing any social media searches only after screening through other officially recognised channels and reaching a final hiring decision based on other, more reliable sources of information.

Cheap and quick doesn’t cut it

Another misconceptions about background screening is that you can cheat the cost. No doubt you’ll get in touch with several consumer reporting agencies in your area to evaluate the different background screening packages they offer and compare the prices they charge, which could range anywhere from a few to hundreds of dollars for an individual background check.

Don’t be fooled by promises of ‘instant results’ for low fees, or any fee for that matter, as no agency can flat-out guarantee the time it will take to perform a thorough background search and get results. That’s because even though we are well into the 21st century, there isn’t a ‘national’ database of criminal records. That and other information on individuals is collated from hundreds of different databases around the country so accessing and verifying any records takes time and human resources. Criminal records checks often involve searching localized databases at district courthouses for example. Those files are not always accessible online and so researchers have to visit those places in person to dig up any pertinent information.

As a rule, you can expect criminal database searches to take up to three or four days. Checking qualifications and work references can take longer, depending on the response time from a candidate’s previous employers or education institution, which could be prolonged by holidays, changes in staff and so on.

Details of the extent and type of screening you require can be worked out with your consumer reporting agency of choice. They should provide you with a tailored plan to suit your needs and budget.

Police officers are not qualified to perform background checks

As mentioned earlier, criminal record checks must be done locally, where physical records are kept, and they must be done by a certified professional. Police stations may hold arrest records but any convictions or otherwise from criminal proceedings are kept at places such as state or county courthouses and district offices.

Police officers are not among those qualified to do criminal history searches on your behalf. Yes, they may have access to such files to carry out their duties but would be breaking the law to pass on that information, and you could both end up getting criminal records yourselves.

Get in touch with us for a free consultation about your background screening needs.