The Right and Wrong Ways to Do Background Checks

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Vector Check Mark Symbol On Checklist Chris Dyer is the CEO of the national background check company PeopleG2. His company handles an average of 40,000 transactions each month for clients ranging in revenue from $25-60 million, using “private eyes” to review each file. PeopleG2’s clients include Turners Outdoorsman, Clean Energy Corporation, and Care Ambulance.

We asked him recently about the changing world of background checks and how these checks impact recruitment. Dyer was also kind enough to explain the right and wrong ways to do background checks. What’s new in the background check industry? Has social media become more of a focus, or are applicants wising up and scrubbing their histories?

Chris Dyer: What’s new in the background check industry is the incredible amount of judicial-based change coming about from case law and rulings on how background checks are done. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), for one, is attempting to change the way in which the background check process is being carried out. This is causing mayhem in the industry. In some cases, all the change is definitely making it harder for the employers to keep up with the new requirements. It can also create extra steps for the employees as well that seemingly add nuisance to the process.

The other development is related to the economy. In a poor job economy, we tend to see a much higher rate of lies on resumes to help the candidate’s resume fit the requirements of the job at hand. When jobs are plentiful, we see higher criminal rates among the remaining 4-5 percent who can’t get jobs. Right now, we are in the midst of that shift.

When it comes to social media, absolutely the use of it for color on a candidate is widespread. Employers are definitely Googling candidates, and simultaneously, applicants are getting smarter about protecting their identit[ies], but there has not been a major change in terms of how background checks are administered. That said, employers need to be careful about how they use the info they find online.

RC: When is the best time to do a background check in the hiring process? Is it before the job offer or before a candidate commences employment?

CD: This is truly an employer-specific decision, though we strongly recommend running background checks at the end of the process, after a candidate is offered the job, because:

  • You will have a better sense of the candidate at that juncture, and can hence vet any background check results more effectively.
  • It’s keeping in line with general EEOC guidelines.
  • Employers will be able to make a better decision about the person in the case they do have a record.

RC: What are some of the common pitfalls of the ways companies conduct background checks? What mistakes can be avoided?

CD: We generally see three main mistakes employers commit:

  1. Before the background check: Having correct and up-to-date release forms to secure the proper permissions and supplying the applicant with whatever is required by law are major cornerstones of the background check process – and a legal obligation. You’d be shocked by how many companies don’t do one or both of these steps.
  2. The background check itself: The timing of when the background check is administered is often too early or too late (after they hire the person).
  3. When the results come in. So often we see companies mishandle the results of the background check. If they are not going to hire someone based on the results of the background check, they need to send them a specific letter and give the candidate a chance to respond before moving on to the next candidate. Yet, most companies don’t even give candidates the reason they are not being hired.

RC: Should a background check be the final answer in hiring? Or should it just be one part of the hiring process?

CD: Background checks should not be the final answer, but one key piece in the overall picture of the candidate at hand. It’s a big and important piece, but not the final piece. And there is support for this stance. For instance, the “Ban the Box” movement is asking employer[s] to look at candidates more holistically.

RC: What has been the Internet’s impact on background checks? Can’t a human resources person or recruiter accomplish a lot by going online?

CD: The Internet has created a false sense of security on the part of employers. It has also inserted an incredible amount of confusion and room for error — or even liability — on the part of the employer.

If we’re talking about recruiters and HR professionals doing social media searches on candidates themselves, [that] doesn’t really work. What frequently happens is that either they don’t find what they are looking for at all, or they find much more than what they are supposed to see. There are strict legal rules about what an employer is allowed to see. In the former instance, most background check items, such as DMV records, are not available on the Internet. In the latter instance, [employers] may find crime info that is outdated or has been dismissed or protected class information that should not affect the interview process. In both cases, it’s a very risky proposition.

When we run social media searches, [they are] based on finding relevant content and not on making judgments based on random photos. We look for specific types of photos (pictures with weapons, violence, [and/or] drug paraphernalia, versus pictures of a candidate with a glass of wine in their hands).

RC: A lot of hiring is done through networking. Why bother with background checks if you are familiar with a candidate?

CD: Sometimes personal referrals can give you the best talent, but sometimes they can also lead to the worst talent. Networking absolutely does not mitigate the need for background checks because:

  • The recruiter’s or referrer’s reputation is on the line here as someone who recommends this candidate for a job.
  • People are generally not testing their own networks, and while well-intentioned, you would be shocked at how far people will go to help a family member or friend out to secure a job by leaving out key negative issues.

RC: What can candidates do to clean up bad backgrounds? Should they note problems in their backgrounds while applying?

CD: In some cases, nothing can be done. In other instances, you can work with an attorney to have your record expunged, if your state or county allows that and if you qualify. The law varies state by state: some states allow employers to go back indefinitely to crimes committed when you were 18, versus California, which has a seven-year cutoff.

By Keith Griffin