It might be tempting for an employer to dismiss employment screening as an unneeded function. Someone lying to get a job with you? “It can’t happen here!” One would have thought so in the recent news story about Mina Chang, who not only was caught embellishing her resume but Photoshopped a fake cover of Time magazine with her face on it to clinch the interview. The position she was applying for? Just the US State Department, that’s all.
This is the kind of story that illustrates what incredible nerve some people out there have. It also serves as a reminder to us why background checks should never be treated as a mere formality in any circumstance. Employment background screening may not be a panacea that eliminates all new hire woes, but it certainly screens the pool of applicants down to the most trustworthy.
Things you should find out in a background check
- Verified identity
- Verified education credentials and certificates
- Where they currently work or their prior places of employment
- Criminal history, including offender registries
- Credit history (depends on the position)
- Driving record (depends on the position)
- Personal references
The remainder of the questions you might have should be reserved for the interview outside the background check. The rules for interview questions are more relaxed, whereas background checks are subject to stringent laws and regulations. For example, asking “Why did you leave your last job?” is a better question for the interview.
Should social media be included in the background check?
This has been a point of some controversy lately. Experts advise that companies not use social media in the hiring process, for the most part. There are several reasons why social media checks aren’t recommended:
- Checking social media may expose you to “protected class” information, which you are not allowed to consider.
- Identities can be ambiguous in social media, whether through a cloaked persona or through multiple accounts being mistaken for one person.
- An individual can be the target of “cyberbullying,” where bad information was spread about them.
However, there are some narrow job categories where social media screening makes sense. Such cases may be if the position you want to fill will be a media or public relations position. In this case, you’d want to ask for their social media accounts and browse through them for an evaluation of their public conduct skills. In this case, the following counts as reasonable points of concern:
- Illegal behavior – felonious conduct or narcotics use
- Antisocial behavior, especially harassment towards a protected class
- Poor communication skills
Ensuring a compliant background screening process
To start with, the law requires that you inform the candidate of their screening and obtain their signature of released consent for this information.
Laws and regulations prohibit many different kinds of information from being considered for employment purposes. Check your local laws or consult with an attorney to find out what applies in your area. To ensure that you don’t violate hiring practices by accident, you should define a set procedure for background screens and make sure everybody involved in your hiring process follows them. Agencies and guidelines which may have jurisdiction over your process include:
- National Consumer Law Center (NCLC)
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
- Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The candidate will typically have a legal right to a copy of all the information you obtained. The best practice is to have a private one-on-one with the candidate, regardless of your decision, to go over the results with them. This gives the candidate a chance to fairly explain any odd marks on their record.
Remember that mistakes and conflicts caused by identity theft also affect background check results, so this makes a post-check interview step sensible just to clear up errors. If a false item is reported in a background check, the subject has a right to file a dispute with the relevant reporting agency.
As a final tip, try to keep the process of your background screening both friendly and confidential. None of us, not even a living saint, can help to feel a little bit uncomfortable when we’re being probed in a background investigation. You should also bear in mind that you are dealing with personal data, which you must guard against data leaks. The background screening process is a right of passage to which any of us can be subjected. It’s up to you to make it as positive and productive as possible.