Talent Strategy

What’s the Point of Background Checks?

Background Check.  Just the phrase itself sounds ominous and unfriendly.  But it shouldn’t be.  Figures vary, but it appears that at least 50% of companies in the United States alone regularly perform background checks on potential employees.  It’s simply a smart business practice grounded in an attitude of “trust, but verify.”  After your hiring process is complete, this final stage, usually handled by an objective third party, can confirm what you’ve concluded thus far: this is a good hire.

What’s covered?

The job you are applying for may require particular aspects of the background check.

  • A job that is focused on finances or cash handling may be particularly interested in your credit history.  This is not because they will necessarily care if you have been late on a payment or two, but rather on major delinquencies, defaults, or bankruptcies.  Such events, if not sufficiently contextualized, are troublesome and are usually unlikely to have come up in a standard hiring process.
  • Other jobs require a lot of personal contact with others and that may necessitate checking criminal and/or driving history as well.
  • Drug and alcohol tests are often physical corollaries to criminal histories.
  • Education and employment verification.  On the applicant side, it’s important to note for this reason that approximations of dates of attendance or employment aren’t a good practice on a resume.  By having matching dates there won’t be any flags raised.
  • References.  Applicants should make sure they’ve taken the professional courtesy of notifying those whom they have listed on a resume or background check that they may be contacted.

Why hire it out?

Unless you happen to be an employment agency, this won’t be your firm’s area of expertise, and likely won’t be a good use of your resources either.  A third party not only speaks to objectivity, but confidentiality as well, and shows the potential hire that you are willing to invest in the final step of the hiring process, to the benefit of both of you.

Make sure your staff have experienced it

This background check is part of the hiring process, and if it’s handled by a third party, it’s important that you experience it before imposing it on new hires.  If this has never been a practice at your firm, ask permission of some of your existing staff and have them go through the process for research.  This will give you three important pieces of information:

  1. How long the process takes from start to finish.  You won’t be giving “estimates” but rather can say “the last time we went through this with one of our staff it took X days.”
  2. What the process feels like for the one going through it.  What was the “bedside manner” of the company conducting the background check?  Did they make the applicant feel that this was a professional and courteous process?
  3. Get the results.  You’ll see the information that comes back and can use the process as a standard for all new hires.  And you’ll experience what it’s like to have your hiring process confirmed by a verification process.  It’s a good feeling.

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Stephen writes about startups, hiring and career issues for VocaWorks.

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