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Onboarding Recruiting & Hiring Employee Experience

Background Checks: What You Need To Know Before You Hire

March 14, 2014
4 min read
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Just how honest are your job applicants? While using a goal-based approach is a smart way to find better candidates, not everyone in your talent pipeline is going to report their work history with 100 percent accuracy.

Your company might find a few Pinocchios with long noses along the way, and it’s important you don’t hire someone who starts with dishonesty. According to Steven D. Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics and University of Chicago economic professor, research has shown as many as 50 percent of candidates lie on their resume.

Background checks can be a smart way to combat these little white lies, allowing you to check into your candidate before they become part of your corporate family. After all, you need the best people working toward your company goals, and fudging a resume shows a candidate is not as trustworthy as you may have hoped.

Utilizing background checks can, however, be challenging. There are plenty of potential minefields during the background check process, and sometimes laws vary state-by-state. If you want to hire perfectly aligned and honest talent, here are some things you should know about background checks:

Credit Checks

Credit checks are used by about 60 percent of employers to find out more information about potential hires. Credit checks show you a credit history, not a score, and can help you determine an individual’s reliability. Of course, you have to obtain written consent first -- and notify a candidate if the credit check was the reason they were disqualified. Credit checks are especially useful if the candidate in question will be handling your company’s finances.

Checking Criminal Records

Checking a candidate's criminal records is a good way to see if he or she has a criminal history, whether violent or nonviolent. They are, however, regulated on a state-by-state basis. Some states allow you to use them in employment screening, while others do not. So, it’s important to know what the regulations are in your particular situation.

Looking at criminal records could also get you into hot water with discrimination claims and the EEOC. Much like credit checks, looking at criminal records can be a minefield for employers. Also, the number of criminal convictions has skyrocketed in recent years with a staggering one in three Americans possessing a criminal record. So, before disqualifying a candidate just because they have a criminal history, it could be important to give them a chance to explain.

Past Employer Checks

Checking references and calling former employers is an important step in ascertaining how good (and truthful) your potential hire really is. Before you pick up the phone, however, it’s important to know what former employers can and can’t say about past workers so you can tailor questions accordingly.

While former employers are usually wary of defamation suits, they can, in fact, disclose accurate information. This means if an employee was terminated for stealing or truancy, a former employer is within their rights to say so.

Social Media Checks

Maryland was the first state to ban the practice of employers asking applicants for social media account logins, and many other states followed suit. This doesn’t mean, however, that you should avoid looking at a candidate’s social media presence entirely.

A good deal of candidates will leave their social media accounts public, meaning you are well within your rights to look at the publicly-displayed information. Look for inappropriate or unprofessional behavior on social media to make sure you won’t have a problem with the candidate in the future.

Background checks can be tricky, but they also can save you from hiring the wrong person. As long as you pay attention to local and national laws, you should be able to avoid Pinocchio candidates and hire people who will help you achieve company goals.

What do you think? What kind of background checks does your company use? Share in the comments!

IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr user Marsmet Tallahassee


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