How to Conduct Effective Background Checks

Hiring new employees can be like walking a tight rope. It’s important to find the right candidate with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do the job, but in today’s hiring climate, it’s unwise to accept applicants at face value. That’s where background checks come in to play.

What is a Background Check?

Background checks are different than reference checks. A reference check is obtained from a previous employer or supervisor to get an idea of the candidate’s skill level and attitude. A background check is to gather job relevant information regarding criminal history, commercial activity, financial records, and sometimes the social networking activity of an individual before hiring them.

Background checks should be conducted with consideration for the privacy of each individual candidate, as well as staying compliant with relevant laws.

Why Conduct Background Checks? 

Employers should do background checks for a variety of reasons. It’s human nature to trust people, including candidate. However, 75 percent of HR managers have found a lie on a resume, according to a recent CareerBuilder survey. This can include an omission of a job, extending the dates the applicant worked at a position (especially to cover a gap of employment), inflating job experience or title, and in some cases, providing false information or downright lies.

Before initiating a background check, you should always get a signed authorization from the candidate allowing you to conduct it.

It’s important that the background check is applicable to the position. For example, unless the candidate is working with money, payroll, credit, or accounting, it may not be appropriate, or may even be discriminatory to ask for a credit check. If a credit check is necessary for the position, make sure to follow all the laws and regulations outlined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Laws regarding background checks can vary from state to state. Be careful to ensure all of your background check reports and organization are well within the regulations and safe from lawsuits. If you use an outside agency, make sure they comply with all the rules and regulations, as well.  

Types of Background Checks

The most common background check is a verification of the candidate’s Social Security Number. The Social Security Administration offers a service to all employers and third parties, however, it can only be used to verify current or former employees and for wage reporting purposes. Visit the Social Security Administration’s website for more information or how to enroll.

Another common type of background check is a criminal background check. Many states offer criminal and civil background checks online at a minimal cost. There are third-party services, as well, that can check local, county, state, and federal criminal or civil convictions. Remember, just because a case has been filed or a charge has been levied against an individual, a defendant is still innocent until proven guilty.

Employers have certain responsibilities for their employees’ welfare, as well as for the safety of the clients, vendors, and visitors. If an employer hires someone who harms another employee, the employer could face claims for negligent hiring, if the employer had reasonable cause to believe that the employee might be dangerous to others, or the employer failed to conduct a reasonable investigation to discover whether the employee is unfit for the position or may cause harm.

Many states will conduct state-wide criminal background checks for a small fee through their public safety departments.

There are other types of background checks that can be completed, including motor vehicle, fingerprinting, and verifying previous addresses, to name just a few.

Verify Employment/Other Information

Conducting a verification of employment, especially dates, is a critical component of the hiring process. Many human resource departments will only give out dates of employment, pay, and whether the employee is eligible for re-hire. Verifying dates of employment is critical, however, because if the candidate falsified the information on their resume or job application, it can cast a shadow over their integrity and honesty.

Verifying education level, as well as if a college degree or a professional designation was earned, can be important depending on the position you’re hiring for. Make sure your application has a field verifying that the candidate graduated and what degree or professional certification they completed. You can also request an official college transcript if it’s applicable to the job.

Professional certifications can be verified with a professional licensing department at the state level, or with the applicable association, to make sure the candidate’s certification is in good standing.

Checking Social Media

Many employers will do an online internet search to see what pops up about their candidate. If you do an internet search, make sure and verify you have the right person. Many employers will view a candidate’s Facebook page or LinkedIn profile. Looking at someone LinkedIn’s page is an effective way to cross reference information on their resume.

However, there are pros and cons to looking at someone’s Facebook page. You may get information that could be deemed discriminatory if you decided not to hire them. For example, if someone posts they are pregnant or asking for prayers for an upcoming surgery. However, a person’s Facebook page does provide insight into their personality. It’s always best practice to consult with your human resources or legal department before doing this.

Determining Honesty and Integrity

Unless someone has been convicted of a crime involving threat or fraud, it is very difficult to ascertain the honesty or integrity of the potential candidate. Unfortunately, as already mentioned, some candidates will knowingly falsify information on their resume or application.

There are many pre-hire assessments that can help to better understand a person’s honesty and integrity in the workplace, supplementing the information gathered during a background check. Many third-parties offer these quality assessments.

Final Thoughts

Conducting background checks on your potential candidates can have a tremendous impact on your organization’s bottom line. Background checks help employers safeguard their reputations by creating safer and more secure work environments, staffed by qualified employees.

What types of background checks does your organization use?

Katie Roth

Katie Roth has been in a leadership role in the employment industry for the majority of her career. Currently, she is Manager, Talent Acquisition for Oasis, a Paychex® Company. Katie is a graduate of the University of Iowa and is certified by both the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), as a Senior Professional in Human Resources, and the National Association of Personnel Services, as a Certified Personnel Consultant (CPC).


March 7, 2018

Posted by

Katie Roth