The following post is from CAI’s Kevin von der Lippe. He serves as CAI’s private investigator and leads the company’s Background Checking department.
Most companies do some sort of “background check” on their new hires — But most of the time… you get what you pay for. How can you be sure that you are getting accurate information you actually need to make a good hiring decision?
Performing a background check is your opportunity to independently verify the information that your applicant has provided. Given the importance of the task, the verification process should extend beyond their stated skill set, and include even the most basic information such as the applicant’s name, address history, and vital statistics. Be aware, product names for these type of searches may vary, but many companies refer to them as “SSN traces, address histories, or name histories.”
With a verified name and address history in hand, you now have the name/names to search for criminal history as well as the jurisdiction(s) to do so. The availability of criminal records varies among states. To ensure that you are getting the most up-to-date information, CAI recommends that you request criminal records that are pulled directly from official repositories (e.g. courthouses). Some states, like North Carolina, have excellent statewide indexes administered by the court system. However, some other states lack the technology, or access to do so. As a result, many background checking companies sell database products under names like “Nationwide Criminal, National Criminal or Multi-State Criminal records,” but it’s important to know that most of these databases are from a third-party collection of criminal records, not an actual courthouse. While database searches CAN provide a broad net when searching for records, it’s usually at the expense of missing information and being out of date. As a result, CAI recommends that you reserve these database inquiries as a supplemental search.
How many jurisdictions you search depends upon the sensitivity of the job you are trying to fill. Most companies look at a seven year address window — as revealed by the SSN trace — to provide an outline of where to search. Remember, be consistent with the time period you choose to search. Check the applicant’s employment history. It is very important that you look for gaps in the employment history and you get satisfactory (and confirmed) answers for any idle time. CAI recommends that you check all former employers within the window you set, and ask specifically about: dates of employment, job title, salary; duties, if the applicant was involved with any violence, and any specifically job related requirements. As a side note, always look up the phone number for references. It is common for applicants to provide bogus numbers to ensure they get “good” references. You should be cautious of toll free number for former employers.
With the basics of identity, references and criminal record behind you, focus on job specific requirements. You should tailor your background check to fit the needs of the position that you want to fill. For some jobs, you will want to confirm that the applicant has the necessary education to be successful at the job. You should check the diploma or degree as well as the schools’ accreditation. It’s not enough that a school claims to be “accredited” these days, there are several “diploma mills” that create bogus accreditation’s for an organization. Always check the accreditation against the U.S. Department of Educations approved list at: http://www.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/index.html.
Will your applicant drive a company vehicle, or does the job require driving as part of the regular job duties (like driving to the post office)? If so, it is a great idea to confirm that you applicant is fully licensed to drive, and has a good driving record. A motor vehicle report will provide at a minimum a three year driving record for your applicant. In most cases, it will also include tickets received while your applicant was out of his/her home state.
If your applicant is going to handle money, or has access to credit, or sensitive information (e.g. account numbers, SSNs, etc.) then it may be a good idea to check your applicant’s financial credit file. If your applicant cannot demonstrate that they can manage their own personal finances, what expectation should you have that they can manage your company’s money?
Beyond the standard checks, there are a lot of specialized searches that you may choose to utilize to ensure that you make the best hiring decision. This is especially true if you are hiring for employees that will be working on government contracts. It is not uncommon for the contracts to require searches of federal criminal record, debarment lists, and the terrorist watch list. Many schools require sex offender list searches as well.
Although performing a background check is usually one of the final stages in the hiring process when we’re ready to hire someone, it’s a crucial that you get it right… the first time. Generally speaking, most companies and HR professionals perform background checks, but the majority of them are under a false impression that all background checks are the same – not true.
Remember, it’s not just a background checking service that you’re entrusting this company to perform, it’s also the safety and longevity of your entire company. Don’t just “check-the-box” and go with the lowest cost provider, make sure they’re using reliable and up-to-date databases, checking for any discrepancies and providing you with the individualized feedback you need to make the best possible decision for your company. Resist the temptation to rush through this important step. Turnover is costly and hiring the wrong person could be deadly. After all, most people fail at jobs for reasons other than lack of skill…reasons that could easily be uncovered with a properly administered background check.
Our Background Checking Team will help you uncover everything you need to know about your job applicants and employees. If you would like to talk about your company’s specific needs, please call Kevin W. von der Lippe at (336) 899-1150 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.