You’ve read the application, reviewed the resume, and interviewed the candidate. She seems like a good fit, and you’ve made a conditional offer of employment that will be based on the results of background screening. As part of the background check process, you ask the candidate for additional information, including her past criminal history. (Read more about when to ask about criminal history.) She indicates that she was convicted of a misdemeanor. Both you and the candidate deserve to know the full story.
The background screening report should be provided to you in a format that is easy for you to review and to locate relevant information. If not, your background screening company should be willing to work with you to develop or customize a report that meets your needs. When reviewing a background screening report, you should be able to get the information you need in a matter of seconds or minutes per report, depending on the scope of work.
What should the background screening report include? What information is important to you? If criminal history is included, the report should include the level of offense, type of offense, disposition, and date. (The question about whether or not to include arrests and charges will be addressed in a future post.) Employment and education information should match the information provided by the candidate (understanding that most people embellish a little or simply forget exact details). Reference interviews should match the candidate’s reported skills, abilities, and personality.
When talking about pre-employment background screening, most people immediately think of criminal history. Where should you search? A good practice is to search everywhere the candidate has lived, worked, or gone to school for the last ten years (depending on the age of the candidate). What questions should you ask your provider? Does the information come from an original source, such as a court or law enforcement? Does the information come from a background screening company’s proprietary database with “millions of records”? How current is that proprietary database? What processes are in place to make sure that data is current and contains up-to-date information while excluding records such as sealed or expunged cases?
How do you know where the candidate has lived, worked, or gone to school? Address information provided by the candidate is a good start, but consider adding an address history search from an information provider. Many candidates often forget to include college apartments or vacation homes in their address histories – probably an innocent mistake. Other candidates deliberately omit locations of residence to hide criminal activity. An address history search provides an independent verification of the candidate’s address history.
Many companies offer some sort of “nationwide search”. Lately, they have done a better job describing the search, but it is still somewhat misleading. If you read closely, the search probably “covers” the entire United States, but not every jurisdiction. (It’s like a crocheted bedspread; it covers the bed, but with holes.) Also, most people commit crimes near where they live – the journey to crime theory. (Of course, many people get speeding tickets in other states, but generally not misdemeanors or felonies.) All “nationwide” criminal searches should be considered a “bonus”, but not a necessity. Information obtained from these searches should always be verified with the original source. (Read more about this topic here.)
Don’t forget about a federal records search, because there may be information that is not present anywhere else. Federal records will include bankruptcy cases (especially applicable for certain financial and fiduciary positions). Federal crimes can range from shoplifting at a Navy Exchange (a misdemeanor) to kidnapping, drug trafficking, or bank robbery (felonies). A federal records search would also include civil cases in federal court.
Education verification, employment verification, and personal/professional references are important because they should confirm the information provided by the candidate. The purpose of background screening is to verify the information the candidate has provided and discover information that they are trying to hide. When there are no surprises in the information, it supports the hiring decision and supports the character of the candidate. Personal references are often positive, but the report should include specific information, such as whether the candidate is a good leader, a people person, or works best alone. In addition, personal references can provide additional references that may provide additional insight into the character and reputation of the candidate. Any surprising or unexpected information should be pursued and investigated further.
The goal is to get the whole picture of the candidate with the information you need in a background screening report customized for you.