10 Things You Didn’t Know About Employment Background Checks

10 Things You Didn't Know About Background Checks

You are in the process of outlining a new employee screening process at your business. You know that you want to vet your applicants thoroughly, but you aren't sure where to start or which qualities define a strong background check process. The good news is that there are background check companies out there that will be happy to help you design a system that works for your business. The bad news is that background screenings are surrounded by misconceptions and misunderstandings. Here's everything you might not know about background checks - and how to develop a strong job screening process.

Employer Background Checks 101

1. There isn't one be-all-end-all database for criminal background checks for employment

The top misconception about background checks is that there is a single ultimate database out there that includes all of the criminal records ever filed in the United States. The truth is that criminal records are scattered across thousands of different databases from county courts to federal criminal databases. As such, running a background check is more complicated than just typing an applicant's name into a computer database and hitting "Enter."

2. You might have to develop a background check profile through multiple checks for each applicant

Because of the scattered nature of criminal records, you will likely have to design a meticulous system that covers as much ground as possible. You will want to run county criminal history checks where your business is based because those checks will have the highest statistical odds of turning over any red flags attached to your applicants and new hires. Considering state or multi-jurisdictional checks (e.g. searches that look beyond state lines) is worthwhile. You could even run address history checks on your applicants and then order individual county checks from each area in which the applicants have lived.

3. Criminal history checks are just one of many types of background checks

Criminal history checks are what most of us think of when we hear the term "background checks." However, there are also sex offender registry checks, credit history checks, driving record checks, civil history checks, employment history verification checks, educational verification checks, professional license checks, and more. It's up to you to decide which of these checks to run on your applicants, but you will probably want to go beyond just criminal checks.

4. Reference checks and background checks are not the same thing

Reference check questions and background checks tend to get lumped together because they are both part of the pre-employment screening process. When you contact a reference, you are asking to hear insights about an applicant from a previous boss, colleague, professor, supervisor or partner. These checks can give you a window into a person's strengths, weaknesses, character and work ethic. Background checks are typically used to check more verifiable pieces of information, like criminal history, driving record information and employment dates.

5. Social media searches don't qualify as background checks

The idea of the "social media background check" has become increasingly popular in recent years. However, looking up your applicants on Facebook doesn't qualify as a background check. It doesn't count as due diligence and won't save you from liability if your applicant commits a crime on the job that you could have foreseen with a formal check. In fact, the EEOC (the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) frowns upon social media background checks because they can reveal discriminatory information (sexual orientation, religion, political affiliation, etc.) about an applicant.

6. Many resumes include inaccurate information - most of which can be identified with a good background check

According to a survey conducted by the Harris Corporation, 60% of employers have spotted inaccurate information on resumes in the past. The lesson is that many candidates are willing to lie to improve their hiring chances. Background checks can help you root out this information. Background check companies can offer verification checks with which they look into the education, employment history and professional licenses of an applicant. If a candidate lied about receiving a degree from a four-year institution, was less than honest about a past job title, or made up a professional license, verification checks can allow you to find out the truth.

7. Background checks for employment history might be harder than you think

Verifying work history is something you can do without a formal background check by calling up former employers. The problem is that many employers aren't sure what they are legally permitted to say about a former employee - especially if their comments are negative. As a result, some past employers won't give you much information past the facts, like employment dates, job titles, responsibilities and salary information. You can usually get more information by hiring a background check company to run the employment verification check because there is more anonymity involved in the process.

8. Some laws might impact when you can run job background checks

Ban the box laws have become popular in the past few years. These policies forbid many employers from asking about criminal history on job applications. Many of these laws and ordinances also bar employers from running background checks until they have made conditional offers of employment. In any case, it's a good idea to research the laws and regulations in your area and find out what your legal responsibilities are.

9. You need to get applicant permission every time you run a background check

Since background checks are so common for jobs these days, some employers make the mistake of thinking they are a natural and expected part of the process. Keep in mind that if you want to run a background check on an applicant, you must get their express written permission to do so. Moreover, this permission must be granted in a standalone form, which means that you can't just have your applicant sign a blanket permission form or contract when submitting a job application.

10. The best background check policies go beyond the hiring stage

Most conversations about employment background checks are all about screening and hiring potential employees. However, the best background check policies include provisions for ongoing checks of existing and new employees. A criminal history check is merely a snapshot of someone's criminal history at one moment in time. As such, running criminal background checks on each of your employees every few years is a smart way to ensure the ongoing safety and security of your business.

Michael Klazema has been developing products for pre-employment screening and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com. He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.