Background Checks Do's and Don'ts

When you’re hiring someone, you want to make sure that person is the right fit for your organization. A common part of that search is the background check. In fact, 96 percent of employers say they conduct some sort of background check. 

“They are [a] critical part of recruitment and onboarding,” says Karen Moore, director of product marketing at HireRight, a background screening company. “The labor market is tight, so when you find a candidate, you want to make sure they fit the role and if there is anything in their background that could be a risk [to your organization].”

Here are some simple do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when it comes to background checks.

Do: Provide candidates with information

Your organization needs to make sure that job candidates understand they are consenting to a background check -- and what they are consenting to. Tell the candidate what company you’re using for the check. Tell them why your organization is doing it in the first place. Tell them why you need the information. Transparency is important when you’re screening a candidate, not only because of the relationship you’re building with the candidate, but because it’s the law.“The law requires that you get authorization from the candidate prior to the screening,” explains Todd Carpenter, president of Intellicorp Records Inc., which provides background check services. “These laws were enacted to help enforce transparency.”

Do: Know what you want out of the check

You should know exactly why the background check is needed in the first place. 

“HR managers should take a look at their industry and the job description of the open position to determine what types of background check they should run,” according to APS. A useful example they highlight is a company would most likely want a driving record of a driver they are hiring, but maybe not a driving record for a candidate applying for an office position.

There are various background checks that you could have your candidate do. They all serve different purposes, so you need to understand what your company would need to confirm about a candidate right from the start.

Do: Make sure your company is complying with labor laws

Speak with your legal team about how the background check fits best in your hiring process, and ensure there are no labor law violations, especially those related to anti-discrimination laws. 

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission warns, “any time you use an applicant's or employee's background information to make an employment decision, regardless of how you got the information, you must comply with federal laws that protect applicants and employees from discrimination.”

You also need to make sure that the screenings your company completes doesn’t provide sensitive information that could put your organization at legal risk. Always make sure you speak with your legal department when setting up your background check policy on job candidates. Companies like Target and Frito-Lay have been sued over violations, so if these big companies are at risk, your organization could be too.

Don’t: Rely only on a Google search

Take a dip in your budget and have a company perform an adequate background check. A Google search on your candidate is not sufficient and definitely does not show a whole picture of the candidate and their capability for the job. A Facebook profile search is also not a background check.

Don’t: Immediately reject a candidate because a candidate doesn’t have a ‘clean’ record.

You shouldn’t rush to reject a candidate because their background check didn’t come back spotless. One, it could be illegal to do so (see above) and, two, you could be missing out on a star employee because of something completely unrelated they did or had happen to them in the past.

Carpenter advises employers to consider the seriousness of the blemish. “Use the information on the background screen to make an informed, thoughtful decision,” he says.

More importantly, research shows that individuals who are part of a minority group face a higher level of arrest. Remember that not having a clean record shouldn’t outright put a candidate in the no pile.

Don’t: Avoid communication

Be open with your candidate about whatever you find. If a question arises, ask them. Communication is key. 

“Keep the communication going,” Moore recommends. You could, she says, mix the person up with another or some other issue could arise, so being comfortable speaking about the process and throughout the process can be very important.

If there is something worrying, always double back with the candidate and ensure it wasn’t a glitch with the process. You don’t want to miss on a stellar person joining your team because you didn’t feel comfortable enough to ask them about something that came up in the background check.