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Your Background Check Is Completed – What Does It Say?

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You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. ~ Abraham Lincoln

KeyholeSearchThere is a lot of hype about personal branding and what it can do for your career. There seems to be a prevailing belief that marketing hyperbole can right all wrongs, polish all rough edges, and hide embarrassing events. After all, this technique is the accepted method for selling cars, deodorant, toilet paper and politicians. With billions of dollars invested in such promotions it should be good for hawking personal characteristics to employers, right? There are misconceptions held by HR professionals as well as applicants as to the significance of polish and both need to take an objective look at background as it relates to the functions of the job. Ironically, branding of self is extremely important, but only just so far. When an employer checks a prospective hire’s background, that brand must be verified as truth or all other aspects of the application will be suspect.

Many employers no longer conduct simple reference checks. Smaller companies with direct hiring by managers are more likely to call every reference provided, but they may be less likely to be objective about the results than professional screeners. Larger companies will completely outsource this responsibility to third-party investigators and expand the scope of the background check to include a standard list of items that are applicable to all individuals considered for hire. The arms-length relationship with the checker protects the company and the applicant from erroneous or discriminatory practices. In the US there will usually be some disclaimer in an application form or a separate waiver required that explicitly gives the employer the right to conduct background checks.

  • References – Names provided by applicants are almost never assumed to be unbiased. Still, this is almost an obligatory part of a background check and may have a bearing on the final decision. A contrived list of friends and relatives will become transparent and taint the overall message. For this reason, the best list of references is past supervisors or academic advisors and their names should only be provided with permission. It is important that they also know what desired outcome is expected.
  • Proof of Identity – Investigators will usually be given a list of addresses for a specified number of years and any names that have been used professionally. This information is collected for multiple purposes, but it does begin the process of shedding light on the true identity of the person under investigation. Guessing at years of occupancy at previous addresses is not a good idea as this will usually return additional questions that must be verified. In the US this list will be verified against a Social Security Number trace that also shows previous locations.
  • Prior Employment – The SSN trace will also give dates of employment and highlight gaps that may have been “polished” out by a resume writer. Most employers will only give superficial information on former employees to protect themselves, but the dates of employment and salary are usually offered without any problem. If a company is no longer in business, this may be a factor to consider in selecting references to cover any employment verification holes.
  • Degree Verification – Having copies of degrees and transcripts may help to expedite any conflicts, but in most cases investigators will obtain information directly from colleges and universities directly. Any information appearing on a resume will have to be confirmed or exceptions justified. Foreign degrees and degrees earned before computerized records will take longer to process.
  • Criminal History – There are databases that offer investigators a wealth of knowledge about court cases, but most local courts records are maintained locally. If required by the employer, it may take time to reach out to each one separately. This is also based on the compilation of previous addresses. Many of these are name based rather than SSN based, so employers will ask individuals to clear up any erroneous listings due to name similarities.

Individuals have rights. In the US the Fair Credit Reporting Act dictates what information may be collected and spells out the notification rights of an applicant. Some state laws are more restrictive than Federal law. If any consumer report is used as a factor in an adverse hiring decision, the individual must be notified of the intended action. Everyone is entitled to know the source of the data as well. Individuals must give written consent for a credit report, but actual credit scores are not provided to employers.

There should never be any surprises. Prospective hires should be absolutely confident that the results of pre-employment background checks will match the information provided to the employer. Branding may be a tool to gain a foothold, but if on closer examination there are chips in the façade then it was all for nothing. Lying on an application is not acceptable and in most cases will disqualify a candidate before hiring or dismissal if discovered after the hire.

Image credit: kvkirillov / 123RF Stock Photo


1 thought on “Your Background Check Is Completed – What Does It Say?”

  1. Pingback: Reviewing This Week on Make HR Happen – Stories about Refs » Make HR Happen by Tom Bolt

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