Hiring & Recruiting, Reference & Background Checks, Screening, Assessment, Interviewing

Going Beyond the Interview: Using Background Checks to Screen Candidates

Typically, a candidate screening process starts with reviewing applications and résumés and deciding which ones are qualified and which are not. It progresses to further narrowing the list (if there are enough qualified candidates) and then contacting the qualified candidates on the shortlist and perhaps conducting phone screening to narrow the list further. Then, there are interviews and calling previous employers. But even with all these steps in place, most organizations make hiring decisions that are imperfect—hiring individuals who are not a good fit or who leave within their first few months.

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What else can employers and recruiters do to better assess candidates and try to improve new hire retention? Here are a few additional steps employers can take in the candidate screening process.

Background Checks

Background checks can be conducted in many ways, but each has caveats to be aware of. Here are a few examples:

  • Background checks via social media. Employers can try to review a candidate’s online presence via social media, but be aware that this can uncover information that cannot be used in the hiring decision, like religious affiliations or national origin. If such information is uncovered, it can open a can of worms if it can be shown the employer had this information and may have illegally acted upon it. (And such accusations can be made even if untrue.)
  • Background checks via a third party. Utilizing a third party to conduct background checks (via social media or otherwise) is usually safer because the third party can filter out information that cannot be used in the hiring process. This can shelter the employer from having knowledge that cannot be considered; thus, it could potentially protect the employer from a discrimination claim.
  • Credit checks. Credit checks are a form of background check some employers use for roles where credit history may be relevant. But be aware: This should only be used when relevant for the role; using credit checks too broadly runs the risk of having a negative impact if candidates are dismissed for having poor credit when it doesn’t relate to the ability to do the job.
  • Criminal background checks. This is another area where the employer needs to be careful. Conducting criminal background checks is usually legal but only if done properly. First, don’t ask too soon, and don’t have a blanket policy that automatically disqualifies candidates for any criminal history (and especially not for an arrest history). For example, don’t ask if an applicant has ever been convicted of a felony and then disqualify anyone who checks “yes.” Not all criminal histories will be relevant for the role, especially if they were in the distant past or completely unrelated to the job. A blanket policy that does not review each case individually will likely appear to be discriminatory, even if that is not the intent. “Ban the box” laws abound, as well. (Ban the box refers to eliminating the application checkbox asking about felonies.) Be sure to review the specifics for any candidate who has items turn up in a criminal background check. Even if something is found, check to see whether it is relevant before making any kind of decision.
  • Online searches. Beyond social media, employers can do regular online searches for relevant information about a candidate. Searching online can turn up relevant information about a candidate that may not have otherwise surfaced. It may show that the candidate displays inappropriate behavior and lack of good judgment, for example. Or, it could show accomplishments, like volunteer activities, that the candidate may not have emphasized during the recruiting process. However, this carries similar risks to looking at a candidate’s social media profiles—employers may want to consider using third-party services to conduct these types of checks.

In part two of this article, we’ll look at some additional applicant screening options.