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Know Your People: Four Factors to Consider when Determining whether to Outsource Background Checks

By Michael Pilnick, EVP Global Human Resources, First Advantage

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Michael Pilnick, EVP Global Human Resources, First Advantage

In an era of big data, knowledge is power. Which is why millions of organizations praise the virtues of background screens, such as pre-employment investigations into candidates’ education credentials, financial credit histories or criminal records. Organizations have either witnessed firsthand, or otherwise feel confident, that having more information improves the quality and mitigates the risks of offering jobs, renting property or entering into a commercial relationship with another party.

Background checks are typically commissioned to third-party companies, who are well-versed in navigating the nuances of these processes day in and out. Yet we live in a do-it-yourself world, and much of the information that screening organizations surface is also publicly available. Theoretically, professionals such as an organization’s HR team could execute background screens by themselves. However, what’s possible isn’t necessarily feasible given the myriad of consumer protection and other laws in place to protect candidate data. It is complex.

“If your screening needs are relatively low-risk and one-size-fits-all, you may be able to get by alone. However, outsourcing to a reputable service provider ensures you have a solid game-plan in place”

Here are just four (alliterated!) factors for organizations to consider before making decisions on whether or not to outsource screening:

Strategy – Is there a defined screening strategy, or is your firm shooting from the hip? It’s common for professionals to say they need to “do a screen”, but often they’re not sure what that entails. There’s no one definitive background check or all-inclusive criminal database. A company could easily screen a candidate dozens of ways. If your screening needs are relatively low-risk and one-size-fits-all, you may be able to get by alone. However, outsourcing to a reputable service provider ensures you have a solid game-plan in place. A strategic background screening paradigm will, for instance, put certain positions through a deeper analysis because the risk is greater for certain jobs. For example, will the individual selected have access to sensitive information, have a caretaking responsibility for vulnerable populations or play a role more consequential to the company’s reputation?

Logistics – How big is your talent pool? Will candidates applying for your jobs transcend state and potentially country borders? To conduct a thorough criminal check on a U.S. citizen, you will need to select criminal information from one of more than 3,000 in courthouses in the US alone. However, not every courthouse keeps online records. Depending on the location, a person must physically go on-site to see if a record is on file. Background screening services use local court runners to assist with these tasks. Being able to efficiently cast such a wide net is a challenge for most organizations.

Speed – Is rapid turnaround time necessary? Top service providers will have the scale of personnel and tools needed to expedite the process. They’ll know which jurisdictions have slower fulfillment times due to technology limitations and other issues, and can use their resources to either compensate for that or conduct searches in a speed-optimized manner.

Social Media – Today’s job applications arrive from multiple channels, including sites like LinkedIn, so there’s a natural tendency to turn to these same sources for due diligence. While a quick Google search and some clicks on social media sites can yield a wealth of knowledge, employers run the risk of discovering protected characteristics like a candidate’s race, age, disability or religion they may not be permitted to consider for hiring decisions. Using social media in the hiring process also raises privacy law concerns. Still, some employers will want to consider social and online data into their search process. Some employers choose to vet in-house since many background screening companies, which are considered by law to be consumer reporting agencies governed by Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), generally do not offer social media searches as a part of their services due to the compliance challenges associated there with. However, if you are going to work with a third-party source to conduct a background check on a candidate involving social media, make certain they commit that their social media products are FCRA-compliant and check with your legal advisors to confirm their practices are staying within the parameters of privacy, discrimination and other laws.

First Advantage specializes in background screening of individuals to help its clients recruit and retain the best talent. Headquartered in Georgia, USA, the company is a trusted partner of over 45,000 organizations worldwide spread across 25 locations in 12 countries.