How to Fill the Gaps in Background Checks

Gaps in Background Checks: Why They Miss So Much

When it comes to hiring new employees, background checks are a fairly regular part of the process (whether companies could benefit from more thorough vetting, however, is worth consideration). Background checks enable hiring managers to access public records and determine whether there are any red flags prior to bringing an applicant on board. They may reveal prior criminal behavior, but unfortunately, there’s only so far a background check can go.

While companies should undoubtedly continue conducting background checks, they should do so with the awareness that the check is likely providing incomplete, and at times inaccurate, information. This is because background checks merely show an applicant’s record at one moment in time. This means your company will only be able to access what’s currently on record for a given candidate. Given that criminal infractions can be expunged from one’s record in certain parts of the U.S. after a set amount of time, employers can be in the dark about previous illegal behavior.

In addition to that, an applicant could commit a crime the day after your company conducts its background check and no one would be any the wiser. Most organizations that provide these screening services don’t provide regular updates. This puts organizations in a precarious situation, risking making a bad hire due to limited information.

There are also other issues when it comes to obtaining background information on prospective employees. For one, pulling all of a person’s records can require extra effort, as different records may be kept in different courts. White-collar crimes are likely to be found in a person’s federal records, while smaller red flags will be located in county records.

Finally, background checks only reveal criminal behavior — and often only after the applicant has gone through the legal system and been deemed guilty. Not only does this mean that infractions that were thrown out will be missing from records, but unethical behavior that doesn’t cross over into being illegal also won’t be present.

For all of these reasons, background checks don’t offer a complete picture of a job candidate. If employers truly want to be thorough when vetting prospective employees, they’ll have to take additional steps to make that happen.

How to Improve Your Screening Process

Background checks may be limited, but that doesn’t mean your company can’t enhance the process. In fact, it’s in your best interests to do so, especially if you’re dedicated to weeding out counterproductive work behavior (CWB) before it gets through the door.

These are a few ways to ensure your background check provider is giving you the most complete information with minimal gaps in it:

Check county and federal courts. Most background checks go through county courts, and these will give your company insight into an applicant’s residence history, prior employment, and their education. However, you’ll have to check federal courts to find out about any offenses prosecuted at the federal level. (For example, identity theft and tax evasion wouldn’t show up in county records.)

Dig into driving records. Many businesses won’t check a candidate’s driving record unless the job they’re hiring for requires that person to operate a vehicle. However, driving records can show criminal behavior like DUIs, which managers should consider a red flag. Repeated infractions on one’s driving record can also suggest that an applicant has trouble following rules.

Check references. Unfortunately, there’s nothing stopping applicants from lying about their education and job history. That’s the type of behavior criminal records won’t reveal. In fact, they also won’t reveal why a candidate left a previous job or uncover any unethical behavior that may have taken place at another company. For this reason, companies should always follow up background checks by calling an applicant’s references. When doing so, always confirm the reference’s identity and in what capacity they worked with the candidate. (A boss will be able to offer more insight than a friend or coworker.)

Conduct regular background checks. Conducting background checks even after hiring employees may be more costly, but it will ensure a safe work environment for your staff. It’s also unlikely to be as costly as dealing with the ramifications of hiring someone who proves themselves to be a liability.

Use the Latest Technology

Background checks have been around for a long time, and almost every organization in the US that has employees uses them. The problem is that there is a gap in the design. Regardless of how comprehensive a database your background check provider has access to, the information that you need will not be there if it is never reported. 

A great example is someone who was fired from their last job for bullying their colleagues. The company who fired that person would almost certainly not report it to the authorities. In fact, it is not in their best interest to report it, since reporting creates additional work, damages their reputation, leads to legal issues, and can even impact their company stock price.  The risk for the company is even worse if the employee’s misconduct included something like sexual harassment or selling confidential information.  Even if the company did report it, the likelihood of the behavior showing up on a background check is somewhere between unlikely and nonexistent.

“While any individual screening device like a background check or interview can have holes in it that may miss important information about a candidate, using a structure of layered screening tools, such as that employed by the TSA and other agencies, can enhance the effectiveness of the overall process,” Ken Jackson, Ph.D., Director of Assessment and Development at Verensics, explains.  “In this so called ‘Swiss Cheese Model,’ each layer acts as a line of defense to capture important information that may be missed by one or more of the other layers. The more layers that are used, the less likely it is for someone with past criminal or other counter productive work behavior to slip through.”

An efficient and effective way to get to the information that you need is to require your candidates and employees to take an assessment. The most relevant assessment to help you discover the information similar to a background check is an integrity assessment.  Verensics takes the concept of the integrity test even further, combining the capabilities of experienced corporate investigators and organizational psychologists into an online assessment platform. Verensics’ assessment actually guides candidates to reveal behaviors that they would normally try to hide.

Better Screening Benefits Everyone on Your Team

Considering new and non-traditional tools to enhance your screening process may seem excessive, but it really does benefit everyone at your business. Owners and managers will spend less time contending with bad behavior and replacing problem employees. Staff will feel safer knowing their employer has done everything possible to keep potentially violent or dangerous applicants at bay. And the company itself will benefit by avoiding lawsuits or other liabilities that employees with red flags can bring about.

Really, it’s a win-win for everyone. Even if it does require more effort and money in the short-term, the long-term benefit of knowing you did everything you could to find and hire the best people is worth it.

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