Globalisation: How do you screen candidates in a global workforce?

Written by
RMI Team (F)

Globalisation and outsourcing have led many organisations all over the world to expand their business operations beyond their home market, open offices in offshore locations and hire more global workforce 

In an international hub like Singapore for example, there are currently 1.3 million global workforce. This makes up over one-third of the nation’s total labour force. Singapore is just one example of the global labour market in action. And for the many companies involved in the global labour market in the Asia region and beyond, hiring foreign nationals brings an additional challenge: how to conduct international background checks.  

In an era with a more mobile workforce than ever, how do HR professionals ensure they are effectively screening employees? 

The unknown in global workforce

No matter how thorough the recruitment process, hiring new global workforce always brings with it an element of the unknown. And with the unknown, there is the potential for risk. From verifying an educational degree obtained in China to confirming the validity of a British passport, effective employee screening aims to minimise the unknown and mitigate risks associated with recruitment 

According to a recent survey of HR leaders in multinational firms, there are several reasons for screening global workforce candidate:  

  • Mitigating against negligent-hiring risks  
  • Complying with regulatory requirements 
  • Ensuring a standardised quality of hire 

Apparently only 40 per cent of HR leaders surveyed screen all job candidates from international backgrounds, while 38 per cent screen select candidates only. Given the relatively low numbers of international candidates being thoroughly screened, this leaves organisations open to risk when hiring from the global labour market.  

Global workforce screening in a multi-cultural context 

Screening applicants from different backgrounds and in different countries requires HR to deal with prospective employees from a multitude of cultures and nationalities, all with their own expectations and regulations.  

US multinational Cisco Systems experienced this while developing an international background-screening capability. The company first identified the legal, social and cultural screening requirements and prohibitions in each of the countries in which it intended to hire.  

“The regulations and expectations are vastly different from one location to another,” said global head of HR Cathy Breslin. “In some countries, it’s not legal to run a criminal check, and we have to search public information for evidence of criminal activity. Some cultures even consider it disrespectful to check a person’s past employment.” 

To have the same success with a global screening policy as Cisco has had, Breslin advises HR leaders to start in the countries where the company expects to do the most hiring. Get that portion up and running effectively, and then phase in other regions. Also be persistent in researching the legal, social and cultural differences of each area. 

Best practice for a successful global background screening policy 

With all this in mind, the process of background screening employees in the era of globalised employment mobility can seem like a colossal task. Use these best practices when setting out a screening policy for your organisation:  

1. Check Employment Screening Regulations in Each Country

For each country where workers have personal, work and education history, find out if there are existing regulations with respect to background screening. Failure to meet a country’s regulations could result in your business being out of compliance in that country, or leave you open to claims that your background screening process is discriminatory. 

2. Consider Culture

Navigating differences in cultural and social norms is another great reason to enlist a local expert in shaping your employment screening policy. Although your screening policy may be compliant with a country’s regulations, that does not ensure the policy will seem appropriate or within normal bounds to the employees themselves.

3. Create a Consistent Employment Background Screening Policy

When you create a global background screening policy, ensure the policy is consistent. Most employers conduct background checks on new employees globally, but only some screen subcontractors. This opens a large gap for workers to slip through the background screening process unnoticed. 


There are many reasons why it is important to conduct proper and appropriate background screening for prospective global workforce – mitigating bad hire risk, ensuring you are hiring a quality candidate who is all that they appear to be, and complying with workforce regulations. In the present era of global workforces, it is more important than ever for organisations to protect themselves and their employees by ensuring they have a well thought out and thorough global screening policy.