What should a pre-employment background check include

Written by
RMI Team (F)

The Halifax Regional Police in Canada recently came under scrutiny for the continued use of polygraphs in their pre-employment screening process. Polygraphs have been criticised for inflicting “unimaginable stress and sadness” upon prospective employees, and have been labelled a highly intrusive hiring tool – so much so that they have been banned for the purposes of pre-employment screening in some other Canadian provinces such as Ontario and New Brunswick.

While background checks are important to the recruitment process, they are also a double-edged sword and need be handled with care. When deciding what to screen for and how comprehensive pre-employment screenings should be, companies must walk the fine line between thorough and invasive.

On one hand, having access to verified information about a candidate is key to mitigating fraud risks and ensuring that you’re hiring the best fit for your organisation. On the other, investigative results may lead to unconsciously biased and unbalanced hiring decisions, and when handled poorly, background checks could lead to mistrust and frustrations between employee and employer.

Which background checks do I need?

When it comes to designing pre-employment screenings, it’s never one-size-fits-all. Employers should be tailoring what they check for based on the role they’re hiring. Positions that are deemed higher risk – for instance, politically exposed positions or roles with significant decision-making power – should be given more comprehensive checks.

Common types of background checks include:

  • Identity verification
  • Reference checks
  • Educational qualifications verification
  • Employment history verification
  • Criminal record checks (including sex offender records)
  • Drug testing
  • Financial health and credit history
  • Conflicts of interest (including other directorships, family connections, or known associations)
  • Professional licence record checks

To design better and more effective pre-employment screenings, here are 4 considerations to keep in mind.

Justify the inclusion of each check

As a form of intelligence gathering, background checks are designed to mitigate business risks, so the first thing to do is answer the question: what risks are associated with the role you’re hiring for?

If the position involves the handling of the company’s cash or finances, then financial health and credit history would be critical. If the role is in a professional field like medicine, law, engineering or accounting, then it’s crucial to verify that the necessary professional licenses are still valid.

Pruning your list of background checks is important for two reasons: you want to maintain a balance between being thorough and being intrusive, and fewer checks also mean less cost. Think about why it’s necessary – or if it’s even legal – to request certain background checks based on the requirements of the job. If you can’t build an argument that justifies the check, then don’t include it in your screening process.

Ensure that information is used fairly

Companies need to be responsible with how they use the information uncovered in a background check. This is key to staying compliant with fair employment practices and to avoid being accused of discrimination in the hiring process.

Especially when dealing with information related to criminal records, credit ratings or medical history, be cognisant of any personal biases that may be subconsciously affecting the hiring decision – if something doesn’t affect a candidate’s skill level or ability to fulfil the responsibilities of the job, it shouldn’t be considered.

Communicate clearly the purpose of the pre-employment screening

In some countries and jurisdictions (the US is one example), companies are obliged to ask for a candidate’s permission before running any background checks. Beyond that, however, asking for in-principle permission – even if not legally required – before conducting an investigation is simply good practice, and indicates to prospective employees that you respect their privacy.

Key to this is communicating clearly to them why you’re screening in the first place. One common misconception about pre-employment background checks is that they are used to eliminate candidates. Far from it. Background checks require time and money, and are a sign that you are seriously considering a candidate for the position.

This is why the above two considerations are so critical – clearing these up internally will give candidates confidence that you aren’t using background checks as a hidden excuse to discriminate against them.

Review any information gathered together with the candidate

Having an open discussion is vital to avoiding any misunderstandings, and gives candidates a chance to tell their side of the story or to dispute any false findings. Remember that candidates aren’t just facts and figures on a page – they’re multifaceted people with diverse backgrounds and histories, and that top talent can come in many shapes and sizes.

Even if you discover something that is a clear deal-breaker (falsified educational qualifications, for example), letting the candidate know that that is the reason you won’t be offering them the position is also a clear way to close off the hiring process.

Because of the fact-finding nature of pre-employment investigations, it can be easy to lose sight of the human touch. That’s why when choosing a background check company, it’s important to select one with the right experience and approach to help you design pre-employment screenings that fit your needs and risk profile.

RMI is a trusted intelligence service partner with international experience and thousands of satisfied customers. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you conduct your due diligence legally, transparently, and with a human touch.