15 Types of Background Checks to Hire Better Employees

Choosing the right candidate for a position in your company can be a grueling process. After all the work of interviewing, you may be ready to just go with the candidate that seems like the most qualified. After all, why prolong the process if you’ve already found the best candidate?

But you may kick yourself down the line if you don’t perform a background check on that hotshot candidate. You need to make sure they are who they claim to be, and there’s only so much you can learn from a resume and an interview.

More people than you’d like to think lie on their resumes. Some may be hiding some serious skeletons in their closet. That hotshot candidate might look great on paper, but how would it change your mind if you discovered they were notoriously rude online? You don’t want to be responsible for any bad behavior (and backlash associated with it) that the candidate exhibits after you hire them.

Protect your employees and your company’s reputation with background checks. With the right combination of checks, you may even reveal a candidate’s chances to grow and contribute to your company in the long run. Read on to learn more about background checks and how to use them to make your hiring process as thorough as possible.

Why Use Formal Background Checks?

First of all, there is a legal requirement to conduct background checks (at least the most common varieties). This is mainly to protect the safety of employees and ensure that companies aren’t held liable for an employee’s negative actions later on.

Depending on your industry and company culture, it may not be critical for you to hire candidates with completely squeaky-clean records. However, it’s important to ensure that you’re hiring trustworthy individuals that won’t lie about their past or have a history of committing crimes directly related to your industry. Doing so risks harm to your company in general, threatens the efforts (and possibly safety) of other employees, and puts you at risk for negligent hiring. It’s also a waste of time and money to train someone that ends up causing problems later.

But beyond immediate danger, it’s important to perform background checks to ensure your hiring process isn’t broken or insufficient. Candidates can and do lie about their own qualifications — and it happens far more often than you may think.

For example, former Radioshack CEO David J. Edmondson was ousted in 2006 after it was discovered that he had lied about completing a three-year college degree. Marilee Jones was fired from her position as the dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for similar misconduct. She had worked at her position for 28 years before it was discovered that she had falsified her three college degrees, a fact that may have been discovered much earlier with proper background checks.

Illegal Types of Background Checks

When running any kind of background check, it’s important to respect the civil rights of everyone in the hiring process. Aside from being purely ethical, this kind of respect establishes that your company believes in these rights and that no one is exempt from scrutiny. A reliable background check system that doesn’t invade privacy (or offend any laws) is a system employees can trust to help keep their workplace safe.

These background checks are currently either illegal or highly discouraged for businesses looking to hire new employees:

  • Medical history (including age): Not hiring someone based on their age is discrimination. However, inquiring about a candidate’s medical history is also a blatant breach of privacy. This especially applies if the company is only conducting these searches on people with obvious physical or mental needs, such as pregnant candidates or those who use wheelchairs.
  • Plans regarding pregnancy: This goes hand-in-hand with inquiring about medical history, but this line of questioning actually has deep roots in the history of discrimination against women entering the workforce. Asking a candidate if they are pregnant or plan to become pregnant is inappropriate and discriminatory. This also applies to searching their online presences or asking if they’ve inquired about adoption, IVF, or surrogacy. It also applies to candidates who cannot physically carry children — would your company be less likely to hire a candidate with a partner who is eight months pregnant? Pursuing this line of questioning implies just that.
  • Any inquiries prompted by a candidate’s identity: Candidates must receive all the same background checks and the same lines of inquiry regardless of personal identity. It is an easy slide into discrimination to conduct extra or additional searches because of a person’s race, gender, national origin, or any other protected characteristic. The ideal situation is to have a system of background checks in place that can catch red flags no matter who is being investigated.

Now that we’ve gone through the restrictions on background checks, here are the legal types of background checks recommended for most companies. Not all of them are necessary for every company or industry, but it’s possible to design a highly comprehensive background check system when you know exactly what type of information each one provides.

Criminal History Background Checks

These are considered the most basic and “standard” background checks. A candidate’s criminal record can often make or break that person’s chances with the company. Here are some you might consider using in your own hiring process:

  • Local, state, federal, and civil criminal background checks: Note that there are certain legal restrictions around when these checks can be performed during the interview process. In any case, they’re worth conducting to verify that the candidate didn’t falsify their application. Global sanctions checks aren’t strictly necessary for every candidate, but financial organizations will appreciate this check’s focus on financial crimes, such as fraud and money laundering. These checks may also reveal charges that were dismissed or where the candidate pleaded not guilty, all of which will help provide a more complete picture of who you could be hiring.
  • Motor vehicle record (MVR) background checks: This type of check verifies what type of driver’s license the applicant currently has, as well as if it is expired and if the candidate has suffered any moving violations. Companies will also learn whether the candidate has any felony and misdemeanor convictions (such as a DUI) on their record. This is mostly applicable to positions that require the candidate to drive regularly. Even so, a position that requires occasional driving or regular identity verification via a driver’s license may find this check helpful.
  • Credit report check: Of course, the numbers in someone’s bank account aren’t always an indicator of their work ethic. But many companies consider it a red flag if a candidate has dealt with bankruptcy or collections agencies (especially if it’s happened multiple times). The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) outlines what type of information companies can access, and states that the candidate must be alerted when such checks take place.
  • Sex offender lists: This is an obvious choice for a background check, and may be used across industries and company sizes. However, it’s worth noting that not all checks will provide complete information about a person’s criminal history. A standard sex offender check does not include information about juvenile offenses, crimes conducted in different areas (which is why it’s important to conduct sex offender searches that cover multiple states), and in some cases, offenses that took place over seven years before the check.
  • Global and domestic terrorist watch lists: This check is unnecessary for most organizations, except for government agencies and companies who partner with those agencies. It’s important to ensure that everyone working on high-security projects can be trusted to maintain secrecy and not abuse their power. However, these searches should not be prompted solely based on a candidate’s identity or country of origin. This will very likely be considered discriminatory.

Identity Verification Background Checks

These types of checks are incredibly important to ensure that the candidate is presenting themselves accurately on their application. They also help to verify that the candidate is being truthful about their employment history, and that their overall representation is compatible with the company.

  • Social security number, full name, and date of birth: These three types of checks are considered the most important for preventing fraudsters. It’s important to complete all three to ensure there’s no cases of mistaken identity — one check is never enough, and passing all three is very difficult for the average fraudster.
  • Educational and certification testing: Check student databases or reach out to certifying bodies early in the interview process to ensure that you’re not hiring the next Marilee Jones. You can also cross-reference their educational background to their work history to make sure the timeline makes sense.
  • Reference checks: Reaching out to past references isn’t necessarily a formal background check. Nevertheless, it’s important to make sure that the candidate didn’t embellish their employment dates or their exact position. They may also be playing up their contributions to the team, when the truth may be more mixed or negative.
  • Social media checks: While not a formal check, looking into a candidate’s social media can help determine if they’ll fit in with the company culture. You can also use the opportunity to see if the candidate maintains social media accounts under their own name — and if they’re appropriate enough to be associated with your company. It is ideal to check social media only after other background checks are complete, to ensure there’s no discrimination early on in the process.

Onboarding Process Background Checks

In some cases, you may continue to conduct checks even after the candidate has been hired (or at least for the first 90 days). This ensures the continued compliance and viability of any candidate during the onboarding process. Here are a few checks you might use:

  • Drug testing: If your new hires regularly show up intoxicated, this obviously harms productivity. Apart from the immediate information a drug test shows, it can also provide insight on the employee’s past drug use and whether or not they have partaken in illegal drugs. This information may be useful especially in industries where impaired judgment can have intense consequences, such as medicine, law enforcement, and transportation.
  • Past employment checks: Earlier rounds of background checks should ensure that the candidate isn’t outright lying about their employment history. It’s helpful to follow up with past employers to learn about how they are as a worker. They may not have been lying about working at a certain company, but they may have left out that they were always late or didn’t complete essential tasks.
  • Social media profile checks: It’s important to verify that a candidate shares core company values (and is self-aware enough to keep profiles professional). But it’s also important to see if patterns change after they’ve been hired, or if there’s any activity that may put company privacy at risk.

Potential Background Check Trends of the Future

Companies are always looking for more reliable ways to verify a candidate’s information. Likewise, background check strategies and technologies are also evolving. Still, some types of background checks are impractical or extremely expensive to conduct, and therefore not profitable for most businesses to use. However, as time goes on, more companies may start to use the following checks more often:

  • Fingerprint background checks: Most people associate fingerprinting with police stations and pawn shops. For this reason, employees tend to be uneasy about this type of background check. However, if you can convince candidates to go through with it, this method is considered an extremely accurate way of assessing criminal backgrounds.
  • Layered searches: Layered searches (i.e. doing more than one search at once) is a pure evolution of current technologies. As globalization continues to be a trend, innovation will likely make it easier than ever to search state, federal, and international databases at the same time.
  • Repeated checks (even past hiring): With a traditional approach to hiring, background checks tend to stop after a candidate has been hired. However, this is likely due to phase out as ongoing checks and continuous monitoring become a more frequent trend. This is becoming a more popular approach, especially in the era of the gig economy. Uber and Lyft instituted similar policies in response to accusations of hiring unsavory people that would go on to harass or endanger customers without any additional oversight.

How to Implement/Manage Background Checks

Once you establish which background checks you want to prioritize in your organization, it’s important to build them into your standard procedures. Background checks can take a long time, so the more you can streamline this process, the better. With a well-defined workflow, hiring managers can gather key information when necessary and set up these checks for each candidate at the appropriate stage.

Decide The Order Of Background Checks

Naturally, your company will want to conduct more than one background check in the course of checking all applicants. But not all types of checks are necessary, and you want the best use of your time.

It’s recommended that the three primary criminal background checks (social security number, full name, and date of birth) be conducted first, before any other checks. These are considered the best for catching most low-level fraudsters. From there, motor vehicle and sexual offender lists are the most highly recommended. Bad results from those checks often mean an instant disqualification from employment.

At the same time, it’s important to decide which kinds of background checks matter most to your company. It may not be important for every company to check a new candidate’s gamer tags or Steam profile, but if you’re hiring a community manager for a gaming platform, their activity in those areas may be incredibly important.

Determine Who Will Conduct The Background Checks

Not everyone at a company is qualified to conduct a background check. In fact, most people aren’t qualified. Most of the time, background checks are handled by outside vendors. This way, you can be sure you’ll receive impartial results and that the entire process will be conducted legally.

Managing vendors for background checks (and coordinating their efforts) can get complicated very quickly. That’s why it’s important to keep background check results and notes from the interview process organized in a way that’s easily accessible for the right people. One lost document could mean a terrible (and even dangerous) hiring decision.

Develop a System For Organizing and Using Results

When you decide on a vendor for your background check, take time to select one that fulfills your needs as a company and satisfies the legal requirements of the areas in which your company resides. If your company has locations in or is registered in different areas, be sure to take this into account.

Even more important is determining how you will store the results within your company records. Your background check vendor will likely have a procedure regarding this process, and your legal team will almost certainly have recommendations as well.

To make any of this happen, you need a flexible way for your HR team to manage these checks — something more sophisticated than spreadsheets and filing cabinets. Human capital management (HCM) software is designed explicitly to help HR teams manage hiring and other processes at scale. It’s perfect for managing essential functions like background checks and interviews. You can also create custom workflows for hiring, manage documents, keep track of recruiting efforts, and view employee data across your entire company. In essence, an HCM helps HR teams achieve greater visibility into the workforce and provides them with more power to manage it.

Final Thoughts

Background checks are important for ensuring your workplace stays both productive and safe. However, it’s important to remember that background checks do not reveal everything about a candidate or their suitability. One past arrest or imperfect credit doesn’t always mean that someone will be a bad hire or is a bad person. Laws are in place to make sure this exact bias doesn’t come into play too early in the hiring process.

It’s important to have a full and accurate picture of who a candidate is before hiring them, and not rule them out for the wrong reasons. It’s also imperative to have background checks performed in a legal way by people authorized to do so. This will guarantee accurate results and help prevent invasion of privacy.

In addition to Criterion’s specialized employee management and HR features, our HCM is integrated with Verified Credentials to provide fast, trustworthy background screening in full compliance with the law. With more than 38 years of experience, Verified Credentials provides several types of background checks (criminal history, ID/SSN tracing, drug tests, employment & academic verifications, social media checks, etc.) with an average 1-3 day turnaround. The service is built directly into Criterion HCM, so you can order specific background checks for any candidate in the same interface you use to manage resumes, set up interviews, and track hiring workflows. That information is automatically attached to the candidate's profile for review by the hiring team. Even if you already work with another background check partner, that’s okay. Criterion HCM can integrate with any other 3rd party background check vendor to provide the same seamless experience, no matter how you operate.

Book a demo of Criterion today and learn how you can easily streamline your hiring process to include background checks.

Steve Tompkins
Steve Tompkins is an HCM Solutions Consultant at Criterion HCM and is located in San Diego, California.
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