Conducting foolproof background and reference checks

Remember the pilot episode from the TV show Suits? When Mike Ross is trying to get away from the police while carrying a briefcase full of pot, he stumbles into the interview room where Harvey Specter is looking for the firm’s next associate. Between a pool of Harvard-goers and a stranger with a briefcase full of pot, Harvey picks the latter after seeing his knowledge, photographic memory, and hearing his kind of sob story. The rest was an addictive TV show.

Well that doesn’t happen in real life. And even if it does, it definitely doesn’t turn out so fascinating.

In the real world, we do background investigations.

During a background investigation, you verify the details you have received from the applicant with their previous employers, supervisors, co-workers, educators, and if necessary the government. In other words, any source other than the applicants themselves.

Why should I conduct background checks?


A report by National Association of Background screeners found that the top reasons companies do background checks are as follows:

Let’s elaborate on that.

  1. To improve the quality of hire

    Given that the job market is highly competitive, job seekers can overstate their abilities, experience, employment history or anything that might give them a better shot at a job. It hence falls on the shoulders of the employers to verify the critical details the applicants present to them during the hiring process. This ensures that you hire someone for who they really are and not just what they or their resumes said.

  2. To ensure stakeholders’ safety

    Employers are responsible for who they are bringing into the business family – other employees, customers, vendors, visitors. Wrong hires have the potential to disturb other stakeholders while also leaving you business-crippled with legal obligations. For example, if you hire someone with a history of sexual harassment, you’re putting your employees at the risk of being victims of the same.

  3. To verify applicant-provided data

    Verifying all the vital details given by the applicant not only helps you make completely convincing decisions but might also bring to light any fabrications, exaggerations or misinterpretations on the resume or otherwise. By doing so, you also get enough information to build a case for their honesty, integrity and character. A survey by HireRight shows that 85% of respondents discovered a lie or misinterpretation on the resume or application during the screening process.

  4. To prevent workplace theft

    Given the fact that most business thefts are facilitated by insiders, background investigations help prevent them or keep them at bay. According to the data breach investigations report by Verizon in 2019, 34% of all breaches were caused by insiders. In spite of the fact that 70% of insider attacks aren’t even reported externally.

How to conduct background investigations?


4 things you need to have in place before you begin background investigations

  • A rock-solid background screening policy that’s fair to all
  • Legal advice and counsel on what you can and not do
  • If necessary, a background screening service that’s FCRA (Fair credit reporting Act) compliant
  • The right attitude towards the process – a) Don’t treat the investigations like a routine b) Know that you’ll sometimes make mistakes, so when in doubt double check c) Give your applicants a chase to clarify

What are the checks we should run?

Source: HireRight                        

The criminal record check

This would be the most important check while hiring for critical roles that involve trust or integrity. However there are a few limits on what you can and not do with the information you obtain from these investigations.

The rehabilitations of offenders act 1974 allows a person to withhold information from employers once they have been rehabilitated. And only a basic check is allowed on them where only unspent convictions show up. That’s unless they are applying for professions that are life-critical or involve vulnerable people or children – teachers, social workers, surgeons, accountants, etc.

The credit check

A credit check is the most unwelcome means of background checks. It’s considered intrusive and you shouldn’t resort to it unless 1) the role you are hiring for involves managing financial aspects of the firm and you absolutely need to run a credit check 2) There is no other means to procure the same information.

The check mainly helps you understand your applicant’s ability to manage their own money so you can trust them with your firm’s.

The social media background check

You cannot make decisions simply based on social media posts but they can add value to your whole bunch of investigations. You can look at abusive behaviour, language, sexist or racist remarks, or anything that might violate your people or workplace.

On the brighter side, you might also stumble upon people with beautiful values, compassion, conviction and so many other good things, making you want to bring them into the company.

Though a social media screening can help, without other strong evidence, an applicant can take you to court for rejecting them an offer simply based on social media screening. And maybe even claim compensation.

The credentials check

This is a basic check that helps you verify the information on the resume such as the school or college they graduated from or their prior work experience, position, salary, and so on.

Reference checks

If you know to ask the right questions, and get people to answer them without inhibitions, then this is a great investigation tool. You can talk to your applicant’s prior managers, peers, clients etc and get an in-depth idea of what it’s like to to work with them and maybe even understand their skills, competencies and areas of expertise.

Avoid asking questions that have nothing to do with the job role. Especially once that can come across as discriminating.

The motor vehicle records check

This applies to employers who are hiring for roles that involve operating personal, rental, or organizational vehicles at any point on the job. The investigation brings to surface license status, license class, license validity period, traffic violations, any license suspensions or cancellations.

Re-screening current employees

The fact that your employees have access to your intellectual assets, client base and employees, at least 50% of the employers do not re screen their employees during their time at the firm.

But it’s advisable to run a background check when you are promoting employees, moving them to more critical roles, or even just to keep up with the changes in their life. You never know, you might catch a few things that you missed the first time.

Before you start background investigations always ask your applicants for consent. Get the appropriate forms filled or documents signed. Not just for legal reasons. By doing so, you show them that your processes are straightforward and transparent.

 What to do with the finding?

Just because you found something negative, you don’t need to drop the candidate. We are all believers of second chances, aren’t we? That also doesn’t mean you can rope everyone in and sink together. Instead what you can do is try to see how relevant the findings are, or how they would affect your decision.

-Was it a one time offense or has it happened consistently?
-How long since the offense was committed?
-How does the finding affect the position you are hiring for?
-What would the risk of hiring this person cost the company?
-Again, give your candidate a chance to explain.

When you have asked enough questions, and sought enough answers, good hiring decisions will be inevitable.

Attract. Screen. Hire fantastic people. Repeat!✌️