What Are Employment Background Check Services?
Sizing up a potential new hire always requires a background check. A likely not-so-neutral survey conducted by HR.com on behalf of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) found that 96 percent of responding businesses stated that they conduct one or more types of pre-employment background screening. Meanwhile, a report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), an organization with a slightly broader focus, found that 69 percent of organizations surveyed conduct criminal background checks on all job applicants. But, while we know that screening is a must, what exactly comprises this screening process is evolving—and that’s a trend we’re seeing across all five of the employment background check service providers we reviewed in this roundup.
An employment background check service is exactly what the name implies: it’s typically a web-based service that offers employers, and sometimes consumers, the ability to check a variety of different, public databases for background data on designated individuals. The data these services access is almost always publicly available, so the value they’re offering is
Finally, most of these services are standalone, meaning you’ll need to access them directly whenever you want to run a report. Some, however, are part of a larger human resources (HR) software framework that simply makes this feature available separately as well. Others specialize mainly in the data portion of the equation and provide an application programming interface (API) that your developers can use to build a background check integration with your own in-house app, some third-party applicant tracking system (ATS) or other relevant software.
While conducting a screening is usually just a matter of setting up an account with a service and inputting some key data points, HR managers should refrain from simply jumping in and running scans. Employers and third-party companies that provide these services to HR managers must adhere to certain laws, which vary from state to state as well as between counties and even municipalities. This means, before obtaining and reviewing any report for the purpose of hiring new employees, be sure you’re clear on the laws
If you have a legal department, then it’s a good idea to run through this with them before starting your screening process. As an employer, you are required to get an applicant’s written consent before getting any reports. Your applicants have the right to all of those records, can dispute inaccuracies, and seek damages from companies that violate their rights or discriminate against them. Good employment background check services provide a means for their clients to comply with this requirement, so verify that before making a decision.
The Different Kinds of Background Checks
The eager HR manager can choose from several different types of background checks, including credit checks, employment history verification, drug tests, driving and criminal records, and certainly academic history verification. A new development centers on social media searches, and this has become a hotly debated topic among HR professionals and employment background check services. That’s primarily because these screening processes tend to wind up containing information about which potential employers aren’t allowed to ask an applicant straight out: things such as sexual orientation, political affiliations, and
Social media checks can also provide a far more candid glimpse into an applicant’s personal life than that person may have wished. So it’s a fair question to ask if simply scraping this data off the web is akin to invading someone’s privacy? This argument is all the more relevant because background checks are considered consumer reports by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). This is federal legislation designed to promote accurate, fair, and private background checks as well as other consumer reports. It also sets the standards for employment screening. Additionally, it oversees the collection and use of consumer credit information. For these reasons and more, two of our five vendors do not offer this service.
Some companies only background-check certain groups; for example, they check finance, HR, and legal department applicants but don’t necessarily check on anyone who seeks to work in creative fields. The reason behind this specialization can be market-driven or be because the software targets resources that verify specific data points for the groups about which they care. This can be attractive to many vertical customers and it’s a good way for employment background check services to differentiate themselves.
Other employment background check services, however, check everything from soup to nuts, regardless of who its candidates are. For instance, if your organization works for the government and deals with government contracts, then you’re almost always required to complete a full background check on everybody coming into the company. This check can often be more in-depth within different agencies, including, for example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). But it’s important to have a consistent, overall company policy.
Most third-party employment background check services deliver historical data going back seven years because that’s how long companies are required to keep data and offer different options for customers to initiate the screening process. You basically have two options of initiating an employee background check: You can enter it yourself as an employer, which means you must have that information on hand and permission from the applicant to do so. Or you can send an auto-generated email to the candidate so that they sign and enter that information for themselves.
One important consideration you’ll need to address offline—and likely with both your IT and legal departments—is what happens to this data after you’ve taken receipt of a report. What’s in these reports is usually considered highly personal data by the subject, so losing it in a data breach or simply through negligence can have significant repercussions in many cases. Additionally, new developments in data privacy, such as the implementation of the European Union (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation can place even more responsibility not just on the providers of this data but on those that take delivery of it as well. So remember to sit down with your legal and IT teams to put together a simple workflow that will let you not only access this data efficiently but store and dispose of it properly, too.
After ordering an employment background check report, turnaround time is a major factor since it’s critical not only to how quickly an employer can fill seats but also to how quickly a promising candidate can be locked down. All vendors claim fast turnaround times, but in reality, these are estimates because every report is heavily affected by how quickly outside data resources respond to requests. Federal databases are fairly quick, but scans across county databases or
Because of the costs involved, companies tend to wait until the candidate is in the final stages, either right before the company tenders an offer or right after they receive an accepted offer back from the individual. In the latter case, the job offer becomes contingent on passing the employee background check. Credit checks require a separate authorization from job candidates and are not usually run unless the role applied for has
The aforementioned NAPBS is an independent organization that provides FCRA educational courses and provides a decent library of general resources for HR professionals and business operators. The NAPBS also accredits business operators in the field, an accreditation that is governed by the Background Screening Credentialing Council (BSCC). It’s a good idea to research any employment background check service provider you might be considering to determine whether or not they’re
For this round,
Price is the other main differentiator in this employment background check service category, and both of our two winners were competitive in this area.
Among our other players, A Good Employee.com is another good choice for small to midsize businesses (SMBs) as well as any business that operates in the real estate management industry because the service provides several features that map directly to that vertical. SterlingOne is the only one of our contenders that’s also an all-in-one HR solution, which might make things easier for companies that are doing HR from the ground up. That said, SterlingOne does offer an SMB version of its screening service and also supports the legacy standalone solution. Accio Data offered me a peek inside the back-end side of the Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) industry, as its software platform was full-featured, flexible, and able to be quickly rebranded by their CRA customers.
Specifically what data is provided by these companies can vary widely depending on the role, location, regulatory factors, and other needs specific to the customer, which means whoever requests and pays for the report. While a company with a small budget might just check references, those with more resources can employ one of these services to check anything from credit reports to criminal history. Just be aware of how much you’re paying, what kinds of data you’re requesting, and what happens to that data after you use it.
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