Six Decisions Involved with the Pre-Employment Screening Process

ThinkstockPhotos-78431828So you are ready to oversee your first interview and hiring process and are excited about finding a new person or two to add to your company’s team or making your first placement. You’ve started reviewing resumes and have a pretty good picture in your head the kind of person you or your client wants to hire. But running a hiring process is about more than matching a person’s resume to a job description and calling it good. If you are going to run a successful, thorough, and legal pre-employment screening process, then there are a slew of important decisions that you’ll need to make first. Here are six of the most important ones.

  1. What interview questions to ask. There are certain types of questions you cannot ask in a job interview. For example, any questions about sexual orientation, political affiliation, race or ethnicity, religion, age, drinking or smoking habits, marital status, disabilities, or pregnancy are off the table. These questions are deemed discriminatory, and can get both you and your business into a lot of legal trouble. So do yourself a favor and write up a long, detailed list of the questions you might ask before you head into the interview room to speak with a prospective employee. Once your list is done, you can look around online for lists of types of questions you can’t ask, and compare those lists against your own to make sure you aren’t crossing any lines. (Note: These rules also apply to questions asked on job applications.)
  1. When to inquire about criminal history. The answer to this particular question will vary substantially depending on where you are operating your business. Not too long ago, almost all employers asked about applicant criminal history on the job application itself. Recently, a movement called “ban the box” has been stipulating the removal of those criminal history questions in different parts of the country. In most places where “ban the box” laws or ordinances are on the books, they apply only to public employers. But a growing list of states and municipalities — including (but not limited to) Illinois, Rhode Island, Oregon, Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. — have also banned the box for private employers. So check the laws in your state, city and county to find out whether or not you are allowed to ask about criminal records on the job application.

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  1. When to run the background check. This one goes with the above point about “ban the box” policies. If you can’t ask about criminal history on job applications, then there are probably also very definitive rules about when you are allowed to run a criminal background check on an applicant. In some places that have banned the box, you’ll only have to wait until after the initial interview. In other places, you won’t be allowed to run a background check until you’ve extended a conditional offer of employment. So again, defer to state or local laws in deciding when to run your background checks.
  1. What kind of criminal checks to run. Arguably the biggest decision you will have to make when putting together your pre-employment screening process is about how you want to approach criminal history checks. You can check for criminal records on the local county level, on the state level, or using multi-jurisdictional criminal databases. While many employers assume the latter is best simply because of sheer reach, each type of check has its benefits.
  • Most criminal convictions are filed at the local county level, so county criminal searches will give you the most up-to-date and thorough information — just with the smallest distance radius.
  • State checks are run through repositories maintained by a state’s police department. In a perfect world, these repositories would be updated daily and would be perfect databases of every piece of criminal history ever logged in the state. County courthouses don’t report to these repositories every day, though, and some counties can go months or even years without reporting. As a result, state checks are a good way to widen the reach of a criminal check, but should not replace county checks.
  • Multi-jurisdictional databases are resources put together by specific organizations that collect criminal information from courts, police departments, and other sources throughout the country. These databases are to state repositories what state repositories are to county searches: wider reach and radius, less complete information. Needless to say, it’s impossible for any organization to make sure that everysingle court in every single state is accounted for in these databases.

Usually, the best decision to make here is to use some combination of all three checks. County checks in your local area are pivotal while state checks can help widen the net to see if an applicant has had legal trouble outside of the space where they live and work. Nationwide databases can be utilized on the off chance of catching a conviction from the other side of the country that otherwise would have gone overlooked.

  1. What background check company to work with. You need a company you can trust, with a strong work ethic and plenty of resources, to run criminal background checks on your applicants. Ideally, the firm you choose will have plentiful experience and good customer reviews, as well as a wide range of services. For instance, a company that offers county, state, and multi-jurisdictional background checks — as well as verification options for education, employment, professional certifications, and more — can help you with more than one state of the pre-employment screening process.
  1. Which other types of background checks to consider. Criminal checks aren’t the only types of background checks you might run on an applicant. You’ll also want to consider driving history checks (if you are filling a position that will involve the operation of a vehicle) or credit history checks (if the job involves finance). Meanwhile, verification checks can help to make sure that an applicant has the educational and professional credentials they claim. A good background check company will have all of these options and more.

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Michael Klazema

Michael Klazema
Michael Klazema has been developing products for the background screening industry since 2009 and is lead author and editor for a background checks community.

Michael Klazema

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