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Illustration by Roy Scott for HR Magazine.
Thanks to new technologies, background checks are getting faster, smarter and easier for HR. In addition to saving time, reducing errors and helping employers stay compliant, emerging tools are getting better at detecting when candidates misrepresent themselves.
While screening candidates is time-consuming, it’s often time well-spent. Verifying candidate information mitigates the risk of future criminal activity and protects the business from negligent hiring claims.
Integration and Ongoing Monitoring
Not long ago, HR professionals phoned or faxed applicant information to their company’s screening vendor, which returned a report by mail weeks later. Verifying past employment and education in the analog era was even more time-consuming.
Web-based access and integrations with HR systems changed the game, enabling background checks to be completed much more quickly and conveniently. When screening functions are linked to an applicant tracking system (ATS), candidate data flows directly to the vendor once an investigation is initiated and the results are immediately stored in the candidate’s file in the ATS.
"ATS integrations are becoming much more sophisticated," says Clare Hart, CEO of Sterling Talent Solutions, a global background-screening and onboarding firm headquartered in New York City. "It’s absolutely a requirement for the background-screening process to mesh with the workflow of HR," she says.
Employers have demanded more-seamless systems, says Dawn Standerwick, vice president of strategic growth for Employment Screening Resources, a background-screening firm based in the San Francisco area.
Although most companies screen employees once, at the prehire stage, the new normal may be continuous, post-hire monitoring.
Post-hire due diligence can identify something that may have been missed initially or new threats that may arise due to an individual’s change in circumstances.
"One-and-done background checks are limited and expensive and don’t account for the dynamic nature of risk factors," says Raj Ananthanpillai, CEO and president of IDentrix, a cloud-based technology that combs public records, including criminal and court documents, in real time.
As the popularity of an extended workforce grows, with more organizations hiring contingent, contract or temporary workers, many employers also screen these workers, who may pose the same risks as regular employees. In addition, some employers also screen volunteers and other unpaid staff before making assignments.
Some employers use self-service applicant portals that allow candidates to input their own data rather than relying on a recruiter to do so. This helps streamline processes, eliminate duplicate data entry and improve the candidate experience.
"The shared goal is to create the best applicant experience possible, and, depending on the strength of the integration, data that is collected by the ATS and is needed for the background check does prepopulate to our system in most cases," Standerwick says.
The process starts when HR invites an applicant to enter the screener’s system and complete the authorization. Then the employee receives all required disclosure forms for an electronic signature. After a screening report is sent, any adverse action taken by the employer (for example, not hiring an applicant or firing an employee based on the information obtained) is also automated and can be initiated through the ATS.
The technology is smart enough "to understand where the candidates are, what services they are getting and what compliance forms need to be presented to them," Hart says. It also allows candidates to upload documents such as school diplomas or certifications.
Ensuring legal compliance is critical when conducting background screens, but it can bog down the process due to constantly evolving state and municipal requirements related to the use of background information for employment. "There’s that expectation that information is delivered with immediacy, which we’re finding can create compliance issues," Standerwick says.
"Technology that’s really making a difference to the process are the self-service applicant portals and a system that understands—based on the information provided by the applicant—all of the legal issues associated with the screen to ensure compliance for employers," says Barry Boes, CEO of Austin, Texas-based Accio Data, a technology company that connects screening firms to data providers.
Screening providers can customize workflows based on occupational roles, industries and company size. For example, background checks for finance positions could trigger a credit check, while screens for truck drivers could require motor vehicle records.
"Applicant information has to be collected, and candidates may have to sign different release forms depending on where they live, the job, the industry, and what jurisdiction we may or may not have to check," Boes says.
Hiring people who have misrepresented themselves on their resumes can be a costly mistake for employers. Eighty-four percent of employers surveyed for HireRight’s 2016 Employment Screening Benchmark Report indicated that screening uncovered falsehoods. According to a 2015 study by online job board and software provider CareerBuilder, 54 percent of small businesses have caught a lie on an applicant’s resume, most commonly related to their skills (61 percent) and past responsibilities (55 percent).
Emerging technology can scan a resume and dispatch spiders across the Web and social media networks to compare data and spot inconsistencies.
"There’s such a high percentage of people who exaggerate or lie on their resume, and employers wish there was a way to somehow catch them in the act," says Tim Sackett, president of HRU Technical Resources, an engineering and IT supplemental staffing firm based in Lansing, Mich.
Some of the disparities include previous jobs missing from the resume or discrepancies in dates of employment. "There will be false positives," Sackett says, which applicants should be able to explain, but recruiters may also find issues that merit further investigation.
Automated reference checking is also gaining momentum. SkillSurvey, a leading provider of online, predictive reference checks, is now conducting 100,000 checks per month, according to a representative for the Philadelphia area-based company.
The vendor is also using technology to fight back against applicants who try to game the system with phony references.
"We have an IP address solution, where we capture the IP address of each reference and are then able to identify whether or not those addresses come from the same computer or not," says Ray Bixler, president and CEO of SkillSurvey. If they do, "we raise the red flag."
As background-screening tools evolve, lies that might keep your organization from making—or keeping—a bad hire could become as easy to detect as the nose on Pinocchio’s face.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM who focuses on talent acquisition.
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