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Verification services provide a new tool for job candidates to use to validate their credentials before applying for a job. Can they assist HR with background screening?
During tough economic times, it’s common for employers to receive thousands of resumes in response to a single job posting. As job seekers become increasingly desperate, some may be tempted to exaggerate their credentials, while others may look to prove they’ve done what they say they’ve done.
One emerging tool for job seekers and HR professionals is the "pre-verified" resume, in which a third party certifies a person’s credentials before he or she applies for a position. Here’s how it works: A job seeker signs up for this service, and then a background-screening company confirms relevant information, such as work history and educational background. Users receive a seal of verification, and they can promote their pre-screened credentials to potential employers. Two companies that offer this service are Employment Screening Resources (ESR) and TalentWise.
Other types of verification services are available, as well. For instance, job seekers can run a background check on themselves through a company called TransparentMe. Or employers can sign up for Acertiv, a resource for confirming specific claims about professional accomplishments that job seekers make on their resumes.
Views from the Field
What do HR professionals think of pre-verified resume services? "It sounds like a really good idea," says Talesa Flenniken, SPHR, human resources manager at Producers Cooperative Oil Mill in Oklahoma City. But she has some reservations: "How would I know the legitimacy of the person checking and the standards used?"
Lisa Calicchio, SPHR, vice president of employee relations, global recruiting and diversity at Princeton, N.J.-based Covance Inc., says her company has its own standards for employment and resume verification. So even if a pre-verified resume is used, it wouldn’t be regarded as verified until HR conducted its own screenings, says Calicchio, a member of the Society for Human Resource Management’s HR Disciplines Special Expertise Panel.
Lester Rosen, CEO of ESR, says employers need to make their own judgments about the credibility of background-screening companies. He notes that ESR is accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners.
TalentWise highlights the many honors it has received, such as being named a top screening provider by
HRO Today from 2008 to 2012.
Andy Gallion, vice president of the background-screening firm InCheck Inc., says that pre-verified resumes probably wouldn’t be useful for employers trying to fill salaried positions. These employers tend to select the best candidate based on cultural fit, experience and skills, he says, so it’s unlikely pre-verified resumes would give applicants an edge in these cases.
However, Gallion, who also co-founded the staffing agency Extension Inc., adds that such services may be more valuable in the fast-paced world of temporary staffing. If a temp agency could confirm that the pre-screening occurred, then the pre-verified credentials could speed up the placement process, he says.
Nuts and Bolts
One of the first pre-verified services available was MyJobHistory.com, launched in late 2001 by ESR in Novato, Calif. That evolved into MyESRCheck.com, which the company now offers as an ancillary service.
Users of MyESRCheck.com can seek to verify details about their education, work history, and professional licenses or credentials. They choose the services they want. An education verification is $18, as is an employment verification. Consumers can pay another fee to ensure that their verification stays up-to-date over time. They also can order a criminal background check.
If a candidate’s previous employer has gone out of business or changed ownership, someone at ESR might ask the job seeker to provide a copy of an old W-2 form or the name of a former supervisor. However, Rosen says the company can’t guarantee that it will be able to confirm everything. If consumers believe that the verification process has turned up inaccurate information, they can try to get it corrected.
The ESR service generates a unique ID and password for each user. Applicants can provide employers with access to their pre-certified credentials.
Rosen has heard anecdotal stories that pre-verified resumes give job seekers a competitive edge, although he hasn’t seen any solid evidence to support this.
There isn’t a high demand for this service among the general public, Rosen says. "It’s a niche type of service that has a place for particular people," he explains. For example, it can help people with a criminal record or negative job histories to troubleshoot ahead of time by finding out the information that employers may be able to access about them, he says.
Although ESR doesn’t release the number of consumers who have used its pre-screened resume service, Rosen says usage has remained "steady" over the 12 years that the company has offered the service.
Rosen emphasizes that MyESRCheck.com isn’t intended to replace a company’s own background check. The only guarantee ESR provides is that it will try to verify information as thoroughly as possible.
In 2011, Bothell, Wash.-based TalentWise launched a service called TalentShield, which pre-screens education history, work history and professional licenses. TalentShield also includes a criminal background check.
Like ESR, TalentWise allows users to share their certified credentials with employers. For instance, users are given a URL that displays their pre-screened credentials, and that link can be shared on LinkedIn or another site.
As of press time, the TalentShield website listed two available packages—a free background check and an option that also includes one education verification and one employment verification for $27.95.
If employers gave preference to job candidates who use pre-verified resume services, would there be any potential disparate-impact ramifications for people who cannot easily afford them? The chances of an employer facing a disparate-impact suit over pre-verification are relatively low, according to Scott Paler, an employment attorney at DeWitt Ross & Stevens in Madison, Wis.
New York City attorney Joel Klarreich agrees—as long as the pre-verification service isn’t a requirement imposed by the employer and the service provider isn’t affiliated with the employer.
Even if an employer did get sued, such cases are difficult for plaintiffs to win, according to the lawyers. The fact that a practice has a disparate impact on a protected group doesn’t necessarily make it illegal, notes Klarreich, an employment, staffing and corporate attorney at Tannenbaum Helpern Syracuse & Hirschtritt.
Proving causation—that the practice of favoring pre-certified candidates caused a protected class to fare worse—would be difficult, according to Paler. An employer could also defend the practice as a business necessity, saying it’s needed to identify candidates who are truthful about their education and employment history as early as possible in the hiring process, he adds.
If a member of the public sued an employer for negligent hiring, the employer theoretically could bring a third-party suit against the screening company, claiming that it hired the person because of an allegedly faulty resume verification, according to Paler. However, he says it’s unlikely that a member of the public would file a negligent-hiring lawsuit against a screening company, because those suits are brought almost exclusively against employers.
In 2010, Jason Morris co-founded TransparentMe in Cleveland as a way for people to run background checks on themselves before applying for a job. The aim is to give job seekers peace of mind, he says. The service can reveal incorrect information caused by a clerical error or identity theft so that users can try to set the record straight on their own.
TransparentMe offers different options for background checks, with packages ranging from $19.95 to $69.95. For an extra fee, users can select optional add-ons, such as education confirmation. The company doesn’t give employers access to these self-run background checks.
Meanwhile, another verification service has sprung up in recent years—with a very different business model.
Launched in 2012 in Dulles, Va., Acertiv provides a way for users to validate professional accomplishments on an employer’s dime. The service charges employers to participate, but it is free to job seekers. It’s a resource for confirming specific claims a candidate makes, such as "increased sales in my department by 20 percent." Job seekers can seek verification from former supervisors or other contacts, or they can provide supporting documentation. The result is a ProofSheet that provides evidence backing up the claims.
Applicants open an Acertiv account in response to a request from an employer, according to co-founder T.J. Radtke. When a job seeker responds to an ad, a participating employer can ask him or her to complete a ProofSheet; afterward, the candidate can access the ProofSheet for future career opportunities. As of press time, 11 employers were using the service.
By March 2014, Radtke hopes to allow job seekers to create their own accounts, so that they can generate a ProofSheet for any job opportunity.
Radtke is pleased with his company’s progress so far, and he has high hopes for the future.
Toni Vranjes is a freelance business writer in San Pedro, Calif.
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