Employers Prioritize Speed over Accuracy in Background Checks

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer July 17, 2023

​Speed is now more important to employers than accuracy of results when choosing a background-screening provider, according to a new survey from HireRight, a global background-screening company.

HireRight surveyed more than 2,000 human resources and risk professionals in 2023.

"With many employers globally having difficulty finding and onboarding the talent their organization was looking for in 2022, it is not surprising that speed was the most cited consideration by survey respondents," said Mary O'Loughlin, managing director of the Americas at HireRight.

Speed is certainly a primary consideration when moving somebody through the hiring process, but accuracy's decline as a priority among North American employers—going from 75 percent to 49 percent in 2023—is cause for concern at a time when regulatory bodies have decided to focus on the issue.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, screening providers must follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning the individual who is the subject of the report. That means preventing both false positives and false negatives.

The clear deprioritization of accuracy in results is unexpected, O'Loughlin said. "Without trust in the accuracy of your candidate's background checks, how can employers make confident hiring decisions?" she asked.

Jason Morris, a background screening expert, and partner and co-founder of IQubed Advisors, an advisory firm for the background-screening industry, said that HireRight's finding doesn't surprise him, but the honesty behind it does. "I didn't think employers would admit to it, but there has been a trend over the last decade of companies using background screens just to check a box and say they did it, without necessarily valuing the screening results," he said.

Morris emphasized that accuracy must be a priority for employers. "The Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are looking for accuracy," he said. "Those agencies want to make sure that when a screener returns a hit, that the hit is accurate, or when you list a felony, it's not really a misdemeanor."

Morris believes that one reason for the preeminence of speed over accuracy is that candidate screening used to fall more under the domain of HR or security but is now chiefly performed by the recruiting function. "The head of HR was more involved in the screening process, and it was previously done more for executives and safety- and security-sensitive roles, but now screening falls under recruiting, where speed is paramount," he said. "Recruiters want to hire people quickly. And the screening systems are now found in the applicant tracking systems recruiters use."

O'Loughlin said that "employers should weigh the benefits of an expedited hiring process against the risk of onboarding individuals without the skills and experience they claim. The cost of a bad hire should not be overlooked or underestimated. Whether a business is hiring for a new C-suite leader or an entry-level role, an appropriately robust pre-employment screening program is essential to minimize and mitigate a company's hiring risk."

Criminal Record Checks Considered Best Practice

Criminal record checks remain the most conducted pre-employment checks, according to the HireRight research. The number of organizations conducting criminal background checks continues to grow, with 86 percent of respondents in North America saying they screen for criminal records at the pre-employment stage.  

"Criminal record checks remain a key component of most businesses' screening programs in North America," O'Loughlin said. "Some regulated industries, such as finance and health care, require criminal record checks as part of a company's pre-employment screening activity, but for many other industries, they are simply considered best practice for corporate due diligence to mitigate employment risk." 

Uncovering criminal records has always been the most important thing to employers conducting pre-employment screens, Morris said. "The two things are essentially synonymous," he noted. "Identity information and past employment and education records checks are also important. Employers want to know, is the person a security risk, is the person who they say they are, and do they have the qualifications they say they have?" 

In the HireRight survey, 39 percent of respondents said that previously undisclosed convictions from criminal record checks are the type of candidate discrepancy most often found during pre-employment background checks. 

"For most employers, criminal record checks are not simply used to eliminate candidates with a criminal history from the hiring process without the opportunity to explain any past criminal activity," O'Loughlin said. "Instead, criminal record checks are typically used by employers to determine whether it would disqualify [candidates] from meeting the expectations and requirements of their potential role. This is usually assessed on a case-by-case basis, considering factors such as the candidate's age when the offense was committed, how long ago it occurred, and the job relevancy of the crime."

Social Media Screening Remains Underused

Third-party social media screening conducted by outside firms continues to grow but is still at just 10 percent among North American employers with screening programs, up from 6 percent in 2022, HireRight found.

The most common reasons given for not conducting social media checks included not being required by regulation, legal concerns about the practice, being unsure how to interpret the results, and the perception that social media checks are too invasive.

"Social media screening is growing at a slower rate than I expected, but it is growing, and I think it will be one of the most-asked-for screens in the coming years," Morris said. He added that social media screens could be a way for employers concerned about their reputation to avoid hiring people who publicly express racist viewpoints, for example.

One area of concern is that while the number of employers using background-screening providers to conduct social media screens is low, recruiters and hiring managers themselves are often looking at candidates' social media during the hiring process.

"This is a big problem," Morris said. "If you see something that falls under a protected class, how can you prove you didn't use that against the candidate? Having a firewall between the employer and the screening firm doing the screen is of the utmost importance."

In the U.S., numerous states have passed laws restricting an employer's access to the social media accounts held by a prospective candidate, said Alonzo Martinez, associate general

counsel at HireRight. "For employers that conduct social media screening in-house, complying with the myriad of laws addressing privacy should be a concern," he said.

Employers must also be wary of imparting bias into employment decisions, Martinez said. "When employers comb an individual's social media profiles to assess a candidate's fit within an organization and identify potential risks, employers can't unsee what they've seen," he said. "This could lead to equal employment opportunity concerns, as it is crucial only to consider nondiscriminatory and job-relevant information throughout the hiring process."

Morris said the parameters around social screens must be set up with care. "A screening firm doing it right will only look for racist content or violence, for example, and not someone drinking at a party," he explained. "If you can fine-tune it to look for very specific things, social media screening is a great service."

Continuing Screening Post-Hire

Around half (52 percent) of North American employers with screening programs do not conduct post-hire screening, which might include periodic employee rescreening and/or ongoing monitoring.

"Post-hire screening is another trend that will grow in the coming years," Morris said. "There is a big place for this—it just hasn't caught on yet. Employees are just as likely to get in trouble while employed with the company than before they were at the company."

In addition to complying with screening requirements in certain regulated industries, the benefits of a post-hire screening program include helping protect against reputational damage, detecting potential inside threats and demonstrating that due diligence is taken seriously, O'Loughlin said.

Not being required by regulations, followed by not knowing enough about the practice and being concerned about being too invasive, were the main reasons given by employers for not initiating post-hire screening.

"Some employers may be concerned that post-hire screening is perceived by some as too invasive or that it implies a level of suspicion," O'Loughlin said. "However, these checks are only conducted following a new disclosure and authorization from the employee. Additionally, post-hire screening typically focuses on areas where an employee's information may have changed during their employment and such changes may impact their suitability for their role. For example, if a truck driver received a driving ban following several driving offenses during their employment, the employer would need to know, as the individual would be disqualified from performing their job without a valid license."



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