Background Checks Are Viewed Skeptically in Some Parts of the Globe

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. June 27, 2018
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​CHICAGO—In many countries, employers and universities don't understand why background screening is needed, according to Catherine Aldrich, vice president of operations at HireRight in Irvine, Calif., speaking at the SHRM 2018 Annual Conference & Exposition. What is a typical process for U.S. HR professionals—verifying past employment and education—is an unusual ordeal for HR practitioners in other countries. They may see it as invasive, unnecessary or rude.

In her concurrent session, "Conducting Background Checks as a Global Company: Adapting to Regional Perceptions," she recommended that employers be aware of cultural sensitivities, inform candidates about the background check process, manage the complexities of global background screening law and familiarize themselves with global screening's costs.

Despite the skepticism, Aldrich underscored the need for background checks, noting that the share of people misrepresenting information on job applications is as high as 90 percent in some parts of the globe.

Recognize Cultural Differences

Aldrich noted that 17 percent of businesses in the United States employ foreign workers and consequently need global background screening policies.

Part of the reason companies dislike doing background checks in other countries could be because they can take days or even weeks longer than background checks in the United States. There are some significant hurdles to overcome, she noted, offering these examples:

  • A university in Spain refused to confirm that a job applicant graduated from there. University officials said that verifying graduates wasn't their job. Fortunately, the candidate understood the need for the background check and provided a copy of the degree.
  • An employer in a country that had recently undergone a regime change was so skeptical about background checks that it denied a job candidate had worked there even though the applicant had. The employer didn't realize the impact its statement could have on the applicant's job seeking.
  • In Australia, many employers don't understand why background checkers call to verify employment. They think the prospective employers should just trust the candidates.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Introduction to the Global Human Resources Discipline]

Prepare Candidates

Employers should prepare global candidates for the likelihood that their background checks may take longer. Ask the candidates to be ready to provide their college transcripts, Aldrich recommended, and be transparent about what background checkers will ask for and why.

Employers should focus on what's most important to them in background checks: education, experience or criminal record, for example. However, employers increasingly are widening their search for job candidates to include people with criminal histories, according to SHRM research. 

Candidates can help expedite the background check process by quickly answering e-mails or phone calls from background checkers, Aldrich stated.

Manage the Complexities

A significant challenge in global background screening is the complexity of foreign laws, she observed.

Applicants in Europe are aware now of the European Union (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR introduces sweeping changes to data privacy laws for employers dealing with anyone in the EU, including a number of new individual rights and employer obligations that may require significant changes to internal HR systems and processes.

Countries in the Asia Pacific region are likely to soon have requirements similar to the GDPR, she predicted.

While information on foreign requirements has gotten easier to access in the last 10 years, Aldrich said that background checks should be conducted locally.

Know that Costs Vary

Global background checks can be more expensive than background checks in the United States. Courthouse and school records around the globe have to be checked, she noted. But she said that while the rates vary dramatically by country, the background checks in the most populous foreign countries often are not as expensive as many U.S. employers expect they will be.

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