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Background Screening: Too much, too little or just right?

Posted on 5/10/12 9:30 AM

There has been a lot of news recently on the use of social media outlets, such as Facebook, in the hiring process of employees. Although some companies might believe this information will help them gain better insight into prospective employees, is that belief indeed true? How much background information is too much?

Are you the same person at work that you are with your family or friends?  Do you ever do things in your personal life that you would not do in your professional life?  Would pictures of you at a personal party look the same as pictures of you at a professional/work party? 

Some prospective employers have not only been known to check a candidate’s Facebook page prior to an interview, some have tried to “friend” prospects and recently at least one has asked for a prospect’s Facebook log in information.

While this practice is not illegal (yet), it raises many moral questions. How far is too far when it pertains to delving into one’s non-professional life?  While experts on the subject of privacy issues state you have the right to refuse to provide that information, they will also tell you that you are very likely to not be offered the position if you do not cooperate with their request.

Social media and background screening resized 600What if the applicant states they do not have a Facebook account? Yes, there are people out there without Facebook accounts. Would a prospective employer disbelieve that statement and assume the applicant is lying? And what if you comply with their request? You have now opened up your family and friends to a prospective employer. Have you violated their privacy or their trust?

Speaking of privacy, another recently public event showcased what not to do with information found during a criminal background screening. If you watch American Idol, you may have seen the episode where one of the contestants was confronted with information found from a criminal background check.

For those who may not be familiar with what happened; a contestant on the show was found to have not only a criminal history, but outstanding warrants for his arrest as well. Rather than handle that information with the contestant in a private manner, they taped and aired the “confrontation” between producers of the show and the contestant.  While criminal records may be public information, airing that information in a public forum is not usually the best course of action. Think about this in your environment. Would you discuss a current associate’s criminal history in an open venue with all associates?  Unlike American Idol, who has an audience base in the millions, one mistake won’t cripple their television show. However, for the rest of us, one questionable act could greatly affect our business.

Background screening is being scrutinized by several states.  As a result, various legislation has been implemented dealing with what can be asked of an applicant, whether an applicant must disclose criminal history and how the employer may use the information.

So, how important is background screening?

It is very important. The question within this article is not whether it should be part of your applicant screening and hiring processes, but more importantly, how to use background screening properly. Examples such as the two presented in this article may be the reasons why there is so much scrutiny around background screening.  What an organization does with the information, if that information is truly pertinent to the position applied for and how the findings are communicated must be important parts of a screening process.

Choose the screening that works best for your business

Although there is much information gleaned from conducting a background screening, not all information gathered will be of value to an employer. There are some who challenge the ability to run credit reports, especially since the recession in 2009, as someone’s credit may not be pertinent to their ability to perform the duties of certain positions. Is it beneficial for an employer to be concerned with a driving under the influence charge found in a criminal check that occurred five years ago for a prospective employee who will not be driving for the organization?

An example of a screening option in the retail industry is the use of retail theft databases like the National Retail Mutual Association (NRMA) in addition to criminal background checks. This option allows retailers to check a database of admitted dishonest employees and shoplifters, who may not have been prosecuted and may not have a criminal record. To learn more about these retail theft databases, read our article titled, “4 Reasons to use a Retail Theft Database.”

With the wealth of information available today, it is important for a business to choose wisely when determining employment screening processes and using the information found on a candidate. You may pass up the perfect candidate for reasons unrelated to business.

Written by Shannon C. Hill, CFI

National Client Services Manager

Interested in reading more about Facebook and the interview process?

Facebook speaks louder than words in job interviews – Technician Online

Should you check Facebook before hiring? – Washington Post

Topics: policies and procedures

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