The HR Professional’s 8-Step Guide to Background Checks

As an HR professional, one of your primarily roles within your organization is playing a major part in the hiring, firing, onboarding and outboarding procedures. As such, you’re often the person directly responsible for helping C-suite leaders determine which candidate is the right pick for a vacant position. One of the major parts of this process is the background check. Put simply, this is the act of taking a deep and thorough look at a prospective employee’s past. Is there a criminal record to know about? What about other arrests, credit history, social media activity and more?

The questions can be overwhelming and coming up with accurate answers can require a significant investment of both time and work. To simplify the process, here are eight steps you should be sure to perform. By sticking to this list, you can better ensure that the picture you’re putting together of a prospect is a clear and correct one.

1. Create a repeatable process.

You do not want to reinvent the wheel every time you have a strong candidate come in for an interview. As such, it’s helpful to establish a repeatable background check process that you can perform in a time-efficient manner every time you are required. Write down these steps and keep the guide in an easily accessible place so you have a record of what you’re supposed to do.

Doing so won’t just save your sanity and cut back on the time it takes to perform each background check. By sticking to a set process, you’ll also be less likely to inject discrimination or bias into the background check itself, which is something you could do without even realizing it unless you’re adhering closely to a defined plan.

2. Narrow the candidates down.

Chances are, you won’t need to perform an in-depth background check on every single person who comes in to interview for the position. To save time and make it easier on yourself, consider running one on only your strongest, top-three candidates.

3. Start with professional references.

The first place you want to start is with each person’s professional references. Your interview application should include a place for each candidate to list his or her former employers, along with a contact phone number or email address. Contact these persons first and take your time with each conversation.

In addition to inquiring about the candidates performance as a prior employee, also be sure to ask about his or her work ethic and overall attitude. Someone could be incredible at what they do, but unless they’re a team player willing to take direction and work with others, it may not be the ideal fit you’re looking for.

4. Check the job facts.

Plainly stated, it is easy for someone to lie on a resume or even just blur the lines a little. For instance, someone might state that they worked as a marketing manager for three years when in fact, two of those years were spent in a marketing internship. While you definitely want to contact the listed professional references, it’s worth taking the extra time to confirm all job history listed on the candidate’s resume.

Check to make sure the roles listed are accurate, along with the dates and locations worked and duties and responsibilities performed.

5. Give certifications a second look.

These days, it’s easy enough for anyone to hop online and print out a phony professional certificate or portfolio piece. What you’re looking for in this instance is a certification number. Once you have it, you can often go online to the certifying body, or call their office number, to confirm that the individual in question did indeed put in the work required to obtain that recognition.

The same step should be performed for all diplomas and other items, including academic presentations and reports included as portfolio samples.

6. Hop on social media.

While some candidates might have their social media profiles set to private, others might have their off-hours life paraded out for anyone and everyone to see. As such, it’s within your rights as a potential employer to investigate this information and take note of any red flags. Are there discriminatory messages posted all over the place? What about excessive partying?

While you don’t necessarily need to halt the review process over what you find on social media, if you see anything that raises your eyebrows, bring it up to your leadership team for further review.

7. Perform a criminal and credit background check.

Once the preliminary checks are out of the way, it is time to perform the actual criminal and credit background checks, which are two of the most important review measures in this process. To make this step as simple as possible, you can utilize online resources such as this website to take care of a majority of the legwork for you. For the criminal background check, take note of anything you see that you think is important, from a routine traffic violation to a more serious infraction.

When it comes to credit checks, stick with a credible source, such as one of the four main credit reporting bureaus, when performing this task to make sure the data you get back is as correct as possible.

8. Compile, discuss and decide.

Once you have the information compiled from all of your review sources, it’s time to bring the candidate back in. If there were any concerns that arose during the background check, such as those suspicious social media posts, now is the time to address them in person.

Remember to give each candidate the benefit of the doubt and listen to his or her responses. Someone with a poor credit score might just be paying off hefty student loan debts. What looks like debauchery on social media might be a tagged post of a friend, or another easily explainable situation. What you’re seeing are only snapshots, so the bigger picture might make more sense when presented in context.

Listen carefully, compare all the candidates before you, and pick the correct one with confidence, knowing you did your due diligence to make sure the fit was the right one.