The buyer's guide to...Background checking

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the product
A background checking or employment screening service relieves the recruiter and resourcing departments of the time-consuming business of verifying a candidate and the accuracy of their claims in a job application or CV.

Typically, this involves validating their academic and professional qualifications and employment history by going to the source of such information (educational institutions and HR departments) but could also mean checking for criminal records and credit worthiness enabling you to make a more informed decision about the suitability of a prospective employee.

The recession has increased competition for jobs and with it the incidence of candidates lying on a CV. An annual survey conducted by pre-employment screening company Powerchex reveals one in five candidates have a serious deception on their CV while there has been a 50% rise in the number of people attempting to hide county court judgments (CCJs) or bankruptcies from potential employers.

Alexandra Kelly, Powerchex: All of these checks are becoming more and more critical to organisations, especially in financial services

Alexandra Kelly, Powerchex: All of these checks are becoming more and more critical to organisations, especially in financial services

Pre-employment screening is something that recruiters can, and do, carry out themselves but in an increasingly risk averse and compliance-oriented world, means this can be a false economy.

“Agencies often look at it as a tick-box exercise,” says Eyal Ben Cohen, managing director of background screening company, Verifile. “And the reason for them deciding to keep it in-house is that they don’t see the added value in using a proper vetting company that will do a better job of getting the person checked.”

Before engaging any specialist company, however, you need to know exactly what you want and know what questions to ask would-be providers.

Eyal Ben Cohen, Verifile: And the reason for them deciding to keep background checking in-house is that they don’t see the added value in using a proper vetting company that will do a better job of getting the person checked

Eyal Ben Cohen, Verifile: And the reason for them deciding to keep background checking in-house is that they don’t see the added value in using a proper vetting company that will do a better job of getting the person checked

the basics
The minimum requirements that most employers look for is verification of identity, address, academic and professional qualifications, employment history and eligibility to work in the UK. This should be sufficient to establish whether a person has lied or misrepresented facts on their CV about their education, work experience or indeed their immigration status. Nearly all background checking companies claim that there isn’t a standard package since screening is not a ‘one-size fits all’ service. Consequently minimum or basic offerings will chiefly centre on the individual organisation’s attitude to risk, the job role and the regulatory demands of the industry or sector.

Those supplying staff to a government agency, for instance, need to check staff against the Baseline Personnel Security Standard (available from the Cabinet Office website). As well as identity and employment history, this includes verification of nationality and immigration status and a criminal record check. Those people who work in companies regulated by the Financial Services Act will need to be checked against Financial Services Authority (FSA) criteria. Its basic Level 1 check includes credit referencing, bankruptcy and money laundering.

Salimah Remtulla, Risk Advisory Group: Obviously the higher the risk that the client feels, the more in depth checks you’ll do

Salimah Remtulla, Risk Advisory Group: Obviously the higher the risk that the client feels, the more in depth checks you’ll do

The best advice, therefore, is for recruiters to make sure they know the minimum requirements for their clients’ needs. While due diligence and care must be exercised when choosing a service, there is no need to pay for more than you need. Salimah Remtulla, head of pre-employment screening at the Risk Advisory Group, advises looking for a company that is prepared to work with you and to understand and mitigate the risk to your client. “We’d look at each business individually and help our clients understand what it is they are trying to achieve,” she says. “Obviously the higher the risk that the client feels, the more in depth checks you’ll do.”

Turnaround times cited for screening services are usually between 10 and 15 days, although several companies claim to carry out checks and deliver the report within five days. Price varies widely depending on the level of vetting required but essential information checking starts typically around £20 with more bespoke services ranging from £100 to £1,000.

the enhancements
There are a range of additional checks and more extensive screening options available. These include Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks of which there are three levels: a basic disclosure will contain details of unspent convictions on the police national computer while the enhanced disclosure is required for people working with children and vulnerable adults; the latter can also take between four to six weeks to carry out. Use of alcohol and drug-testing has become more widespread in sectors such as transport and aviation. They’re also commonly used in the offshore oil and gas industry and although they are conducted randomly Tony Hadden, a partner in the employment team at Brodies, points out the importance of getting an employee’s consent in advance of one being required.

“Say you’re a recruiter and getting a £500-£600 fee for someone if they then refuse to be tested [before getting on the helicopter], the operator won’t allow them on the rig.”

Meanwhile, set against a backdrop of world events such as the collapse of Barings Bank and the Enron scandal, financial services is subject to some of the most stringent checking. The FSA Enhanced Level 2 will include CRB, directorships, media checks and confirmation of last 10 years’ employment. In addition, you can opt for personal characteristics inventory (PCI) compliance or Sarbanes Oxley, which are similar, and senior executive checks.

vital infomation
Before carrying out any kind of check, you must get the individual’s consent in writing. A provider should have standard forms for this. In order to carry out criminal checks, a vetting company must be registered with the Criminal Records Bureau. Be aware of any standards/regulations that exist in a particular sector regarding pre-employment checks as this will dictate the minimum screening requirements. Be upfront about who’s going to see the data, what you are going to do with it and how long you are going to keep it.

Remember, if you contravene the Data Protection Act, you could be prosecuted by the Information Commissioner.

Make sure the provider’s internal security is good. How does it handle applicant data; does it screen its own employees; how does it transmit information; and does it destroy data within the prescribed parameters? “All of these are becoming more and more critical to organisations, especially in financial services,” point out Alexandra Kelly, founder and managing director of Powerchex.

Although the industry is self-regulating, the US trade association, the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), has formed a European arm to help unify the industry and promote standards and best practice.

before you buy

  • What minimum checks do I need to meet the sector’s regulatory demands?
  • What additional checks do I need to satisfy the client’s attitude to risk?
  • Am I happy that the provider understands the risks to the client’s business?
  • What is the turnaround time and is it sufficiently speedy?
  • Am I satisfied the final report will be thorough enough and the client won’t require additional clarification?
  • Does the provider have the ‘international reach’ that I require? Consider whether they have appropriate language skills in-house, the breadth of experience, as well as adequate resources to cover different time zones.

 

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