The Biggest Mistakes HR Recruiters Make on Background Checks (and how to fix them).


There’s a lot put on the shoulders of the Human Resources Department. Because you’re in the people business you and your staff are often called upon to wear many hats. Party planning, employee moral programs, finding the best of the best to fill positions and everything else that gets thrown at you. It’s no wonder that when it comes to the due diligence and pre-employment screening process, it’s not always at the top of your list to review processes and ensure you’re getting the most out of your program and your screening partner.


Here are the top mistakes most HR recruiters and professionals make when it comes to background screening and the easy fixes that can make all the difference.


  1. You only run a Nationwide search.

When it comes to background checks and employment screening the biggest misconception is that all searches are created equal. A Nationwide search is a good start to any employment background check but it doesn’t cover everything unlike the name implies. A Nationwide Search is typically a database search that pulls information from multiple sources, including criminal courts, state criminal record repositories, department of corrections, court administrations, law enforcement agencies and probation, prison parole and release files as well as other government agencies. Only records that these jurisdictions submit appear in the Nationwide search, but not all counties, states, courts and jurisdictions submit records, nor is there a specific timeframe on when information is released.


That is why any and all hits on a Nationwide background check should be checked at the local level where the record was found for verification and complete disposition information. Think of the Nationwide as a starting point or pointer file. And always, always run at least one county criminal check for the most up-to-date and verifiable information.


  1. The background screen is seen as only a box to be checked in the hiring process.

A pre-employment background check can be a highly useful tool when it comes to finding the right candidate. Not only does a background search uncover past acts that may be deemed as dangerous to have around other employees, customers or vulnerable populations like children, the handicapped or elderly, but also can be used as yardstick for suitability. Searches like Social Media Screening and References can shine a deeper light on a candidate that go beyond a standard criminal background search.


  1. Personal references aren’t checked nearly enough.

Most HR departments ask for professional references and when they call, the most a company will say is that if person did or did not work there. A personal reference, however, can uncover some surprising information. That applicant that put their Aunt Patty down as a reference? She spills the beans on consistent late payments and a history of evictions. A former co-worker my let it slip that a candidate is a hard worker but comes in at least 30 minutes late every day because of a daily Starbucks habit.


When conducting reference checks, always include professional and personal, and ensure that your screening company has a high rate of reaching contacts through a precise system of call times and cadences. In most cases, a background screening company can setup standard system questions or customize to fit your business and needs.


  1. Relying on social media as your only background check.

More than 223 million people use social media every day and that number has only risen since people are quarantining and sheltering in place due to the current pandemic. While social media is an excellent source of information, it shouldn’t be the only source of information you rely on and it DEFINITELY shouldn’t be conducted in-house by you or your team. Conducting in-house social media background checks can land you into hot water because you are likely to be exposed to protected class information that should not impact your hiring decision. In today’s cancel culture, the actions of employees are often seen as representative of a company and its values. It takes only one post by an employee to tarnish a reputation, so of course you want to know about your candidate’s online actions.


Instead, incorporate social media background screening as a part of your overall program and using a background screening partner to conduct the research. Only four areas of business-related items should be flagged and all other protected information is redacted keeping your company and its processes compliant.


  1. Relying solely on AI technology for a background check.

Technology has truly revolutionized the background screening industry, making it easier and faster to search millions of records within seconds. However, AI is limited in what it can and can’t do when it comes to background checks. For instance, if you put a candidate’s name as Brandon Miller, a report may come back clean. But the candidate’s name is actually spelled Branden Miller and a report comes back with felony drug possession charge and assault and battery. The reason the AI report came back clean is because it only searched the name as entered. Trained screening professionals know that the devil is in the details and will find inconsistences that can result in more detailed information.


  1. Not being up-to-date on the latest rules and regulations that govern employment screening in your location.

Pre-employment screening laws are tricky because they can vary at the state, county and city level. Ban the Box legislation has been popular and adopted across the United States. But it’s not only at the state level. Many counties have their own Ban the Box regulations. California is a good example of this. At the state level, the rule says criminal background inquiries are prohibited until after a conditional job offer for employers with five or more employees.

However, in Los Angeles, it says that no criminal history questions can be asked until a conditional offer is made for employers of 10 or more. San Francisco, Richmond and Compton all have their own regulations as well. Another popular piece of legislation that has come about in recent years has to do with preventing employers to ask about past salary history.


The shifting laws that regulate employment screening and what is reportable can be tough to keep up with. That’s why it’s important to have a screening company that stays up-to-date with changing legislation and that also offers its customers free resources like the 50 State Compliance Guide – a searchable database that has everything you’ve ever wanted to know about employment screening regulations searchable down to the city and updated regularly.


  1. Forgetting the Pre- and Post-Adverse Action process.

This is a biggie and it’s one that often gets lost in the process but can cost a company millions. Following the Adverse Action process is required by law under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). In short, the FCRA requires that before taking any adverse action “based in whole or in part on a consumer background check report used for employment purposes, the person intending to take adverse action shall provide the consumer to whom the report relates: (a) a copy of the report, and (b) a description in writing of the rights of the consumer.”


As such, Adverse Action lawsuits are some of the most common that companies face. To avoid finding yourself in an expensive lawsuit, utilizing a system that includes forced compliance is recommended. This can be done through your automated onboarding and employee management system or directly through your background screening partner. In some cases, background screening companies can manage the Adverse Action process for their clients for an additional fee. This added fee can save a company millions in the long run.


  1. Not providing full or accurate information which can cause report delays.

Duplicating information from an application into a background ordering platform is not convenient for busy human resources professionals. When not all necessary information is included or typed correctly, like SSN numbers, date of birth, nicknames, full names, etc., it can cause delays on having your report quickly returned because the background screening company has to come back to require for more information. This is not acceptable in today’s competitive hiring market when applicants cite extended hiring processes as one of the top reasons why they may not accept a company’s offer.


There are a couple of things HR professionals can do to avoid these costly omissions. The first is integrating your background screening platform with your ATS or hiring/employee tracking system. By opting for the integration, you don’t need to leave your primary system to order the background check at all. It’s all in one place with one user interface that is intuitive to you. The other benefit is that when you have an integration in place, depending on the API setup, the information a candidate entered on their application can be transferred directly to the ordering form, decreasing the risk of inaccurate information causing a slow down on the report.


Another option is applicant self-ordering. When a company chooses the applicant self-ordering option, they place the responsibility back on the candidate to fill out their own information. When this process is selected, an employment screening partner focused on customer service will then put in place a process to go directly back to the applicant for any additional information required, removing you and your HR staff from being the middleman. This option is ideal for those who don’t want to go through the integration cost or process.


  1. You’re overpaying.

You know that great pricing estimate you received when you first signed on your screening partner? You may be paying more than you initially thought if you haven’t taken a look at your statements recently or compared mandated state and jurisdiction fees to other providers.

Just like not all background checks are created equal, neither are the background screening companies. That amazing deal you received might not be so great when you look at your invoice and find additional unknown fees and charges tacked on the backend. Did you know that jurisdictional fees are the same for everyone? Ask your current provider for a list of the fees and compare it with another company’s list to ensure you’re not being up-charged. Another tactic used is charging separately for searches that are often run together, like a sex offender search and a violent offenders search.

Background and employment screening is a vital tool in your hiring due diligence and with just a few adjustments, it can become a dependable part of your process. If you’re not sure where to start or want to do a more in-depth review of your processes, AmericanChecked offers a free 20 Question Checklist that covers both your company’s background check program as well as a review guide to your employment screening provider.


This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. For guidelines specific to your industry and locale, please contact your legal counsel.