SmartRecruiters Blog

Use Background Checks Wisely to Mine Quality Talent

Background checks are used more and more often in pre-employment screening, but are they always used wisely? Employers should certainly vet job candidates seriously to consider whether or not a person’s background may conflict with her or his potential to do a good job, but negative information isn’t the only thing that background checks may reveal. In fact, great employers use information from background checks to determine how potential new hires can contribute positively to a job instead of looking for the worst. Here are some of the ways companies use background screenings to find the best talent for their businesses.

Don’t Overlook Great Talent

Consider a job candidate whose skills perfectly match the needs of a position to be filled, but a background check automatically dings the applicant for having a criminal record… because she was once cited for violating a leash law. Believe it or not, minor offenses like this can appear often when screening, but they obviously don’t reflect the quality of work a candidate would contribute to the job.

Fishing without a license or bouncing a check once on accident seems harmless enough, but when employers instantly reject applicants who have one of these “crimes” counted against them, everybody misses out. By the same token, candidates without a certificate of official training within a trade or skill may have enough previous work experience in that area that could go unnoticed on a restrictive job application. You may find candidates with previous drug history (with a wide mix of seriousness). Consider how rehabilitation and positive new habits have impacted this person’s candidacy. Review background check data thoroughly to make sure past experience provides a tangible threat against someone’s ability to do a job – and offer plenty of opportunity for applicants to explain the issues – before you toss out a candidate who could bring worthy skills and commitment to your business.

Look for Positive Patterns

Background screening that is too dependent on one facet of a person’s life – such as criminal history – tells only a small amount about a candidate when additional search parameters greatly improve educated hiring decisions. For example, a review of past work history can find that an applicant has years of steady employment with one employer, indicating a tendency to long-term work commitment. Similarly, other less obvious information may point to valuable employee traits, such as how accurately a person notes information on his or her resume, how long that person has lived in one location, how many personal or sick days a person routinely requests through the year and so forth.

Data collected through one source may not seem particularly revealing on its own, but compiled together with the information obtained through various sources, it can paint a better picture of a person’s willingness to learn, responsiveness to authority, involvement in the company community, investment in his or her own career and more. When smart employers cast a wide net for information and look beyond criminal history in screening, they can read between the lines to find helpful character clues and develop a more genuine sense of any person’s potential work fit.

Ban the Box that Rejects Personal Information

Many online application systems automatically reject those candidates who admit to a criminal past of any kind. The crimes may be very minor, like the ones above, or they may be more serious offenses that have no relevance whatsoever to the job in question.  They offenses may have happened far enough in the past that they may not legally be considered in a job search. If a candidate is providing information honestly about his or her past, chances are that the candidate is willing to enter a new job with honesty and integrity.

Eliminate “auto-reject” functions and consider the entire applicant when screening. In the end, a criminal past may pose a realistic conflict to the situation and be cause for rejection of an applicant. Regardless of that fact, it should not be the sole reason a person is excluded from the application process, especially when an applicant is willing to provide honest information up front.

Ban the Box to Stay Compliant

Broad, thorough and thoughtful screening measures better any employer’s chances of finding skilled employees and they also prevent those employers from landing in hot water with oversight agencies. Guidelines established by groups such as the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) exist to prevent discrimination in hiring, but all too often employers have difficulty navigating the complicated web of requirements. Unknowingly, employers’ own methods designed to streamline the application process often result in discrimination and possible EEOC fines, which also bring negative publicity.

Employers who “Ban the Box” that automatically rejects candidates for unique criteria not only open themselves up to a greater potential talent pool, but they also protect themselves from unintentional slip-ups with compliance issues. These employers can show that their processes do not eliminate candidates unfairly and that consideration of many factors go into the decision-making about each applicant. In the long run, that means fewer grievances by rejected candidates and less pain and frustration for employers. It is important to clarify that “Banning the Box” does not imply that hiring companies must hire hardened criminals for open positions. It means more candidates will be taken seriously and treated fairly.

Information Overload

If an employer spends the time, energy and resources to conduct background checks, every bit of information should be used advantageously. Employers who get the best bang for their buck evaluate red flags objectively, along with all the other data collected. They look for patterns of success when considering an applicant’s history and search for as many different types of information as possible. The best employers also ban the box that auto-rejects applicants, so they can make well-informed decisions about the real people who will help their business succeed.


chris dyerChris Dyer is founder and CEO of PeopleG2, one of the top human capital due diligence service providers in North America, leveraging proprietary processes and tools to serve clients’ risk management needs and support their most strategic people-related decisions. Photo Credit Mining Recruitment Jobs.

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Chris Dyer Founder and CEO of PeopleG2