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Candidate Background Checks – are they worth the money?

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This memo was drafted by Verify on 1 February 2013.
Category: Professional Practice Compliance Sub-category: Professional Practice

The process of validating your candidate’s background before committing to hire is critical. At the end of the day, it’s all about HR due diligence and business risk mitigation.

How often do we read stories about candidates or even existing staff with stolen identities, forged qualifications, criminal records or embellished career histories? Sadly, only too frequently and often these lead to dire consequences to the organisation’s credibility.

Well, how can this happen when you have conducted a rigorous selection process from critically reviewing the candidate’s resume before bringing them in, to a behavioural interview, viewing of qualifications and finally reference checking? The answer is simple and twofold.

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Firstly, we are all easily led astray by confident candidates who set out to present an attractive background profile tailored to the job they are seeking, which may not necessarily be representative of reality. We get excited when we see a candidate who closely meets our requirements, eager to fill that challenging assignment and consequently, can easily put our blinkers on.

While most candidates are savvy to building a quality resume, it’s not always their fault that their resume may stray from the truth as they can be guided in this direction by career counsellors and outplacement consultants as well as influenced by numerous on-line articles and even books and courses on the subject.

Remember, the candidate’s resume is their entrée to the next job, their own personal marketing tool, and in putting it together the candidate is recommended to tailor it to reflect the key competencies required in the job. They are told to get rid of the irrelevant stuff and focus on the experiences that are more related. It’s not necessarily that the candidate will come out with false qualifications and career history, it’s just that they may embellish the relevant bits and bury or minimise those bits less relevant.

For instance, it’s not uncommon to see job titles enhanced, positions of short duration removed, responsibilities embellished and irrelevant qualifications discarded. Also, be on the lookout for courses attempted or started but not completed, reasons for leaving always being ‘career driven’ and social website profiles resembling fiction or ambition more than fact.

Did you know that companies exist that even take up the task of creating resumes for candidates for a fee and some even confidently offer a refund if the candidate is not called for an interview on submitting the resume created by them. It is getting more challenging by the day!

Well how do we overcome this problem? The skill is to carefully interview around the key job criteria using in-depth and probing behavioural interviewing. Confirm dates, look for inconsistencies, probe job titles and functions, determine the title of the person to whom the candidate reported, try and build some chronological order from when they left school to develop a date profile of their jobs and courses. With some rigour on your behalf the candidate’s stated profile may quickly fall apart.
A further ‘must do’ when reference checking is to follow a simple process:

  • Obtain references from people to whom the candidate directly reported wherever possible
  • Ring the company switch, never a mobile, and ask for the person by name validating their job title at the time
  • Always establish for how long they managed the candidate, the candidate’s job title and responsibilities and how competently they performed their role.

Facts and Figures

Secondly, many of the recruitment processes that are routinely employed are relatively ‘subjective’ and do not necessarily go to source information. A candidate’s stated position with respect to such things as qualifications, memberships, licences and so on are routinely accepted as fact and research shows that this is more likely to occur the more senior the role. A classic recent example is disgraced Yahoo CEO, Scott Thompson, who claimed he had a degree in computer science but no one verified his qualification prior to appointment. As he was a well-known and successful senior executive, a background check probably appeared inappropriate and he got away with it for a fairly long period.

But what about when they come to the interview with a copy or even an original document to validate their claim? Well again these can be easily obtained online at minimal cost, be they degrees, passports, licences and memberships. Check out diplomacompany.com, falsepassports.cc, fakies.com, degreesonline.net, frogs.org.au and hundreds of others.

So how do we overcome the problem? It’s very straightforward really – just contact the source that issued the document to validate when it was issued and to whom, and

whether it’s current. Only recently Verify came across a fake degree supposedly issued by Queensland University of Technology. Both the external recruiter and client were adamant that the degree was genuine, referring to the water mark and Vice Chancellor’s signature. Fortunately for the client, Verify was able to establish that both were forged. Through Verify’s extensive network of 3rd party information providers situated across the globe, we can undertake that process quickly and at moderate cost.

Unfortunately you can still come undone if you’re not savvy as there are ‘degree mills’ that have a call centre to confirm to the prospective employer that indeed the candidate was awarded the qualification. At Verify we have a list of these on a global basis to reduce the potential of this occurrence.
Lessons to be Learnt

As recruiters, it is our responsibility to bring on-board the candidate who most closely meets our company’s requirements in terms of competencies, experiences and qualifications and to ensure that we mitigate any risk associated with bad hires. It can be easy to be fooled, so the best advice is to:

  • Always use in-depth and probing behavioural based interviewing techniques to delve into the reality of your candidate’s background
  • Go to the issuing source when validating a qualification, membership, licence or similar, always ensuring that they are genuine in the first instance and don’t rely on copies or even purported originals
  • Make use of a professional and well experienced candidate verification business whenever in doubt as they usually can obtain data at a relatively small cost from a huge range of 3rd party information sources to which you may not have access.

This memo has been drafted by Verify to assist RCSA Members with a general understanding of the subject matter. This memo does not purport to be an exhaustive statement of all best practice requirements in the area. It is provided to RCSA Members as a guide only.

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