If there’s one part of the pre-employment screening process that most people will be familiar with, it’s the pursuit of suitable references. However, the process isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. Technically , a reference check and an employment verification check are two distinct checks – yet the two are often confused for one an other, with potentially damaging resul ts .
An employment history check seeks confirmation from an employer that an individual did indeed work for them. A reference , typically provided by a person of good standing, attests to their good character yet , too often, referees are also mistakenly used to provide employment verification ( something they should not be empowered to do).
Clearly, it’s important to verify the information that appears on someone’s CV. Inaccuracies or omissions may be little more than human error – or they may be part of a cynical, deliberate attempt to paint a more acceptable picture of someone’s background.
Previous job roles , academic qualifications or professional memberships ; any of these can be modified or embellished for personal gain or even simply fabricated. The danger of taking such information at face value lies in unwittingly invit ing into the workforce someone who subsequently becomes a liability or poses a threat to your business.
An employment verification is the obvious starting point for such a check, confirming that someone did indeed work where they claimed to , during the times they stated. It may also include details on someone’s salary, reasons for leaving and any disciplinary actions. For relevant positions in a regulated industry, it may also include material that industry regulators insist is shared with other employers, such as information on training and complaints. In all such instances, best practice means verifying employment records directly with the HR department, as opposed to someone who worked with the individual.
A character reference is used to secure more subjective information about an individual’ s work performance, typically from someone who worked closely with, or managed, them. As well as being used to vouch for someone’s character, they are mandatory elements of several regulated background screening standards and can provide verification of activity during periods when an individual was neither in employment nor education. To make such checks worthwhile however, thought should be given to verifying the credentials of the referees themselves. Are they a bona fide referee or are they merely helping out a friend, for example, saying whatever they need them to say? Again, the potential danger of taking reference information at face value can be significant.
Such checks may form part of a wider activity check, in which we can verify all of an individual’s employment, self-employment and educational activities within a timeframe of your choosing; e.g. the past three, five or even ten years. Where there are gaps in their history, with no educational or employment activity, a further gap analysis check can be undertaken to secure an adequate explanation, ensuring they weren’t engaged in activities that might make them a less attractive employment proposition.
One element of background screening that’s coming under increased scrutiny involves educational and professional qualifications, licences and memberships. Diploma mills pose a real headache here. These are institutions that offer unrecognised and thus fraudulent degrees in exchange for payment and very little else. Fuelled by the internet, recent years have seen a proliferation in the volume of such bodies, making worthless qualifications available to anyone willing to pay the price. Rather than accepting all qualifications at face value, employers are now advised to verify the integrity of both the qualification and the institution awarding it. Failing to do this, and subsequently hiring an unskilled, unqualified person into a highly skilled position, could have severe consequences.
A final check in this category is the CV comparison. This is an exercise in checking that information provided on a CV to a prospective employer matches the information provided within the background screening process. This prevents someone from embellishing their CV just enough to secure an interview but being savvy enough to present their real (but less impressive) credentials during the subsequent screening.