Are Background Checks Important? The Pros and Cons

When a person’s past contains something that’s embarrassing or morally questionable, he usually tries to keep it a secret. That’s why background checks were invented.If someone has a skeleton in his closet that deals with crime, finances or a lawsuit, performing a background check will drag it out into the light, kicking and screaming. For hiring and staffing managers, vetting is a great way to see if a recruiting target is as perfect as she appears on paper. But should background checks have the final say when it comes to hiring decisions?

Not necessarily.

Background reports contain personal data from police files, credit bureaus and court records, but that information may not tell a hiring and staffing manager the whole story about an applicant’s past. If you use background checks as a part of the employee selection process, keep the following pros and cons in mind. You'll also want to use other screening methods – such as social screening and speaking with references – in conjunction with a background check.

Background checks reveal criminal charges.

Whether an applicant is guilty of embezzlement or public urination, checking his legal record will likely reveal the crime. It will also show whether a candidate is a registered sex offender, which is something that businesses that work with children or the elderly should know up front. If a recruiting target has been charged with a crime, you’ll typically find out about it in his background report.

But they may not reveal expunged court records.

If a mobster has his legal records expunged, his background will look as spotless as the average nun’s. While the odds of a career criminal having his rap sheet wiped clean are about equal to the odds of a nun converting to Protestantism, it's not terribly hard for garden-variety offenders to have their records expunged. If you use background reports specifically to hire people who have never broken the law, you may end up making uninformed hiring decisions.

Background checks shed light upon decision-making skills.

Hiring and staffing managers are interested in credit reports because they want to know how a candidate handles something that most people consider pretty important: personal finances. If a person's credit is bad, it may mean that he’s made some pretty poor decisions in the past. Background checks help companies hire applicants who make wise decisions – at least about money.

But they can't really speak to a person's ethics.

Some companies use background reports to assess an applicant’s sense of right and wrong, but it’s worth remembering that ethical violations aren’t always crimes. For example, if a manager has a history of treating women better than men in the workplace, you probably won’t find out about it from police files or court records. Hiring and staffing departments can often learn more about someone’s character by simply speaking with his or her references.

Hiring and staffing managers can learn a lot about a candidate’s past by performing a background check, but a background report isn't a crystal ball. It may fail to reveal some pretty important things, such as expunged legal records and how a candidate treats his or her colleagues. In addition to background checks, what vetting techniques does your company use for the employee selection process? Leave a comment via Facebook and let us know.


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