By Lester Rosen, President of ESR

(Originally published on

Part of the on boarding process for most in-house recruiters is the completion of the pre-employment background check.  The challenge for in-house recruiters is that they are typically under intense time pressure to complete the hiring process quickly and to get the new person started.  On the other hand, it is mission critical that employers exercise due diligence in their hiring.  If an employer hires someone who turns out to be dangerous, unfit or unqualified and some harm occurs where it was foreseeable that a bad hire could cause damage, then the firm can be on the hook for a negligent hiring lawsuit, not to mention all of the other costs, workplace problems and negative publicity associated with a bad hire. Of course, a bad hire does not reflect well on a recruiter either.

In a perfect world, a recruiter would like to be able to go to a web site that has an accurate and up-to-date database so the employer can get an immediate thumbs up or down.  However, no such web site exists because much of the data needed to do a background check is not gathered and databased ahead of time.  There is not even a comprehensive national criminal records database that reveals an accurate criminal history. Most private employers do not have access to the FBI criminal database, and even that database is subject to numerous sources of errors.

As a result, background checks are conducted by actually calling up schools and past employers and going to courthouses.  A background check will typically take three days, and that is assuming the universe is cooperating and there are no delays out of anyone’s control.  However, there can be delays if an employer has gone out of business or refuses to call back, or a school is closed for a holiday or requires a release or check sent by mail.  Further delays can occur if there are potential criminal record matches, and the court clerk delays producing the file so a screening firm can confirm identifiers to determine if the record applies to the applicant and whether the case can even be reported under complex federal and state rules.

Those time requirements for a background check can conflict with the time pressure a recruiter is under.  The good news is that a recruiter can be pro-active in speeding up background checks in several ways:

  • Recruiters must understand the process can be delayed if screening firms are sent incomplete information, or supplied with forms that are illegible or incomplete. For example, screening firms often face difficulty in deciphering an applicant’s past employers or social security number. Since a screening firm is not expected to read hieroglyphics or be a mind reader, the screening firm has to contact the recruiter to clarify the information. Some screening firms will make their best guess and if they are wrong, the report is delayed even further, proving the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished. Recruiters who review all applications for completeness, legibility and accuracy with the candidates before sending the applications to a screening firm will find their work is completed much faster.
  • An in-house recruiter needs to communicate with hiring managers to eliminate unrealistic expectations. A hiring manager may not understand, for example, that criminal records are searched at each relevant courthouse, or that delays can occur if there is a potential match and the court needs to bring files from storage. Hiring managers must also be advised that employment and education verifications can be delayed for a number of reasons, such as schools that are on vacation or that require a check or release to be mailed, or employers that are closed, merged or refuse to cooperate. If there is a delay in receiving a completed screening report, the recruiter should examine the source of the delay.
  • If a recruiter is working with a screening firm that has an online ordering system, the process is considerably faster. Not only does this ensure accuracy, which makes the process faster, but it also avoids delays caused by sending a request to a screening firm and waiting for the firm to do manual data entry.
  • Finally, there are times when a recruiter should determine that even though the screening firm has not been successful in obtaining all of the information, enough data is available to make a hiring decision. This typically happens in the area of verifying previous employment. When conducting employment verifications, often times the earliest employment is the most difficult to obtain. However, it may also be the least relevant. If the applicant, for example, worked in a fast food restaurant six years ago after getting out of school and the fast food place will not call back, then there may be no reason to delay the hiring decision, especially if the screening firm has obtained the most recent, and presumably more relevant, job verifications.

Experienced recruiters understand that background checks are not only a critical part of the hiring process, but are a great deal more complicated than merely putting a name in a database. A competent background checking process requires specialized knowledge, resources and experience. This is particularly true since employment screening is a highly regulated area. The best way to speed up the process is to understand exactly what is involved in facilitating the smooth flow of accurate data.

For more information on how background checks for recruiters, please visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at