The Where, What and When of an Effective Background Check

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If you’re looking to start an employment background screening program from scratch, you may be overwhelmed by where to start.

And if you already have such a program in place, you may be wondering if your program is as effective as it can be. In both situations, it may be helpful to begin with the basics—the essential questions you should be asking before you begin any background check.

Since there’s no single database  into which an employer can type an applicant’s name and immediately receive an accurate, complete history of that person, employers must instead rely on getting information, like criminal records and other types of public record information , from a wide variety of other sources. But what should you ask before you begin?

  1. Where should I search?
    Have you lived in the same place your whole life? Like most people these days, the answer is probably “no”. That’s why an effective background check should start with accurate residential history–including any place an applicant has lived.

    You also should layer in geographies where an applicant may have worked or attended school, since it’s entirely possible for someone to have been employed or gone to school in one jurisdiction, but actually resided in an adjacent one.

    Although this type of history is a great place to start, other resources should also be considered for where you should look for information about your applicant. Multi-jurisdictional databases can help cast a wider geographical net, looking for situations in which an applicant may have committed a crime while on vacation, for example.

  2. What kinds of records do I need to look for?
    As mentioned earlier, there are many different types of searches you can be doing during a background check.

    So how do you know what to look for? Begin by asking yourself some important questions—the answers to these will help inform the types of information you should search:

    • Are we required by law to perform any specific searches?
    • What responsibilities will the new hire have?
    • How much exposure will the person have to assets and/or customers?
    • Will the employee have any fiduciary responsibility?
    • Will the employee have any interaction with vulnerable populations?
  3. How far back should I search?
    In most industries, a seven-year search is considered the standard, but some specific industries, such as health care, financial services and education, may merit looking back a bit further.

    Another consideration for how far back to look for records is that reporting standards can vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdictions—some sources may release information going back 20 years, for example. It’s important to exercise caution if you do get older records; work with your legal counsel to ensure any hiring or retention decisions based on such data comply with all applicable laws.

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HireRight is a leading provider of on-demand employment background checks, drug and health screening, and electronic Form I-9 and E-Verify solutions that help employers automate, manage and control background screening and related programs.

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The HireRight Blog is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be comprehensive, and is not a substitute for and should not be construed as legal advice. HireRight does not warrant any statements in the HireRight Blog. Any statutes or laws cited herein should be read in their entirety. You should direct to your own experienced legal counsel questions involving your organization’s compliance with or interpretation or application of laws or regulations and any additional legal requirements that may apply.