For many organisations, finding talented individuals can be challenging. After reviewing hundreds of CVs and conducting interviews, the recruiter is ready to send out the offer. Stop! Take some time out for the pre-employment checks.

What are background checks?

The hiring team may be impressed by the candidate’s performance during the recruitment process. This, however, is no guarantee for future performance. While assessment centres and ability tests are still most reliable indicators, not every organisation has the resources to conduct them.

In days where candidates do what they can to secure that new role, organisations need to feel confident about selecting the most suitable candidate.

Pre-employment checks can then be used to obtain a more rounded picture of the candidate.

Pre-employment checks may include

  • Reference checks
  • Verification of education
  • Social media checks
  • Police clearance and criminal background checks
  • Medical checks.

Organisations contact previous employers, colleagues or business partners to learn more about their preferred candidate. Reference checks are one way to verify the candidate’s professional past.

Colleges, universities or issuers of professional licences can validate the education stated by the candidate. Hopscotch found 93% of recruiters conducting social media checks as part of the pre-employment checks. For certain roles, police clearing may also be required.

Companies should follow a consistent approach to pre-employment checks which are in proportion to the job to be filled.

What can be asked?

The hiring company can choose to verify solely the candidate’s working history, e.g. the title and dates worked with the previous company. Such checks are generally easily completed. Should the previous employer only allow the confirmation of administrative details (e.g. employment dates), the former manager or colleague may be able to provide a personal reference.

These days, however, fewer organisations allow for behavioural and/or skills references. In such cases, the referee generally answers specific questions asked by the recruiter. These questions often resemble questions asked during the interview, for example:

  • Can you describe their job responsibilities?
  • Did you evaluate their performance?
  • What was their biggest accomplishment while working for your company?
  • What was noted as needing improvement during this performance review?
  • How did they get on with other team members or external customers or suppliers?

What is the legal view?

Unlike in other jurisdictions, there is no clear guidance on the nature of reference checks. In Germany, where written references are provided at the end of the employment, nothing negative may be stated. In the UK, references may not conceal facts from the hiring organisation. The only information French companies can provide is around the individual’s professional skills for their potentially new role. It is probably not surprising that different requirements exist for the different states within the US.

UAE-based employees may, however, request an “end of service certificate” from their employees when leaving the organisation. Art. 125 of the UAE labour law of 1980 requires the certificate to include

  • date of appointment and date of termination
  • total period of service
  • nature of work performed
  • the individual’s last pay plus allowances.

Under UAE law, companies may be reluctant to provide additional information, especially if it could be seen as disclosing confidential or proprietary information. Future employers may have to remove questions in their reference checks document to ensure compliance with local legislation.

Unless the company selects a UAE or GCC national, employees will need to be sponsored. Verification of the candidate’s diploma or degree may be required, if these haven’t been attested by the appropriate authorities already.

As pre-employment checks can be time consuming, hiring companies may seek support from verification companies or social media check software.

How to conduct them?

  1. Companies should disclose at the beginning of the recruitment process that pre-employment checks (including social media checks and other checks) will be performed.
  2. Most companies conduct their pre-employment checks prior to issuing an offer. However, some organisations issue a conditional offer requiring the successful passing of any checks and only conduct them afterwards.
  3. The recruiter should obtain the candidate’s permission to conduct reference checks before contacting the provided referees. If in doubt, these referees may need to be verified (e.g. via LinkedIn) prior to emailing or calling them.
  4. Time may be tight for referees. The referee should be able to answer the set of questions within a reasonable timeframe. It may be easier for the referee and faster for the recruiter to conduct the check over the phone than email.
  5. Each referee will need to be asked the same set of questions. Questions need to evolve around the vacancy and the candidate’s professional abilities and competencies for this role.
  6. To avoid any bias, any social media check should only be performed after the interviews with the candidate.
  7. Police clearance or criminal background checks should also be conducted at the end of the recruitment process and only if the role or other requirements demand it.

How to handle the feedback?

Negative feedback may be taken as a red flag. At the same time, it is only one piece of information and should be weighted against the other data points (e.g. interviews, assessment, other references) when making a final decision.

Noticing inconsistencies with previously submitted information (e.g. differences between the candidate’s CV and the referee’s information), the recruiter should clarify this as soon as possible. It could be a typo or a misunderstanding.

During a phone call, this may only require a few additional questions. Once any miscommunication has been ruled out, the recruiter and the candidate may need to discuss them. If the candidate can’t explain the inconsistencies, an organisation may see it as a warning sign.

Overly positive feedback may be too good to be true. In such cases, the recruiter could ask what the candidate could have done better. As most (all) individuals can still develop themselves further, the referee may not disclose everything if nothing comes to their mind.

Pre-employment checks can provide an independent insight into the preferred candidate. They can improve the chances of selecting an individual fit for the role and organisation. At the same time, companies need to remember that they are no guarantee the hire will be successful. They will still need to invest in the individual’s onboarding and induction.

To learn how you can improve your pre-employment checks, contact us today.