Most times what we post is for the employers who hire us. This blog post looks at the issue from a job seekers perspective.

Whatever you term it – pre-employment screening, pre-employment screening background checks, reference check or background check, background screening – the end results for employers is better information from a third party to help identify people who will stay longer and contribute more. This question was raised if this process is as good for job seekers on a job seekers forum and this is my response.
With the caveat that not all third party reference and background checking firms are the same we know from the work we do for our clients in the Asia Pacific Region helps them bridge time zones, bureaucratic hurdles and get information on new hires from their competitors.

Many employers today are using third party pre-employment screening firms to conduct background checks on their prospective new hires and the question arises – is it a good thing for job seekers or it is just a good thing for employers? The short answer is yes- it is as good for job seekers as it is for employers. I know it is good for Human Resources staff as reference checking for them is the downside of being an HR professional. People are hard to reach and often won’t speak openly. Third party screeners do nothing else but call all day long and for some reason people speak more candidly and honestly to third parties than they would directly to the prospective employer.

First off, let me admit my bias. I am CEO of eeVoices Limited- a Hong Kong based company engaged in pre-employment screening, exit interviewing and organization surveys. The caveat is that pre-employment screening only benefits job seekers who are honest and have nothing to hide versus someone who is polished in resume writing, great in job interviews and has left behind a trail of disasters and problems as they move from job to job.

Too often, bad people operate on the assumption that their target employers will not call references and will take comfort in the quality of the companies and positions held that they see on the resume. To satisfy themselves that the candidate has a degree or other certifications, they obtain a copy for the personnel file. They can do this because 80 to 90% of the time if an organization does not have a strict reference checking policy, references are not called and education and certificates are not verified. Our clients are shocked that some who have stolen money or defrauded prior employers will fill out and sign the consent forms and put these employers on their reference list in the hope that they might not speak candidly to a third party – but our experience suggests that they do. In some cases, when job seekers are asked to complete the consent forms they fill them in only to email the company when they get home and say they miraculously just found another job.

A typical basic pre-employment screening package includes verifying employment history, education and certification validation, checking statements on the resume and asking work-related questions of the referees who are provided by the job applicant. For jobs where there is a potential for fraud and where the position justifies additional verifications, pre-screening might include a check of court records for bankruptcy and any civil litigation and a search for any other directorships that might present the firm with a conflict of interest problem.

Some positions might need criminal record checks and full credit checks. The presence of a criminal record does not necessarily preclude a person from getting a job if the crime is minor and irrelevant to the position. Some people actually forget a minor conviction when they were younger and this is not unusual. When people are in positions where the potential for fraud or theft is high a credit check lets the prospective employer know that the person is currently meeting their financial obligations and that they do not have a past history of failed financial dealings that might influence their honesty when they are onboard.

As a job seeker, ask yourself these two questions:

Have you ever exaggerated your job duties, education or training or accomplishments in your resume? Do you believe that if you don’t exaggerate your background a little or a fair amount, that you won’t get the job interview? If you answer yes to either or both questions, you are not alone. A survey conducted by us found that 62% of the respondents in this market answered yes to this question and some 33% of that group admitted to exaggerating their qualifications a fair amount. When we asked them why, they said that if they don’t “fudge” their resumes they won’t get the job interview where they feel their background and interview skills will level the playing field.

Does pre-employment screening level the playing field for job applicants?

Yes, it does. A professional third-party firm will verify resume information. This will reward those who haven’t taken a creative writing approach to their career achievements list. The astute job seeker should want to apply to those firms who check applicant backgrounds. If someone says they increased sales 500% over three years, the screening agency will verify this or prove this false. The screener will also verify that the person giving the reference isn’t the best friend of the applicant. This levels the playing field at the resume stage.

Does pre-employment screening level the playing field inside the interview room?

Yes, it can be a leveler if the screening is conducted before the interview team is disbanded and if the job is offered “subject to satisfactory references”. Let me tell you that with the possible exception of executive search firms everyone in the room on the search committee has a “horse in the race”. Even the most professional recruiters with years of human resources experience admit they fall into the trap of having a “preferred candidate”. I have hired many senior people and have been a member of numerous selection and hiring committees for senior positions including presidents and vice presidents of major organizations and it all works the same way.
Independent third party screening firms provide an unbiased report on each of the job finalists and a comparative summary that changes the discussions from each person backing their “favourite” to more thoroughly examining the pros and cons of all the job applicants. Never forget that the decision to like or not like a person is made within the first few minutes of meeting someone for the first time and the interview process is not different.

In our screening agency, interviewers never meet or talk to the job candidate so we have none of the biases that come when you meet people for the first time. Where a staff member of ours meets a job applicant for a Hong Kong criminal record check, that interviewer is precluded from conducting any reference checks on that file. Whatever impressions our staff member has are not passed along to those screening the candidates. We normally use multiple interviewers on the same file to avoid bias and maintain quality.

What can job applicants do to get a better pre-employment screening result?

  1. Make sure your resume accurately highlights your skills, experience, education and achievements. If you have not completed a program, say so.
    2. Provide good job-related references and information on how referees can be reached quickly. The better the information, the faster you get onboard and the pay cheques start coming.
    3. Make sure your referees know who might be calling and how important it is for them to reply quickly.
    4. Tell your referees a bit about the company you are interviewing at and the position you are being considered for.

If the screening agency can’t reach the person you named as a reference, that doesn’t help your cause as it slows the process down and reduces the quality of the information they have to make a final decision. Find out if your referees are available before this process commences. Don’t use names of people as referees who have left the region for the motherland 10 years ago unless you have their current contact information.

You want to avoid a referee being surprised by the call and becoming evasive even after your signed authorization form is sitting on his or her desk. Nothing outperforms the referee who starts off telling the interviewer that they were expecting the call and then proceeds to provide comments that demonstrate your suitability for the company and position you are seeking. This also helps them to put any of your improvement needs into context to show your skills in the best light for the new position.

There are times when job seekers are concerned about using their current employer as a reference. Employers will not have third parties call any referees without your consent. In most cases, reference checking does not commence prior to a job offer that assumedly is made “subject to satisfactory references.” If you did not have the best working relationship with your current boss or any former boss, employers understand this and this is not detrimental to your application unless no one speaks highly of your job performance. If you use the name of another senior level person in the same organization this is fine. What the screening firm will check is if that individual is qualified to speak to your qualifications and background. It is not uncommon for sales managers to use customers as one of their referees. It all helps to paint a picture of you to support what the prospective employer has already learned about you from the resume and interviews.

A final word- if pre-employment screening becomes the norm in hiring, this will level the playing field for all. Many of the largest and best companies are screening now and SMEs are recognizing that it is cost effective to use third parties and prevent bad hires. SMEs are starting to realize that third-party screening costs are nowhere close to what it costs to engage an executive recruitment firm who work with firms to develop job profiles and source and interview prospective candidates. Pre-employment screening begins when the final candidate or candidates are selected.
Good luck to you in careers and job searches!