What to Look for in Background Checks

The company you choose to manage your background check process matters just as much as the packages you buy.

When people hear the phrase "background checks," they often think criminal background checks. But if you quizzed them on what a criminal background check entails, most people would be hard-pressed to define it. 

Even hiring managers and HR leaders are often confused, and no wonder. The background check process has grown increasingly complex, thanks to digital innovations, changes in the way people work and live, new laws, and industry-specific requirements. All of the above influences how you screen—and what you can legally screen. 

This is why it's so important to work with a reputable background check vendor—one that offers the full depth and breadth of background checks . . . but one who also customizes packages based on the specific needs of your business. 

How can you be certain you're working with a vendor like that? (Or how do you evaluate different vendors if you're considering options?) So glad you asked! 

In this blog post, our goal is to arm you with critical insights that will help you evaluate vendors and packages:

  • Why customization is always better than a one-size-fits-all solution
  • Criminal background check basics and baselines
  • The key to compliant social media background checks
  • Why initiating background checks via text messaging is essential
  • Things to watch out for with verifications
  • How to tell that you've found a reputable background check vendor

Why doesn't a one-size-fits-all approach to background checks make sense?

If employers, employees, and jobs were all uniform, a one-size-fits-all solution would work. But that's not the world we live in. The problem with one-size-fits-all solutions—or even tiered packages—is that you'll inevitably pay for checks you don't need.

For example, let's say you're the HR manager for a manufacturing company that ships throughout the U.S. The company employs drivers, machine workers, engineers, marketing people, salespeople, office staff—you get the idea.

You might opt for random drug testing for people using heavy machinery. That makes sense, right? But do you need to conduct the same screen for the receptionist answering the phones? Probably not. Maybe the sales folks are on the road meeting clients three days a week, but the marketing team works in cubicles full time. MVR monitoring would make sense for the sales team, but not for marketing.

⮚ PRO TIP: If you want to get the biggest bang for your background check buck—and the most meaningful results—seek custom packages designed specifically for your organization. This will save you money overall because you'll only be paying for the screens you need.

But aren't criminal background checks super straightforward?

Nope! Criminal background checks have plenty of nuances and complexities, too. Just consider the various types of searches you can conduct . . .

  • Country criminal checks
  • State criminal checks
  • Federal criminal checks
  • Nationwide criminal checks

To make things even more complicated, not all records are maintained in the same manner. Some counties have on-site public access terminals while other counties only make information available when you place a request with the county clerk. Turnaround times vary widely as a result.

⮚ PRO TIP: When you work with a vendor, ask how many county searches are included in the package. The more searches you include, the more you'll pay. For example, maybe you have a candidate who's lived in five different places in the last seven years. That will be more expensive than someone who's only lived in a few places

What's a good rule of thumb for running a quality criminal background check?

A quality criminal background check should consider aliases (for example, surname prior to marriage) and criminal history searches in counties where a candidate has lived in the past seven years. These county searches are often supplemented with a nationwide criminal history database search, which provides a quick, affordable method to search for criminal history information that may be recorded in jurisdictions outside the candidate's address history. 

The scope of a criminal background check can be adjusted based on your requirements as well, including the expansion of the address history from seven to 10 years, the inclusion of address history for locations where a candidate has worked or attended school, and the addition of federal criminal, sex offender database, and/or sanction searches.

⮚ PRO TIP: Dig deeper into criminal background checks, including arguments for criminal monitoring and why certain myths persist. Download our Ultimate Guide to Criminal Background Checks.

Is it OK for hiring managers to google a candidate's social media activity?

If you attempt to conduct a social media background check on your own, you'll encounter protected class information that you can't "unsee." Think things like race, gender, religion, etc. This is problematic from a legal standpoint since it could lead to discrimination claims.

Instead, use a reputable third-party skilled in conducting compliant social media background checks on your behalf. 

A compliant social media background check will do the following:

  • Provide relevant authorizations/disclosures and get explicit permission from the candidate/employee to conduct the social media screening
  • Focus only on business-related information and redact protected class information when presenting results
  • Not use any sort of hacking, scraping, or otherwise illegal or unethical ways to gain access to social accounts
  • Make a good-faith effort, as dictated by law, to ensure the correct person is being reviewed

Read more about social media screening, including eight myths that we bust.

⮚ PRO TIP: Ask vendors about their approach to social media background check compliance. Their response should resemble something along these lines: "Our social media background checks are compliant with EEOC, FCRA, and state privacy laws."

What if a background check vendor doesn't have the technology to initiate screens via text messaging? Does that matter?

Yes! Consider these stats from SMS Comparison USA: 98% of adults in the U.S. own a smartphone, and 95% of text messages are read and responded to within three minutes. 

These stats reflect our own experience at Good Egg. When our background checks are initiated via text, they are completed 76% faster than when they're initiated via email.

⮚ PRO TIP: If you want to reduce the time it takes for your candidates to complete the background check process, choose a vendor who offers candidate text messaging. It's no longer a nice-to-have feature—in today's world, it's a must-have.

Are employment and education verifications still necessary?

Absolutely! First of all, you want to make sure the candidate is who they say they are. Same with their education and any relevant licensures and certifications. If people are willing to lie at this stage of the game, imagine the havoc they could wreak in your organization if you hire them.

Verifications and reference checks still need human oversight, however. Choose a vendor that offers more than mere transactions. Look for one that emphasizes relationships and customer service.

⮚ PRO TIP: Here's a quick way to assess how well your current vendor is managing verifications on your behalf. In the last quarter, how many verifications have you had to complete yourself, even though you're paying the vendor for the service? Sadly, it's all too common that a vendor gives up after a couple of tries and/or they don't have good technology, like text messaging, to initiate the process, which means the verifications ultimately fall into the client's lap.

What should you look for when evaluating background check vendors?

Oh, we could write a whole book on this topic. (In fact, we did—see below.) But for the sake of brevity, here are three key areas to consider as you shop around:

Compliance. Do not skimp on this! Don't attempt to perform checks on your own, and don't opt for those "instant" background checks advertised online. You'll get what you pay for—and you'll likely have major compliance issues. 

Customization. Work with a vendor that creates a custom package that will meet your organization's specific hiring needs. You shouldn't be paying for background checks you don't run—and you shouldn't be forced into a package that only kinda-sorta meets your needs.

Customer service. You can't have effective compliance or customization without great customer service. This means a dedicated account manager who gets to know you, your organization, and your hiring goals and challenges. This person not only answers your calls and emails (promptly), but also proactively reaches out to you.

⮚ PRO TIP: The company you choose matters. Get our guide on what to look for in a background check partner. You'll learn about customer service red flags, adverse action, and why accreditation by the Professional Background Screening Association is a good sign.

Call Good Egg and get compliance, customization, and customer service in one fell swoop.

The best way to experience the Good Egg difference is to request a demo so we can learn more about your business and walk you through our software.


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Mariah Barr

Posted by Mariah Barr

Mariah Barr is the Content Marketing Writer at Good Egg. She's played a few roles in her professional life, but they’ve always involved writing interesting and informative pieces. Outside of work you can find her walking her dog or working on a DIY home improvement project.

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