9 Tips for Selecting a Pre-Employment Background Screening Company

One of the biggest challenges for any organization is finding and selecting the right employees for their workplaces. The right employees can give a company significant competitive advantage while a single bad hire can cause irreparable harm. A background screening company serves an important role in delivering quick, accurate, and comprehensive information to fuel better hiring decisions by providing information about the past behaviors, actions, and experience of their applicants.

The right partner can help you build an effective employment screening program that reduces negligent hiring risks, builds a safer and more productive workforce, and supports the overall strategic goals of your organization.

Here are 9 tips for selecting the right background screening company of your organization:

1. Consider the cost for what it’s worth.
In the employment screening industry, as in most other industries, cheaper is not always better. Less expensive usually means less comprehensive or that quality is sacrificed somewhere in the process. Employment screening is not cheap, but it is affordable and it pays to do it right. (Remember, employers lose nearly 2/3 of all negligent hiring lawsuits!)

Based on price alone it’s difficult to compare the proposals you’ll receive. On many levels, proposals for background screening services look quite similar so it’s important to identify and understand the nuances that differentiate one from another. For example, unfortunately, in an effort to represent the lowest possible price some providers will strip out all but the base price for services and attach to that a dizzying array of schedules and additional fees that will quickly add up when the time comes. In these cases, what is quoted will be quite different from the actual price you’ll pay. You need to understand what you’re really likely to pay.

The takeaway is this: Be sure to compare apples to apples and remember that the cost of screening is a fraction of the cost involved in terminating an employee, the cost of recruiting, hiring, and training a replacement, and the cost to settle a negligent hiring lawsuit.

2. Promises, promises, promises… Don’t let them seduce you. In your search for an employment screening company you may come across those who promise to find anything about anyone -- no questions asked. Usually these are non-certified data miners who sell generic information that is more likely inaccurate, out of date, and inappropriate misinformation. As an employer, if you choose to work with such a company you would regrettably put yourself, your organization, and even your employees at great risk.

Another seductive promise you may come across is the promise to deliver all reports under 24 hours (or a similarly arbitrary time frame). Employment screening companies simply do not have control of this process to the degree they might imply. And no reputable screening company would guarantee such deliverables. This is particularly true when it comes to criminal records screening, with more than 3000 courts that control access to the public record and dictate how and when these records are disseminated to the public.

3. Look for pre-employment screening that’s tailored to your needs. When selecting a background screening company, steer clear of those who offer a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Companies with this rigid approach will offer you a pre-designed program that fails to consider your unique risks, compliance issues, and business needs. While sometimes you can get away with a packaged approach, most often employers end up paying for information they don’t need, or worse, miss out on essential information that is needed.

A screening company should listen to your needs and tailor a screening program appropriately. If the company you choose to work with neglects to ask insightful questions about your company, the positions you’re hiring for, your organizational risk appetite, your business objectives, and other questions that affect the composition of your screening program, buyer beware.

4. Find out if the background screening company is a member of NAPBS. Before you hire a pre-employment screening provider, contact the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) to determine if the company you’re considering is a member in good standing. While there are no guarantees, membership in NAPBS gives you a good indication that the company is staying current with best practices and changing legislation. You can find a NAPBS member company here.

5. Ensure the provider you select keeps applicant data on-shore. Off-shoring your candidate’s sensitive personal information (i.e. social security numbers and financial account information) is a problem in the background screening industry that is currently being addressed through legislation and other measures. Basically what happens is a background screening company will contract certain background checks to offshore firms. The problem is, when your applicant information is sent offshore the protections that we enjoy in the U.S. for identity theft and other issues surrounding access to personal information do not exist. The liabilities that can ensue when applicant data is mishandled are something any employer would want to avoid. If the screening company you’re considering doesn’t have a policy to address this, beware.

6. Ask about the use of national vs. local criminal records. Criminal records are a staple of many pre-employment background checks. With budget and time pressures employers may find it tempting to rely upon a national database records search as the tell-tale source of criminal background information. However, a responsible pre-employment screening company will refuse to allow such use of national databases. The reason is, the quality of databases vary from source to source and simply cannot be relied upon without further verifying database information with a local court-level search. Any provider you select should rightfully position national records checks as an important pointer to guide specific local criminal records searches.

7. Find out if the employment screening company has experience in your industry. This is a basic but relatively important factor in selecting a pre employment background screening company. Does the provider you’re considering understand your organization, industry, and the relevant risk and compliance issues you face? Considering an employment screening company can be a powerful source of advice, information, and experience such experience is valuable.

8. Determine if you’ll have access to experienced professionals. Find out if your screening company offers access to the people, higher up in the company, that truly know the world of employment screening. Will you be stuck with an inexperienced call center employee or will you be given the direct phone number of top-level managers? When push comes to shove -- as it sometimes does in this business – it’s good to know you can get quick answers to your toughest questions.

9. Will the provider help you build a successful process? When interviewing potential screening firms do they take the time to understand your sourcing, recruiting, and on-boarding processes? Do they offer to with you to build a sound process that meets the needs of all the HR stakeholders and aligns with your strategy and culture? A surprisingly forgotten concept in the background screening world is the importance of process -- if the process is flawed you won’t like the results.


Michael Gaul is VP of Business Development for Proforma Screening Solutions. With more than 20 years experience in fields of human capital risk management, physical security, and employment background screening, Michael crafts successful solutions to help employers make better hiring decisions. 

Proforma Screening Solutions is a Virginia-based background screening company that offers on-demand employment background chec...

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