10 Things to Know Before Hiring a Background Screening Firm

background screening firmIt is very rare these days to have an organization say they are not interested in criminal background screening.  I am not saying it does not happen, it does, but that is a different article. However, once you have made the decision to implement a screening program, the biggest obstacle you will face is selecting a quality background screening firm.   Why?  Because historically the screening industry has promoted low quality products and services.

Yes, there are federal and a few state laws related to screening but they primarily address consumer protection and do not define a quality background check.  So they do not require screening companies to provide deep, comprehensive criminal record checks.  And many of this laws only apply to employment screening.

Have I ever mentioned that I resisted entering the background screening industry when several of our consulting clients asked me to in 2003?  What changed my mind?  When a large school district hired 2 sex offenders who had passed a state-mandated criminal background check.

How could that happen?  I discovered it could happen very easily.  I quickly learned how few screening firms provide quality background screening services.

And through the process of auditing the screening industry for more than 8 years,  I have compiled a list of 10 questions you should ask a background screening firm before hiring them:

  1. How do you define a comprehensive background check?  There is no standard definition.  It could be an instant database search or a single county criminal search limited to 7 years.
  2. Is the “national” background check instant?  If yes, then it is not a comprehensive screening program.  There does not exist a single database, including the FBI’s NCIC, that contains all criminal records.
  3. What is the cost of your background check?  A quality background check does not have to break the bank but it cannot be done for $10.
  4. How far back do your criminal searches go?  A 7 year search is the standard.  This is scary.  What if your candidate raped someone 10 years ago?
  5. How do you handle alias & other names?  As a rule, most screening firms will search only the name you enter (even if misspelled) or they will charge each name as an individual search.  A screening firm focused on safety and security will include alias/ other name searches.
  6. How many sources does your criminal database contain and how is it configured?  Not all databases are the same.  They can vary from a handful to hundreds of sources.  And a database should be configured to allow null DOB searches since the majority of sources do not provide a full DOB.
  7. How do you screen your employees that are handling our sensitive data?  It is not unusual for screening firms to apply their same low standards to their employees who are handling your sensitive information.  A quality screening firm should conduct deep criminal, civil, credit, reference and motor vehicle checks on an ongoing basis.
  8. How do you secure our sensitive data?  Quality screening firms will maintain an ongoing certification of their online system like CyberTrust, SAS 70 or SSAE 16 and be PCI compliant.  They should also have strong internal controls and a privacy policy.
  9. Do you assist with legal compliance?  Quality screening firms will provide education, templates and assistance with all forms of legal compliance, particularly with the very specific requirements of the FCRA.
  10. Who handles our questions?  Questions are a natural, normal and frequent part of the background screening process.  Many of the large screening firms have attempted to automate this process which leaves you frustrated and vulnerable to making a mistake.  A trusted screening partner will provide easy access via email, telephone or Twitter so you can find answers to your questions without slowing your process.

If a background screening firm cannot answer these questions, then I would suggest moving on in your selection process.  Do not place the safety and security of your organization in the hands of a firm that is cutting corners or providing low quality searches.

For more information, download  our whitepaper 10 Things to Know Before Hiring a Background Screening Firm.