What is a Background Investigation?

background investigationWell, it is a question that comes up over and over again so I thought it deserves a quick article.  Technically speaking a background investigation and background screening are not one in the same. I know, a quick Google and the terms are used interchangeably.  However, there are real differences between an investigation and screening.

Background Investigation

Many moons ago I was subjected to a thorough background investigation by the Nashville Metro Police Department.  The background investigation was conducted over a 6 month period and included a criminal background check, reference checks, polygraph, drug testing, psychological testing and three interviews.

The police department left no rock unturned.

A background investigation builds like a puzzle.  The Metro Nashville Police Department beat the bushes to see who I really was.  They did not care what the 3 references on my application had to say.  Who puts down references that are going to say bad things?

They were more interested in what past employers, neighbors, and former teachers had to say.  One piece of information might lead them in five different directions.

It is just like a criminal investigation.  When I walked into a crime scene I might only have one small piece of information initially like a nickname or a fingerprint.  That does not tell me much unless the suspect has a prior arrest and the fingerprint is in IAFIS.

The case builds.  A nickname leads me to interview 5 or 10 people and that leads to a real name.  Then I have to run some searches to determine who this person is, where they live, where they work, etc.  It is fluid and evolving.

A background investigation is extremely deep, time consuming and revealing.

Background Screening

How many of you have 6 months and thousands of dollars to invest in hiring an applicant or volunteer?  Most organizations want information right now.

Quite honestly, many police departments have lessened their standards and relaxed their background investigations and they are paying for it.  Most agencies have switched to background screening.

Background screening emerged a few years ago as a reliable and effective method of conducting due diligence on potential employees and volunteers.  The process relies heavily on technology, public record searches or personal or professional interviews.

Thanks to the internet and technology, the criminal background checks can be completed quickly (don’t confuse that with instantly) and cost effectively.  A full blown investigation might require several weeks or months to complete and cost hundreds of dollars, background screening can be done in a few days and cost as little as $18 (no, it cannot be done for $9 or $10).

Background screening is not built block by block and does not fork in multiple directions.

However, background screening done correctly is a highly reliable and effective method of reducing risk and providing a safe environment.

The first step is ensuring that your background screening partner adheres to the highest industry standards.  Download our 10 Things to Know Before Hiring a Background Screening Firm to make sure you choose the right partner.

Your Turn:

Ok, you have all graduated from session 1: Basic Investigations.  Leave a comment below for your junior badge and certificate.