Weekly dilemma: Pre-employment screening

My company is gearing up for a round of recruitment. I realise people often exaggerate their employment history and experience, and am keen to ensure the candidates satisfy key requirements for the roles. How can we find out more about candidates before they start work?

Unfortunately, there will always be people who give in to the temptation to boost their experience or hide the real reasons for leaving previous employment, particularly in a depressed job market. And then there are those who apply for jobs with the deliberate intention of perpetrating crime.

There is no such thing as an “innocent white lie” on a job application or CV. Falsehoods can affect a candidate’s ability to fulfil the role, and they create a fraudulent foundation for the entire working relationship.

Employers can even be held liable for the actions of a new employee who, for example, steals from customers or commits fraud, if it is proven that a reference check could have prevented the candidate from securing the role in the first place.

To achieve fairness in the recruitment process, ensure that your recruitment policy, job advert and application form specify the pre-employment screening checks that you will undertake, including checking each candidate’s employment history and obtaining references.

Undertake a risk analysis that takes into account the nature of your business and the potential risks of employing the wrong people. Decide the key questions you want to ask in reference requests to previous employers, and consider the need to check educational histories. Draw up a list of documents that could flag gaps in employment, such as educational certificates and tax statements, and insist upon scrutinising original documents from candidates.

You’ll be aware that an employment reference represents disclosure of confidential information. Written permission to contact former employers must be obtained from all candidates. Without it, former employers may restrict references to simply confirm basic details such as start and finish dates, job position and salary. As a matter of policy, and to limit the risk of potential liability in claims from former or new employees, some employers refrain from releasing certain information.

However, restricted confirmation is better than none at all. At least you will know whether or not the candidate actually worked for their stated former employers. You will also have the opportunity to identify gaps in employment history that could indicate problems.

You can undertake pre-employment checks “in-house” by contacting every employer and educational institution. Alternatively, you could outsource the exercise to an established risk solutions company, but make sure you select one that specialises in the provision of employment screening services.

Jane Stuart, senior manager, Avertis Risk Solutions

More answers to questions on references from XpertHR:

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