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Creating A Winning Candidate Experience During Background Screening

Candidate experience is big business

Candidate experience is becoming a larger and larger part of the $20 billion recruiting market. The reasons are clear on the macro levels: low unemployment creating the so-called “war for talent,” rising litigation related to unfair hiring practices and discrimination, and the proliferation of social engagement on sites like LinkedIn and Glassdoor.

If you’re spending time and money on your employment brand, make sure you don’t leave out one of the most risky aspects of the candidate life cycle- the background check.

Background screening is terrifying to most candidates. They don’t know what you’re looking for (or more likely, what you might find,) they have no idea how it works, and they may not understand their consumer rights throughout the process.

But worry no longer! Read on to learn how to create a smooth and efficient background screening process that won’t scare away your top candidates.

Background screening can be the difference between accepting and declining your offer.. among other things

According to a 2018 Talent Board Study, as many as 50% of candidates who rated a prospective employer as a one on a scale of one to five on the candidate experience, were willing to reject that employer (sever the relationship.) If your background screening process is outdated, illegal, or just not as smooth as it could be, you could be risking as many as half your candidates- usually people who are already well through the process.

Besides your recruiting pipeline, some companies have discovered that a poor candidate experience can affect BUSINESS. An estimate by Graeme Johnson, former head of Resourcing at Virgin Media showed that the company had lost as much as $5.4M in lost recurring media revenue by the estimated 6% of rebuked candidates that then canceled their subscriptions.

Other risks and costs of a poor candidate experience process include:

  • Negative social media reviews on sites like Glassdoor
  • Directly tell others not to apply at your company
  • Brand impact.

These risks are especially true during the background screening process. The biggest mistakes employers make is assuming that backgrounds should be a big secret. As recently as the late 2000s, companies were actively told NOT to tell candidates what was in the background check for fear the candidate may “game” the system.

While that may be technically possible, the likelihood that someone goes through your entire process using a different name to avoid you finding a crime is far less likely than you losing your best candidate to the “black box.”

Even when you DO find anomalies that disqualify a candidate, treating them respectfully and honestly can protect your reputation – after all, everyone makes mistakes.

These examples show that a great candidate experience is not just for the candidates, but especially for the ones you don’t. It is for these reasons that preparing your candidate for the background screening process can pay off in onboarding happy, enthusiastic new employees.

How to prepare the candidate
Tell them what you’re doing and why.

According to a Glassdoor survey, communication was the number one determinant of candidate satisfaction. One of the biggest questions candidates have during the background screening process is “what are you looking for.” Unless your legal counsel tells you otherwise, you should offer a fair, descriptive summary, without unnecessary detail.

For example “we review each candidate’s background for information that may put our employees, customers, or company reputation at risk. That commonly means absence of a previous conviction of a qualifying crime or motor vehicle incident, education and employment history that matches our discussion to now, and current licensing or credentials required by law.”

Ensure the candidate that the process is fair

Your policy should ensure that all candidates for the same job are screened the same way. Tell your candidate this, and ideally explain your adjudication / decisioning process after checking with your counsel.

Clearly describe their rights during and after the process.

The law requires a complete and separate disclosure and consent form. However, since the FCRA disclosures are legal-ese, many candidates may skim right by and feel like they are a “subject” rather than a participant in the process. You can remind the candidate that the FCRA is a consumer rights act, and he or she should feel comforted that you are not only following that law, but that you really believe in their rights.

Explain the process, especially the timeline.

Each candidate should be told how the data is collected, how it will be processed, when they should expect completion, and what will happen next.

Remember they are worried about this process, so be sensitive to their concerns and answer any questions that may arise. Make it clear background screening means you WANT to hire them, not that you DON’T want to hire them. Many candidates anticipate the background screen as a way to eliminate candidates, whereas most often the background check is at the time of conditional offer.

Educate yourself about locations and situations that may cause delays, and if the candidate meets one of those criteria, set expectations accordingly. Examples may be rural courts of the candidates previous residences, foreign education or employment verifications, and so on.

Keep them informed along the way

Your background screening provider should inform you and/or the candidate about any issues that come up. If you’ve been told of a delay, let the candidate know, reset expectations, and perhaps ask for additional pre-emptive data that may prevent further delays. The most common other issues tend to be data entry errors (eg; transposed birthdate or SSN,) so avoid raising these to the candidates as major concerns; just ask for clarification when you need it

Best practices in gathering data from your candidate

Integrate it

Let’s face it, no one wants to have to repeat data they’ve already entered. A recent survey showed that the job applications for the Fortune 500 took a median of 13 minutes. Much of that data is the same data your need for background screening, so integrate your background screening process in such a way as to minimally re-use data such as contact information and so on. This can save the candidate valuable minutes.

You can also consider adding most of the required data for the background screen to the application. Just be sure to leave the sensitive PII off and let your screening provider collect that if possible. In the event you don’t hire the candidate, it’s best to have less of that data.

Get it, or predict it, if you can

If there is data that you don’t need to ask for, don’t ask for it. It’s that simple. Use compliant data sources to collect as much data as you can without asking the candidate. For example, if you have a person’s name and date of birth, you can get their address history. It’s unnecessary to ask them to list the last 5 addresses – it’s time consuming for the candidate, and unless you’re a UX genius, probably goes back further than the background process can even use.

Make it mobile

According to Glassdoor, 89% of job seekers say their mobile device is an important tool for job searching and 45% use it to search for jobs at least once a day. Why shouldn’t your background screening process be the same? In fact, the phone’s features may make it even easier to collect certain types of data such as photos of ID or wage information.

Use established consumer UX patterns

If you are building your own data collection process, make it easy on your candidate and use normal, established user experience buttons, fields, and other data entry models. For example, one employer’s date of residence date defaulted to 1950, and was a date picker. The candidate has to scroll forever to reach a meaningful date.

Outsource it

These requirements may sound challenging, but that is why modern background screening companies exist. Evaluate your background screening technology provider not just for their compliance, completeness, accuracy, and ease of use for the recruiter, but be sure that you get to see the candidate experience for yourself.

Candidate Information Security
Speaking of compliance, candidate information security is certainly one of the biggest topics today. You should evaluate your process to make sure all possible steps are taken to protect the sensitive Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of your candidates (and employees!)

When (and how) to ask for SSN and DOB

Aside from ensuring that your vendor is accredited and compliant with the FCRA, be sure to ask for the data security controls your vendor uses. This is especially important because the vendor must use the two most likely suspects for identify fraud, Social Security Number and Date of Birth.
Ideally, you will not ask for this information at all if you don’t need it. And you probably don’t, until the candidate enters the background screening process. So consider having that data collected only at the time of the order, or by the screening provider itself. Make sure that data is only available on a “need to know” basis, for example by ensuring that those data points are redacted or hashed out on screens and printouts.

How to ask for additional information that may come up during the process

Certain additional information may be required during the process, such as proof of employment or education, or even stranger things such as a mother’s maiden name during an international check. Be sure you have a secure method of asking for that information and providing it. But most of all explain WHY this piece of information is necessary, and what will be done with it. If you can update the candidate in a personal manner by text, phone, or message, it is preferable, but if not, customize the email template language around these items to avoid unnecessary concern for the candidate.

What to do if there’s a discrepancy – Managing candidate experience through the FCRA notifications

The worst day for every recruiter is that day that the background report for the top candidate for the senior role returns with a discrepancy. All kinds of thoughts such as “do we really have to follow our adjudication rules for this one?” come up.

Of course, the answer always comes back to communication, as well as compliance. The first response should usually be to communicate with the candidate using his or her preferred method of communication to have a quick phone call. Frequently, email exchanges can be misinterpreted. Ask the candidate about the situation, because there is many times a misunderstanding that can be clarified.

It is especially important to note that many discrepancies ARE the results of mistakes. You don’t want to jeopardize all your hard work at the candidate experience this late in the game.

Now is the time to re-communicate your commitment to the candidate experience. Explain to the candidate what will happen next in the clearest possible terms. Explain that you will be using an evaluation process to make a decision, and if the data provided prompted you to make a “no hire” decision that you’ll be sending a couple of documents that the candidate needs to review.

Remember that the FCRA still requires you to hold that position during a potential dispute, so be sure to communicate that as well. Reiterate your hope that this will all be resolved and that you are committed to handling the situation with respect and optimism!

If the worst happens, and you do have to follow up a Pre-Adverse action proceeding with an Adverse Action, don’t fail your candidate experience at the last minute. Remember, he or she still can put you on blast on social media or tell all his or her friends not to do business with your company, even IF there was a failed background.

In Summary

For the entire lifecycle of the background screening process, which usually takes one to three days, remember the Golden Rule and treat the candidate as you would want to be treated. Be kind, be honest, and follow your established compliant processes, and your top candidates will thank you for it!


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