If there’s one part of the pre-employment screening process that most people are familiar with, it’s the pursuit of suitable references. However, this process isn’t as straightforward as it might seem.
A reference check and an employment verification check are completely different – yet the two are often confused for one another, with potentially damaging results.
What’s the difference between a reference check and an employment history check?
An employment history check seeks confirmation from an employer that an individual did indeed work for them.
A character reference check, typically provided by a person of good standing, attests to their good character. Too often, referees are also mistakenly used to provide employment verification (something they should not be empowered to do).
Why is verification important?
Clearly, it’s important to verify the information that appears on an applicant’s CV.
Inaccuracies or omissions may be little more than human error – or they may be part of a cynical, deliberate attempt to paint a more acceptable picture of someone’s background.
Previous job roles, academic qualifications and professional memberships can be modified or embellished for personal gain or even simply fabricated. Recently, there has been an increase in the number of applicants using alibi mills to supply fraudulent references. These companies fabricate whatever information their customer requires. Some even act as an HR department on the other end of the phone to back up fake employment.
The danger of taking such information at face value lies in unwittingly inviting into the workforce someone who subsequently becomes a liability or poses a threat to your business.
Employment verification is the obvious starting point for such a check, confirming that someone did indeed work where they claimed to during the times they stated. It may also include details about salary, reasons for leaving and any disciplinary actions.
For relevant positions in a regulated industry, it may also include material that industry regulators insist is shared with other employers, such as information on training and complaints. In all such instances, best practice means verifying employment records directly with the HR department, as opposed to someone who worked with the individual.
A character reference is used to secure more subjective information about an individual’ s work performance, typically from someone who worked closely with, or managed, them. As well as being used to vouch for someone’s character, they are mandatory elements of several regulated background screening standards and can provide verification of activity during periods when an individual was neither in employment nor education.
To make such checks worthwhile however, thought should be given to verifying the credentials of the referees themselves. Are they a bonafide referee or are they merely helping out a friend and saying whatever they need them to say? Again, the potential danger of taking reference information at face value can be significant.
Wider activity checks
Such checks may form part of a wider activity check, in which we can verify all of an individual’s employment, self-employment and educational activities within a timeframe of your choosing; e.g. the past three, five or even ten years.
Where there are gaps in their history, with no educational or employment activity, a further gap analysis check can be undertaken to secure an adequate explanation, ensuring they weren’t engaged in activities that might make them a less attractive employment proposition.
Qualifications, licences and memberships
One element of background screening that’s coming under increased scrutiny involves educational and professional qualifications, licences and memberships.
Diploma mills pose a real headache. These are institutions that offer unrecognised and thus fraudulent degrees in exchange for payment and very little else. Fuelled by the internet, there has been an increase in these bodies, making worthless qualifications available to anyone willing to pay the price.
Rather than accepting all qualifications at face value, employers are advised to verify the integrity of both the qualification and the institution awarding it. Failing to do this, and subsequently hiring an unskilled, unqualified person into a highly skilled position, could have severe consequences.
Another important check in this category is the CV comparison. This exercise ensures information provided on a CV to a prospective employer matches the information provided within the background screening process. A CV comparison check prevents someone from embellishing their
CV just enough to secure an interview while being savvy enough to present their real (but less impressive) credentials during the subsequent screening.