Why do employers want to know more about your background? Why are background checks a required component of most employment screening process? Don't the resume, the job application, and the interview say everything that needs to be said about an applicant?
These are questions that job hunters often ponder when prospective employers ask them to sign off on a personal background check. Quite simply, the average person just doesn't understand why a Human Resources department needs to go digging through their past before making a hiring decision. The eight reasons provided below should help to explain why background checks are so important to most employers.
One of the biggest reasons that employers want to look into your background is a simple matter of safety. If an employer hires someone they don't know very much about, they risk bringing a violent criminal, a sexual predator, or some other dangerous individual into their fold. As such, background checks help to protect a business's customers and existing personnel from potential threats.
In addition to threatening the safety of employees and customers, hiring a dangerous criminal (or hiring someone not fit to perform the job at hand) can put a business in the line of fire themselves. Say a company is filling a number of delivery driver positions for the holiday season. These are temporary seasonal workers, so the business decides to skip background checks in the interest of saving money and expediting the process.
Then, on a delivery a few days before Christmas, one of the delivery drivers gets in an accident resulting in the death or serious injury of another driver. When the police show up, they not only find that the driver was driving while intoxicated, but that he also has two previous DUIs on his record. In a case like this, the business can be held liable for the accident because they didn't do their due diligence in screening the driver. Negligent hiring lawsuits of this ilk can be incredibly costly, and can also destroy a company's public image.
Especially for jobs that involve the handling of finances or money, companies will run background checks to protect themselves from fraud, embezzlement, theft, or even just poor money management. A background check can not only spot financial crimes, but it can also pull up an applicant's credit history and provide insight on that person's ability to manage money. In situations like these, the business is running background checks as a sort of insurance policy to make sure that its own assets are in good hands.
As you probably know, searching for a new job can be a stressful experience. The time it takes to fill out applications, send resumes, write cover letters, and go in for job interviews is time that you aren't making money—something that can be scary if you're already in a tight spot financially.
Believe it or not, employers are in a very similar situation. Between the time it takes for hiring managers to review applications and conduct interviews, the stress of operating a business without a full staff, and the learning curve faced by new hires, employers suffer a loss of both money and productivity when they have to fill a vacant position. Needless to say, employers don't want to have to go through the same process again in a few months. For the good of their company and their sanity, hiring managers need to find a new hire who will stick. By providing more information about applications, background checks provide better hiring peace of mind.
Bottom line, many applicants are not honest on their applications or resumes these days. Some take small liberties, like making a job title sound more impressive than it actually was. Others lie about the jobs they've worked, the schools they went to, the degrees or professional licenses they hold, and other factors. Background checks help to verify resume information, thereby separating the liars from the honest applicants.
Many applicants tell a fib or two on their resumes, but almost all job searchers put on a bit of a show in their interviews. In a job interview, applicants want to show off all of their best qualities while simultaneously hiding the less flattering ones. A job interview, in other words, is a performance, and background checks can help separate the real person from the character. For instance, someone who comes across as the friendliest guy in the world in an interview may have been fired from his last job for being rude and difficult to work with. A background check process that includes reference checks and calls to old employers can uncover that information and make it a factor in the hiring process.
Jobs in the medical or legal professions—as well as certain others—require special licenses and certifications. It's up to an employer to make sure the people they hire have all of the credentials that are legally required for the job in question, and a background check that verifies education, work experience, and professional certification is the best way to do that.
Ultimately, asking why an HR department wants to know more about your background before offering you a job is like asking why an employer wants to see your resume, or why you have to do an interview. In the end, the employment process is all about businesses getting to know their applicants and deciding which ones are a good fit for the job in question. From spotting criminal historyto verifying work and education all the way to finding out what previous employers have to say about you, background checks give employers all of the information they need to make an educated decision on whether or not to hire you.
About the Author
Michael Klazema has been developing products for pre-employment screening and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com. He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.