Background Checklist

By Scott Sargis
Published In Electronic Engineering Times
April 14, 2003

With the escalating costs of employee discharge (including legal fees, replacement costs and retraining) and the increased concerns about workplace security, terrorism and sabotage, it is surprising that few employers have gone the extra mile to investigate prospective employees. Though the extra costs are minimal, the consequences of inaction are grave.

A July 17, 2001, Wall Street Journal article charged that two top executive search firms, Korn/Ferry International and SpencerStuart, failed to uncover Albert J. Dunlap’s track record. The onetime CEO at Sunbeam Corp., he was later axed, and the company sued for wrongful acts. Prompted by such increased sloppiness by some of my recruiting brethren, over the last several years, I have pursued private investigator training and will soon obtain a private investigator license.

My training has taught me that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. However, hidden skeletons are hard to uncover in our increasingly litigious society. Few will offer candid and detailed reference checks because of fear of reprisals. Though it is very tough to uncover such information, good detective work will usually prevail. The caveat is that an employer can spend a fortune investigating one employee and still not uncover all relevant information. If employers aggressively follow several simple rules, however, they should be able to ensure that the employee hired is safe.

Employers should make sure to:

  • Secure a signed disclosure from candidates authorizing the potential employer to obtain relevant information. Make sure it is properly drawn to give sufficient latitude and protection in the investigation.
  • Use experts who are well-versed in uncovering such information. Either properly train internal personnel or diligently hire outside contractors. When considering an outside source, ask for a test of their abilities.
  • In addition to thorough reference checks, insist on additional information. Start with a comprehensive summary of all addresses a candidate has lived at over the past seven years. That information can more thoroughly uncover state driving records; county civil and criminal records; state criminal records; federal civil and criminal records; and, when available, state workmen’s compensation claims. Also, require a complete physical and drug screening. This may sound like a lot of extra work, but remember: a past DUI or bankruptcy filing can point to future problems in the workplace.