Investigating Candidates: Going the Extra Mile

By Scott Sargis
Published in Staffing Industry Review
April, 2004

With all the worries about security, terrorism and sabotage, staffing firms are being called upon more and more to go the extra mile in investigating new hires. Though you can spend a year and tens of thousands of dollars investigating someone and still not uncover all their skeletons, a couple extra steps and some additional expense can uncover a majority of potential problems. This value added can give you peace-of-mind and additional credibility with your clients. This article addresses several measures to assist you in this process.

Step one:
The Release

The Fair Credit Reporting Act mandates certain obligations to employers and investigative agencies. It also outlines candidate’s rights. For example, you have to disclose to the candidate the name of the agency that is going to conduct the research on this individual. Furthermore, the candidate has the right, upon written request and made within a reasonable time, to a complete and accurate disclosure of the information obtained. Therefore, you need to start the process with a properly designed release. This is done in order to protect yourself, your client and the candidate. You should contact an experienced employment attorney to formulate a document that allows you both the flexibility to obtain the needed information and the protection against liability. A sample of one is on page 51. As you can see, it includes:

  • The candidate’s rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
  • The specific purpose for which this information is being obtained (employment).
  • The needed information from the candidate to conduct the proper search (e.g. driver’s license number and social security number).
  • The candidate’s written authorization.
  • The release from liability.

All five are needed to properly conduct the search and limit your liability.

Step two:
Locating Investigative Services

Unless you are qualified to conduct your own investigations, once a release is developed, you will need to set about the task of evaluating and selecting proper investigative organizations to perform the detective work. I recommend asking each several key questions:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • How many investigative searches have you conducted over the last five years?
  • Do you have access to:
    • a) seven-year criminal records?
    • b) seven-year civil records?
    • c) workers compensation records?
    • d) driving records?
  • What methods do you use to ensure that your data is accurate and updated?
  • How many times have you be sued over the last five years? For what reasons?

Also, see if the investigative agency will offer you a free or low-cost test to see how well they perform. One test we offer potential clients is to have them provide us the name of a person with whom they are very familiar. Within 24 hours we will provide them with that person’s social security number, ten-year history of residences and date of birth.

Step three:
What Information to Gather And Why?

Over the last three years I have been working toward obtaining a private investigator license. I have undertaken this task to discover more ways to uncover candidate information and provide more value to my customers. One of the primary lessons that my training has taught is past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. However, hidden skeletons are hard to uncover in our increasingly litigious society. Few referrals offer candid and detailed reference checks due to fear of reprisals. Though it is difficult to uncover such information, good detective work will usually prevail. I have found that researching several key items and making deductive inferences from the data will usually uncover 95% of all problems. The areas I recommend checking are:

  • A seven-year criminal history. Past crimes are a strong predictor of future misdeeds. Though you can sometimes get information as far back as 10 years, seven is the industry standard. Furthermore, many federal, state and local agencies delete records after seven years.
  • A seven-year civil history. Excessive lawsuits and other related problems may point to negative character traits. These in turn may lead to problems in the workplace.
  • Bankruptcies. Though anyone can find himself in a bad financial situation that warrants a bankruptcy, this is often an indicator of poor financial management and reckless behavior. This is particularly important in executive positions, where you need a steady hand guiding the ship.
  • Driving Records. Instances of DUI’s and excess speeding tickets are also indicators of reckless behavior. This search may also uncover a lack of a license, which is particularly important if a candidate is applying for a job requiring extensive driving for the company.
  • Sex Offenses. The caveat is only 34 states have sex offender data on file. Once again, this may be an indicator of an unstable or dangerous individual.
  • Workers Compensation data. An employee’s filing a lot of claims against his employer or a history of getting hurt on the job are signs of an employee who may be an accident waiting to happen. The caveat is very few states provide this information. Some have even outlawed it altogether. Others may soon not make it accessible to the public. Right now only about 30 states offer some version of this information.

Final Thoughts And Caveats

Though following the recommended investigative steps will usually uncover most problems, there are no guarantees. Government and investigative agencies make mistakes. Therefore you need to be equally diligent in your efforts. The more information you gather the better. Being more thorough in your interviews and reference checks will increase the probability that you make the proper selection decision. If you discover a red flag in the process, then additional efforts may be needed. If you are really concerned about this candidate, it may be prudent to pass on him.

In today’s uncertain workplace, it pays to be more meticulous up front to avoid headaches down the road. The ACLU may consider these additional screening measures draconian, but if a candidate has filed numerous Workers Compensation claims, has multiple DUI’s or has been sued on numerous occasions, there is a high probability that this person will be a problem in the future. There are no simple protections, but a couple additional investigative steps can uncover a majority of potential problems. It pays to go the extra mile!