Hello! I’m Traci Ivester, Chief Operating Officer at ClearStar, and this is the next installment of For The Public Record—a blog that features thought leadership from the most seasoned experts at ClearStar, across all functions of the background screening process.
As an industry veteran who remembers the years before Y2K and the start of the new millennium, I also remember the days of Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs)—or background screening companies—“digging up” information on an applicant and reporting it with little to no regard for the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and no genuine concern about providing employers with the highest possible accuracy. Basically, we’d find information and we’d report it.
Fast forward to today. Fortunately, with increased awareness, industry-specific organizations, and more informed applicants, the game has changed. The largest shift came from greater enforcement of the FCRA by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and now the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). This has forced background screening companies to put greater checks and balances in place and create compliance policies and procedures that rarely existed in the past.
As a background screening company, our top client is now the applicant. Why?
We Can Make or Break an Applicant’s Future
We are entrusted with an applicant’s personal, private information. We must remember that we have a great impact on each applicant’s future employment opportunities, job promotions, and even their ability to volunteer in their communities.
We Are an Employer’s First Impression
One of the first experiences an applicant has with an employer is with the background screening company they selected. The applicant’s experience will be seen as a reflection of the employer’s policies and a quick, painless process could make all the difference.
So, how should your background screening provider treat the applicant?
Your provider should be open and informative with your applicants throughout the background screening process. We put many required notices, disclosure/authorization/consent forms, and other documents in front of them before the process even starts. It’s a lot of information to read and absorb, and I would guess that most applicants don’t thoroughly read through it all before clicking “I accept.” While we cannot change these requirements, as a CRA, we should have the proper tools in place to help applicants understand and navigate the complexities of background screening in today’s world.
Many applicants are now providing their PII (personally identifiable information) through online screening portals and mobile devices. While this is good for all parties because it expedites the screening process by reducing the burden on the employer to provide the necessary information and improving the accuracy of the data collected, does your CRA further improve the process by providing an easily-accessible support system for applicants that may face challenges with the technology involved?
What about incomplete or missing information? Does your CRA reach out to the applicant to facilitate the collection of data while explaining the impact it has on the completion of the background check? Or, is the background check simply being returned to you with insufficient information, causing your candidate to have to start over? How can you make an informed decision if you don’t have all the information you rely on from your provider?
As a third-party provider, it is our duty to follow a solid best practice policy before releasing any information that could adversely affect the applicant. However, if a criminal record is reported, it is important to make the experience as easy and positive as possible, or employers risk losing good talent.
If a criminal record is reported, ask yourself:
- Has your provider given you a thorough process to be followed in the event of an applicant dispute? (This is so important. If your CRA cannot provide you the dispute process in writing, that’s a red flag and you should look for another CRA fast!)
- Does your provider offer you the technology to send required adverse action notices?
- When an applicant contacts your provider to inquire about their background check, is your provider helping your applicant understand the dispute process, informing them of the information needed, and providing a timeline for each step taken and how they will be updated throughout the dispute process?
Treating an applicant like a client adds value for all parties involved. It helps protect the applicant through respect of their data and transparency throughout the screening process and it helps the employer make a good first impression and the most informed hiring decision possible. There may be CRAs out there who disagree, who remain only on the side of the employer, but in my opinion, their clients—employers and applicants alike—are missing out on the rewarding business opportunities that can come from a simple shift in focus. This is for the record.