How to Collect Information on Your Applicants
August 26, 2008
It’s a common misconception that the only information required to perform a background check is a person’s name and social security number – that these two pieces of data will provide you with everything you would ever need or want to know about an applicant. While those are two very important pieces of information when it comes to checking your applicant’s background, additional information is required to find other pieces of information that may be of interest to you. Employers should always endeavor to verify information provided by the applicant by cross checking it with official documentation.
Name and Social Security Number
As stated, the applicant’s name and social security number are key components to any thorough background check. The SSN trace provides a 7-10 year address history for your applicant so we know in what jurisdictions to conduct the criminal check and under what name (or names if aliases are found on the trace as well). Employers should capture this information directly from the applicant’s SSN card to ensure the accuracy of the name and number your applicant is providing to you.
Date of Birth
Once our researchers walk through the door of that courthouse, the importance of the SSN with regards to finding any criminal records somewhat diminishes. Most courts have stricken SSN’s from public access terminals due to the risk of identity theft. And if you search only by name, you could come up with a multitude of false positives (think Joseph Smith, Michael Jones – all very common names). Most courts will not even allow researchers to conduct the criminal check with this limited information. SSN’s may be used as additional identifiers on criminal records but in most cases is not a search method for locating the information. That is where your applicant’s date of birth comes into play. Most courts classify their records by a person’s name and DOB – not name and SSN as many might think.
Dates of birth are vital to the background screening process. Obtaining your applicants date of birth is extremely important so as to identify the record and confirm that it does belong to your applicant and not another person. Our recommendation is to obtain this information from an official record, such as a birth certificate, passport, or any other document issued by a state or federal institution. While we would all like to believe every applicant that we interview is being 100% truthful, there will always be those few that will give you a different month, day, or year (or all three!), so you will not find that felonious assault charge they know exists.
All states issue a license number to those who are legally allowed to operate a motor vehicle in their state. License numbers are different for every single person and information about the holder of that license is classified by the license number. So, the only effective method to run a motor vehicle check on your applicant would be to obtain your applicants drivers license number and state of issue and authenticate it with a copy of the applicant’s actual license.
Just a side note – a state ID card is NOT the same as a driver’s license. They may look the same, depending on the state, but they are most certainly not. A state ID card is not a license to drive so there would be no driving history found if we were to attempt to run a state ID number in the motor vehicle check. So, when obtaining a copy of your applicant’s driver’s license, make sure it is a driver’s license and not a state ID card (and if you can’t tell, just ask!)
Education / Employment Information
I can’t tell you how easy it would be for pre-employment screeners if there was a one stop shop for all information pertaining to your applicants educational and employment history. That there exists one phone number to call, one website to check, or one place to mail a request to obtain this information with only a name and SSN as the search criteria. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case and we don’t see that being the case anytime soon. So, this is information your applicant will have to provide to you on their own whether by resume or your company’s application. If you want to be extra careful, ask to see transcripts from the school(s) they attended or W-2 forms from their previous employers. Either way you get it, rest assured that our staff will call the institution directly to verify the information provided and get the real story.
If you are hiring a doctor, nurse, lawyer, CPA, etc., those are positions that require a state license to practice. It is extremely beneficial to obtain the most information you can from your applicant regarding their professional license. The best practice would be to, again, have the applicant provide you with a copy of the license. If for some reason they cannot provide it, the minimal information required to see if this person does in fact have a license to practice in their field would be their name, type of license, and state of issue. But the more information you have (license number, date of issue, date of expiration, etc.), the quicker the verification will be completed.
The Consequences of Erroneous Information
Should your applicant provide you with any erroneous information, we will sometimes be able to catch it. If the SSN or drivers license doesn’t trace, we’ll know and contact you for clarification. If your applicant claimed receipt of a particular degree or that he worked for a particular company but neither actually occurred, we’ll be able to confirm that from the school and the former employer. But what if your applicant’s name is spelled wrong or the date of birth provided is not correct? Well, that is something we won’t know and throws everything off balance with regards to the criminal check which many consider to be the “jackpot” of the search. For example, if your applicant’s name is Michael Jones but he tells you his name is Michael Janes, we won’t find any possible criminal records for your applicant with that misspelling. Our court researchers go into the courthouse and search court records with the name provided. So, if Michael Jones has a burglary charge and our researcher is searching the name Michael Janes, the record will not be found. If the spelling is just a little bit off (Michael Jones vs. Micael Jones), we may still catch it but there is no guarantee. If name is spelled correctly but the DOB is a little off (11/12/1950 vs.11/12/1951), we may still catch that as well and go back to you to confirm the DOB (but of course, no guarantee). But if the DOB provided is drastically different that what the true DOB is, all bets are off and you will not receive an accurate criminal history report on your applicant. Not to mention, an incorrect name and/or DOB will provide inaccurate results for additional services, such as the Sex Offender Registry, Homeland Security Search, OIG/GSA search, etc.
Double checking the information provided to you by your applicant from official documents is the best practice to ensure that the background check you will be receiving at the end of the day is an accurate portrayal of your applicant’s history. Should erroneous information be discovered after the fact, we are always happy to re-run the search for you. But it is definitely in your best interest to make certain that all pieces of information are as accurate as possible so as not to incur any additional cost or turnaround time for your applicant’s background check.
Natalie Beck is Project Coordinator for Cleveland-based EmployeeScreen IQ, a best practices provider of pre-employment screening services throughout the U.S. and worldwide. Natalie can be reached at (800) 235-3954 ext. 459 or by email at email@example.com.
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