Background Screening Paradigm Shift: Time to Embrace Database Search?


With our presidential election around the corner, both John McCain and Barack Obama are lobbing claims of flip-flopping on the issues back and forth in order to discredit the other. Considering that we have always criticized the national databases as a standalone research tool, I thought now might be a nice time to publicly do one of our own: Is it Time to Embrace the National Criminal Database Search?


The mere hint of this question might cause long time followers of our exquisite literary works (translation: endless and incessant rants), to wonder what is going on in this bizarro universe. So let’s get it out there. EmployeeScreenIQ has been opposed to conducting National Criminal Database Searches as the sole resource for a criminal background check. That position has not and will not change. Where we have become not-so-publicly enlightened up until now is the benefit of conducting such a search as a complement to a thorough criminal record search.

What Do We Mean?

The best method for revealing criminal convictions has been and will continue to be searching for records in all counties and all names where the applicant has resided, worked and attended school for at least the last seven to ten years. Since this is where most, if not all convictions that would be considered for employment (save federally prosecuted crimes) would be filed, prosecuted and stored, conducting this type of search gives you the best chance of identifying criminal records. Now, in a perfect world, it wouldn’t cost tens of thousands of dollars to conduct a county criminal record search in every county throughout the country. This would allow you to stack the odds in your favor of ensuring that if your applicant has ever been convicted of a crime that you would find it. Since we don’t live in a perfect world and organizations simply can’t afford this type of search, a standard county criminal background check will only reveal convictions if they were convicted in that particular county. If someone committed a crime in a jurisdiction that wasn’t searched, the record will not be found.

Adding a National Criminal Database Search to a comprehensive county search might reveal criminal convictions that have taken place in other jurisdictions. Might is the operative word. The scope of a database search still hasn’t changed. Databases are compiled by for-profit companies that aggregate criminal records from wherever they can get them and by whoever is willing to furnish. There is no mandate for how often information is reported, what types of information is reported and for accuracy of information. With that said, how can I make a case for adding this search as part of a thorough, accurate and compliant background check?

Establishing Rules of Engagement

If you are interested in utilizing this search, here are couple helpful tips.

  • Do not use this type of search as the sole means of identifying criminal convictions (hah! We haven’t really flip-flopped, have we?) A County Criminal Record Search is still your best bet. The database should be used as a complement to your search.
  • Do not use the presence of a record on a database search in your hiring decision. What? Yes, you heard me. The record found should be properly authenticated before it is used in the hiring decision. This means conducting a County Criminal Record Search in the county where the record has been revealed. This step will allow you to authenticate the record and ensure that it belongs to your applicant. Remember, you don’t want to use a record that doesn’t belong to your applicant, was supposed to be expunged, isn’t legally reportable, etc. Failing to adhere to this step can and most likely will get you in legal compliance hot water.
  • Understand that a lack of a reported criminal conviction on a National Database does not mean that the individual has not been convicted of a crime. While the applicant might not in fact have ever been convicted a crime, the lack of records simply means that the database did not have any records on this individual.

Show Me The Benefits!

  • When combined with a thorough County Criminal Search, National Criminal Record Searches allow you to cast a wider net and give you the opportunity to identify convictions outside of the counties of residence.
  • The price for this inexpensive search usually does not exceed the price of a single county criminal records search
  • Many National Databases have the added benefit of additional searches such as a Multi-Jurisdictional Sex Offender Registry.
  • Inexpensive Add-On
  • Instant Results when there is no presence of a record
  • Allow your organization to make a more informed and confident hiring decision.

Are There Any Drawbacks?

There can be unintended consequences of conducting these searches, but if you adhere to the advice shared above these consequences can be mitigated.

  • False Positives- Since there are little to no regulations on databases, sufficient identifiers are often missing from records making it difficult to confirm that the record belongs to your applicant. Remedy: Follow up each hit with a County Search to authenticate the record.
  • Time- While a “No Record Found” is reported instantly, the presence of a record necessitates a follow up search in the jurisdiction where the offense took place. This would seem like a minor inconvenience when a record is actually authenticated. However, because there are instances of false-positives, unreportable information, etc. the follow up just takes time to tell you that there is nothing that you can use in your hiring decision.

Who’s Flip-Flopping?

The truth is, not us. We are still adamantly opposed to using database searches as the sole source for a criminal background check. However, the National Database Search is a great value-add when coupled with a best practices countywide criminal records search. The phrase we hear most often when employers are brought into court for their employees’ alleged harmful actions is that “if you could have known, you should have known”. Conducting this inexpensive complementary search allows for greater due diligence. For more information about this service and others, please contact EmployeeScreenIQ at (800) 235-3954 or at [](

Nick Fishman is Chief Marketing Officer for Cleveland-based [EmployeeScreenIQ](, a best practices provider of employment screening services throughout the U.S. and worldwide. Nick can be reached at (800) 235-3954 ext. 441 or

For more information on the content provided in this article please use the following helpful links.

employeescreenIQ’s National Criminal Database Search
Close Doesn’t Count: Know the Rules of the Game!
The Employment Screening Value Proposition: A Primer