Costs of Pre-Employment Background Checks
May 23, 2007
The most common question asked by potential customers is "what is the cost of doing a background check"? The answer is never easy. But let’s start with a few basics. First and foremost, the price charged for a background check is most commonly attributed to anticipated or demonstrated volume and the types of services ordered. Volume meaning the more background checks you order, the better the price. Services ordered can vary. Some clients just do a basic criminal check while others order criminal checks, employment verifications, etc.
Now comes the more challenging part of the equation: the apples to apples comparison. The most common differentiating factor in the nebulous term "background check" is how criminal convictions are sought: County Criminal Records, State Repositories (if and where available) and commercial databases. The best method for obtaining thorough and accurate search is to conduct an in-person county criminal record search wherever your applicant has resided, worked or gone to school over at least the last seven years. The county level is where the overwhelming majority of convictions that matter to employers occur and give you the best chance of finding information. This method usually takes the most time (1-4 days on average) and is the most expensive method. State repositories can be hit and miss for a number of reasons. Most states cannot mandate that their county courts report information, how often they report it or what types of information they report. Normal institution tells you that the larger the sampling size, the better chance you have of finding more. Unfortunately, that intuition is based on the fallacy that the larger sampling size is just as thorough and accurate as the smaller one. Lastly, there are commercial databases, the quickest and cheapest method for obtaining a criminal background check. Also, the most unreliable (see article on national criminal database searches). Commercial databases rely on various reporting agencies willingness to provide or sell data. Such sources can include corrections facilities, some county courthouses, some state sponsored sites. There can be as many holes in these databases as there are in swiss cheese. Having said that, statewide and database searches can be a good compliment to the county search, just not a good primary method.
Having said all of that, the buyer needs to make the age old decision: time vs. quality (accuracy) vs. cost. And there are other factors to be considered here: how much time, money and energy would be spent defending a negligence claim for not utilizing a proper screening tool? How can I put a price tag on the negative publicity from one incident in the workplace? These are questions only a buyer can answer, but when you think about the aforementioned factors you are armed with the tools you need to make an informed decision. Kind of like the results of a background check.