Over the past 10 years I have conducted hundreds upon hundreds of background checks. By “background check” I don’t mean the cheap background check your employer has probably completed on you. I am talking about the “leave no stone unturned” background checks that cost clients thousands and thousands of dollars.
As you may imagine, I am a big proponent of conducting background checks, but they are often misunderstood.
Like everything else, they do have problems.
Here are five problems with background checks:
1) Not everything will be found
If you stole lunch money from your friend in the 7th grade, it’s not going to found. Likewise, if you inhaled once at a sorority party in college, that’s probably not going to be found either. This may seem completely ridiculous, but I have been asked about both of these things before.
Background checks rely on public records; things like stolen lunch money records and sorority party attendance and drug inventory are not included. Of course, interviews may reveal some information about you not available in the public record, but interviews are only really conducted with a complete background check with interviews which, more likely than not, is beyond the normal scope of a background check.
2) Databases have errors
Background checks rely on databases that gather information from millions of public records. But these databases have errors.
You will find hundreds of articles of employees not getting jobs because they have been incorrectly linked to some criminal offense they did not commit. In the other extreme, we have shown that a popular online background check did not reveal a lengthy criminal history.
Errors are obviously are problem, but the bigger problem is the some background check providers rely strictly on databases and do not obtain any source documents from local repositories to confirm the existence of these records, even with serious criminal offenses.
The solution is to utilize a combination of databases and onsite checks at local repositories. The problem is that many providers don’t do this because of cost.
3) Common names are very challenging
Ever try finding some information on John Smith, Michael Williams, Jennifer Johnson or Barbara Jones?
Common names are extremely difficult, in part because most public records are not linked by a unique identifier such as your date of birth or social security number. In some cases you will find that many individuals with the same name are all mixed together or worse, have the same exact name AND middle initial.
Even the most experienced investigators have problems with common names. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. If you want to be comprehensive, you have make your way through thousands of records; a manual, time consuming process.
4) Past performance does not necessarily predict future results
This year’s top-performing mutual funds aren’t necessarily going to be next year’s best performers.The SEC has required the above statement on materials provided by the industry to tell investors that a fund’s past performance does not necessarily predict future results.
This is similar to a background check. Because someone has not committed a crime in the past, doesn’t mean they will in the future. And because someone has filed for Bankruptcy doesn’t mean that they are going to do it again.
Historical bankruptcies, financial difficulties, criminal acts, a litigious past, misrepresentations and regulatory sanctions can be indicators of potential problems down the road.
But while a background check may provide some clues to the future, it’s not a crystal ball.
5) Background checks are fact based material…you make your own interpretation
Background checks by nature are fact-based material, culled from public sources. Things like whether a person has been involved in lawsuits, if they have any criminal records or have filed for bankruptcy will be included in the report.
Any background check worth it’s weight, will not provide any opinions based on the findings. It is what it is. The records speak for themselves.
The problem is that you have to make your own interpretation. Some white lies on a resume may not mean all that much to you, but they can be an indicator of other deeper lies.
The background check report will not tell you that the person is a compulsive liar, but it will tell you that they falsified their degree and did not put on their resume that they were president of a company that went bankrupt. You need to make your own judgment if you want to be in business with that kind of person.
So there are five common problems with background checks. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to leave your thoughts below.