When Should I Run a Background Check on a Job Candidate?

Background Check

Employers use background checks to gather a variety of information about their job candidates so they can make informed hiring decisions. Criminal background checks, drug tests, professional and personal reference checks, education and employment verifications, social media checks and more are all part of a savvy employer’s background check toolkit.

Employers can run background checks at a variety of times during the hiring process. Here’s the best time to run pre-employment background checks.

When Should Employers Run Pre-Employment Background Checks?

The best time to run a background check during the hiring process is after a conditional job offer has been shared with a candidate, but before their employment is finalized.

Some employers like to run checks on all applicants that go through the interview process. Their logic is that getting a head start on these screenings will save time once they’re ready to extend an offer, since they’ll already know if their top pick has been disqualified based on their screening results. However, there are several reasons why you shouldn’t take this approach.

Here’s why you shouldn’t you a conduct background check before extending a job offer.

  1. It may be illegal to run a background check if you haven’t offered your candidate the job.
    This is primarily a result of ban-the-box laws, which prohibit employers from asking about a candidate’s criminal history as part of the application process. These laws still allow employers to conduct pre-employment background checks, but they can’t be run until a candidate is interviewed or until the employer has offered a candidate the job. The specific limitations outlined by ban-the-box laws vary from state to state and city to city, so be sure to read up on your area’s laws. SHRM provides information about city and state ban-the-box laws that we recommend referencing as a starting point in your research.

    Laws impacting background screening can change frequently. Be sure to consult your organization’s legal counsel when deciding when and how background checks will be used as part of your hiring process to make sure you’re compliant with all applicable laws.

  2. Running extra background checks can get expensive.
    If you background check candidates before you know if you even want them on your team, you’re wasting your money. You wouldn’t buy 10 tickets to a movie when you know you’re only bringing one person to the theater, so why would you pay for checks on people you never plan on hiring?

    Consider this: some statistics say the average interview-to-hire ratio — or the number of candidates an employer interviews before hiring one — in the U.S. is around 14:1 (on the low end). That means the average employer will have to interview 14 job candidates before hiring a person for the role. Why spend 14 times more on background screening than you need?

  3. It may send the wrong message to candidates
    Candidates — especially those who are used to only being subject to a background check after they’ve received a conditional job offer — may be confused or put off by such an early background check.

    They may feel like they’re being subject to unnecessary or inappropriate screening considering the stage they’re at in the hiring process, or they may assume that a job offer is imminent. Should they not get the job offer, they may walk away with a bad taste in their mouth for your organization and your hiring process — especially if they had a clean background.

How Can I Get Background Check Results Faster?

Back to the big reason employers like to conduct checks on candidates before they’re ready to send a job offer: speed. We understand why employers want background check completed by the time they’re ready to extend an offer. The sooner the background screening process is completed, the sooner you can get welcome a new person to your team.

Luckily, waiting until you’ve shared a conditional job offer to start a background check doesn’t have to be as time consuming as you may fear. If you work with a background screening provider with a record of conducting fast background checks, like JDP, you can get your background check results faster than you think. The turnaround time of any background check, from any provider, will be at least partially influenced by the type of information you’re seeking and where that information is coming from. While there’s no guaranteed standard for how quickly you can get background check results because of variables outside of any background check provider’s control, at JDP, a national criminal background check is typically completed in less than one business day.

The big takeaway? Wait until you’ve extended a conditional job offer to one candidate before you run a background check. Doing so will help you maintain compliance, save money and give candidates a more positive experience with your organization.

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