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Evaluating employee background check software? Look for these features

Find out why users say reporting capabilities and vendor support are critical in employee background check software selection.

Most organizations conduct employee background checks to ensure they don't hire the wrong people -- people who could potentially hurt their business, employees or customers. In fact, running background checks on job candidates is so critical that almost seven out of 10 organizations conduct criminal background checks on all potential employees, according to a 2012 survey from the Society for Human Resources Management.

While companies understand the importance of performing checks on prospective new hires, it can be a challenge to select the employee background check software that best meets their business needs. And even after a choice has been made, planning for effective implementation and ongoing use adds complexity.

But that's where these tips, compiled from user and expert advice, can help. Read on to discover the capabilities to look for in background check systems, as well as advice on successful implementation.

Reporting and support key capabilities of employee background check software

To Petra Fetters, director of HR and recruitment at BDS Marketing Inc. in Irvine, Calif., there really aren't significant differences in the data provided by the slate of background screening vendors.

"We've been using TalentWise for the past four years, and they're amazing. Before that I had experience with a lot of different vendors. They all have access to the courthouses . . . so the turnaround time really doesn't change when you go from company to company," Fetters said. "It's [really] a matter of their speed in terms of customer support." That means organizations assessing employee background check software vendors should ensure that a prospective provider has a solid client service team -- and ideally, representatives who are dedicated to each specific customer, she said. She explained that she has found catch-all 800-number help lines to be ineffective in the past.

The vendor should also have reporting capabilities, Fetters said. "They should be providing you reports on a quarterly basis, at least, about what the turnaround time is on your background checks, on your credit checks, on your drug screens, [as well as] the number of red flags you have [and] the states or areas that take the longest."

Companies should also ask the provider if, under its contract, it is "held harmless," said Trisha Zulic, director of HR at Efficient Edge, a San Diego-based benefits administration services provider. This concerns the vendor's liability in the event a background check excludes important information -- such as a felony -- and there are workplace incidents or other problems down the line due to the incomplete report.

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Inquiring after the vendor's processes is also worthwhile. "You should also ask what the process is for the vendor to gather the necessary records," Zulic said. "Is it automated or is it manual -- because certain records are only paper-based. And if it's manual, what does that look like? [Also], ask about the percentage of accuracy of the vendor's background checks and what [their] consumer satisfaction rating is."

Zulic recommended getting customer referrals, but not from the vendor. "You don't want a list of the referrals the vendor offers because [they'll] say the vendor is great. Go out on LinkedIn and put out a blast asking who's used this company, and then ask for [their] feedback," she said.

Additionally, BDS Marketing's Fetters said the vendor should provide a dashboard that is easy to navigate so business leaders can see how background checks are progressing. "For example, if I open a Dashboard, I can see my list of 20 or 30 background checks in process, how they're all moving [along]," she said. "So, [I] have visibility and transparency into what stage of the process each background check is in."

Integration between ATS and employee background-check technology optimal

When it comes to implementing background check software, the provider usually partners with human resources to get the job done. But that doesn't mean companies should simply defer to the vendor to tell them what to do.

"You want to ensure you have a dedicated project coordinator working directly with your background check company," Fetters said. "And make sure your project coordinator or team has a list of what's most important to your company." A good background check provider should determine with each customer what the specific needs are, then they should work together to customize any dashboards, she said.

Integration is also an important consideration. "The background check solution should integrate with your applicant tracking system," Fetters said. "That's critical, or else you're going to be double-inputting your information."

There are three models for the way companies implement employee background check technology, according to Jason Averbook, chief business innovation officer at San Francisco-based consultancy Appirio.

"The most optimal is completely integrated, so a manager should never have to enter information into a piece of technology -- it's all done by the applicant," he said. "The minute the applicant enters the information, it flows through completely to the applicant tracking system, out to the background check provider and back into the applicant tracking system, and the person gets hired without anyone else ever entering that person's name or information. That's the holy grail of how to think about integration."

The second version is what Averbook called the "poor man's model." In this option, the company would have background checks conducted by a vendor independently of its applicant tracking system. "Then you would wait for that [background check provider] to come back with the information on the candidate, enter that information into a system and be able to make an offer," he said. "No integration, no interfaces."

The third way is for a company to do the background checks on its own, Averbook said.

But which of the three paths a company chooses typically depends on the size of the organization. "A larger enterprise would hopefully move more toward to that holy grail model, [and] smaller businesses are doing whatever works," Averbook said. "But those are the three levels: automated, semi-automated and manual."

About the author:
Linda Rosencrance has written about technology for more than 10 years and has been a reporter for more than 20 years. A former Computerworld reporter, she is a freelance writer in Massachusetts and an author of several true-crime books.

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