With background screening, the products and solutions offered can be a bit nuanced. Those unfamiliar with the industry may be surprised to know that a background check is rarely derived from a single source. In fact, a single background screening package can draw from a number of databases and institutions, requiring both manual and digital data retrieval.
It isn’t like what you may imagine from watching James Bond where the push of a button brings every known record, photo, and meaningful correspondence involving a given individual to the computer screen. In real life, the file researcher has much more responsibility.
Given the variety of solutions and the segmentation of available data, it can be easy for organizations to think they are getting one thing from their screening vendor (and at a good price) while they are actually getting something much less comprehensive.
We want to help educate the best we can so hiring managers and other personnel know the right questions to ask when qualifying and selecting a screening partner.
Important Things to Be Aware Of
After enough communication with current and prospective clients large and small, certain things tend to come to the surface. Here are the top three disconnects we have found between client expectations and provider execution.
1. Not Going Directly to the Source
There are two general source types for criminal data— online databases and actual government courthouses.
While databases provide useful insights and act as a net to gather a wider range of information (geographically speaking), they, like nets, have holes. Criminal databases receive their information from the courts, and some courts are more diligent at reporting to them than others. It’s not uncommon for criminal records databases to have incomplete, outdated, or missing information.
For this reason, it is recommended practice for organizations to include county criminal searches in their employee background checks (at least the current county of residence—ideally the past 7 years of counties). These searches reinforce a nationwide database search by sourcing information from the courts themselves. Court searches work to ensure accuracy and compliance with the FCRA— but add cost. If your vendor is simply providing a database search, you will likely save dollars, but records may be slipping through the cracks.
2. Statewide Database vs Statewide Repository
There is a difference between a statewide database search and a statewide repository search. While not all states have a repository, those that do are likely much more diligent at reporting to the repository than they are to any other database. For this reason, many organizations that require criminal screening at both the state and national level, require (if applicable) a statewide repository search. However, providing a statewide database search in its place would allow vendors to offer a lower price.
3. “Felony” vs “Federal”
Here is something that many people would be surprised to learn:
Not all felonies are federal crimes and not all federal crimes are felonies.
In the United States, we are governed by laws at both the state and federal levels. States tend to mirror many of the same laws as the federal government such as homicide, assault, theft, etc.
On occasions when certain federal laws are broken or when crimes are committed across state lines, the crime may be processed in one of our nation’s 94 Federal District Courts. These crimes don’t have to be felonies, they just have to qualify as a federal crime.
The word “felony” still applies to local courts. Even egregious crimes can be processed at the county level and never make their way to a federal courthouse. If your organization seeks to obtain insights from the federal courts, there is a specific screening product that addresses that need. Some vendors may label a product as a “National Felony Search” or “Comprehensive Felony Search,” and to the confusion of some, will likely not involve a search of the federal courts. In fact, those names may just be another way of saying “Nationwide Database Search,” which as we have discussed, isn’t all that comprehensive as a stand-alone product.
For organizations or personnel who are implementing a new employment screening process, there is a little bit of a learning curve. In our estimation, it is the responsibility of the provider to educate clients to the best of their ability in order to cut down on confusion and offer the optimal solution. While low prices may be alluring (especially if you’re anticipating high order volumes) they might be an indication you aren’t getting the value you think you are. Before you select a package and run with it, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting.
Ask your vendor (or prospective vendor) if their approach to a nationwide court search is just simply a database search with no additional counties. If you require a statewide repository search, make sure you aren’t just getting a simple statewide database search. Lastly, don’t confuse verbiage like “Comprehensive Felony Search” or “National Felony Search” for “Federal Court Search.” Federal court records are a different consideration altogether.
When it comes to finding a good screening partner, transparency is key.
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