Background checking a Candidate - a snapshot of the debate

Using honesty checking as part of a recruitment campaign. There is a debate taking place within the recruitment and staffing industry around the merits of using online testing of his. We include our views and observations below which we recommend to employers who may be considering using such technology.
also if you are a candidate and are being asked to complete such a test or have been done so in the past this will give you a view from the recruitment side.
We are members of several Industry groups and participate in a number of forums. There has been a debate within the Recruitment Society about tools to sift candidates for honesty/dishonesty. In the interests of openness our main post is listed verbatim at the bottom. However we think our candidates and employers may find the trends and capabilities of online honesty / integrity testing, both available and under development, of interest.

Tools to assist employers with honesty/dishonesty checking.
Several online survey type tools exist as well as of course the well publicised stress-meter tests that are used by some Insurance companies to vet honesty of claims etc. We have some experience of these though we are not keen on them and this seems to be a view shared by other leading recruiters who also have had some experience. In terms of take up, from what we hear the US employers are the keenest advocates but there is also increasing use in the UK (not seen in NZ or Aus yet ourselves though told some use them).

Problems with such tests
Employers should however be aware that from both our own experience and also our continuing market watch of the capability of these tools that there are issues:
1. Ethics - labelling someone as honest or dishonest is quite a big statement. Can you be sure it is correct? Do you have fully 100% confidence that the tests will (a) find out those who are generally dishonest and (b) not unfairly label those who are generally honest? Also, does a small bit of exaggeration or perhaps not disclosing a potential weakness count as dishonest? Where is the threshold? You would not expect anyone to list their failures or weaknesses on their CVs and most employers, would we suggest, expect a candidate to put their best foot forward and heavily promote their strengths. When does this become dishonest? How would an automated tool be able to determine this?

2. Science - when developing such tools it seems to be difficult to be able to test against a control group who would be lying. Indeed much of the debate we are seeing suggests to us that this aspect of the science is still very much open to challenge. Put simply it seems that the reliability may well be open to question. If it cant be relied on 100% then there is in our view a major problem with using such tests. Our observation of this debate within the international recruitment consulting industry with reputable recruiters shows that many have this concern and are not keen on such tests.

3. Discrimination, Privacy - this is a major concern to employers (let alone candidates). Legislation round the world is making it (a) more onerous and (b) employers more accountable for decisions round who gets hired and why. For instance would an employer be happy to advise a candidate that due to the results of an online test that the candidate had been determined as dishonest and hence not able to go forward to the position? lf so, what would happen with this data, what would the implications be if it leaked and the candidate found themselves disadvantaged in other business areas or with other employers, would the employer be open to challenge and possible liablity?

Possible solution - way forward
Backgound / provenance checking alternative. A professionally conducted background check can pick out blatant untruths or falsehoods in a CV. It can also look into references more thoroughly. This is indeed the approach we prefer. Candidates would be advised as part of the initial registration process that they would be required to undergo such a check by a registered professional investigations agency and be advised they will be asked/required to give their consent to such a check before any appointment. Interesting our experience at an anecdotal level suggests there is more of a drop off in candidate interest initially when this approach is taken (we suggest that this may well in itself filter candidates whom are aware that their CV would not stand up to such a check and who then withdraw).

For the employer the costs are quite reasonably if done with a short list. It is fact-based, as it seeks to verify the candidates written CV and stated past and is thus we would suggest is a much more comfortable position for employers when taking decisions on staffing. We do very much understand the legitimate reasons why employers want to check their prospective staff. Recruiting forums are full of info about the estimates of the number of candidate CVs which in the recruiters view cross the line re exaggeration and into untruths. For our part we will continue to represent what is currently only a very few of our employers who do use them administered through their own HR resources - especially where we receive no candidate complaints - but will in all cases recommend that they move to alternatives such as the background checking model.

For candidates the message is clear. Dont lie on your CV. Make sure it can all stand up to an independent audit. More and more employers are keen to ensure that they dont make a costly hiring mistake and are taking steps in the recruitment process to mitigate this risk. If you are asked to complete an online honesty test (may also be called an integrity test) be aware what the employer is really concerned about. If you really are not happy consider if this company is right for you.

Post on Recruitment Society Blog-------------------------------------------------------------
I have been subject to an automated integrity test myself and also as a client myself had to recruit my staff subject to the same test. I never really got to grips with the supposed science but would agree with the thrust of comments that they are somewhat spurious and manifestly unfair as they will in my view inevitably result in honest candidates falling foul.

However given that many CVs contain exaggeration (some even lies) the problem needs addressed. My own exp and view is that doing a full background check for the final candidates can be a worthwhile expense. This is however a specialist job and one ill suited to a recruitment agency both in terms of conflicts of interest, temperament and also legals. Having just moved to New Zealand and set up my practice I have retained the services of a firm of investigators, all ex-police, who go through the CV with a fine tooth comb. Here (and as I understand it this applies also in the UK) privacy laws require anything other than a cursory sweep to be done by licensed specialists. In costs terms it is my view quite affordable and when explained to clients they get it and understand why a specialist is needed for this work and that it is a very cost effective safeguard. Clearly you would not want to do on a large scale but pre last round of interviews it makes sense.

As an aside on campaigns where this was included and we upfront explained to candidates that such a search will be done before appointment it was interesting to see that some candidates fell off the radar and pulled out when otherwise we would have expected them to go the distance (appreciating that this is an anecdotal observation only). I have also had some who after being advised very quickly told us their CV was out of date and resubmitted. I would suggest this route to the one of using any automated tool.