Electronic employment screening (EES) is preemployment assessment using any electronic hardware or software, including the Internet. EES is typically conducted by employers or others with whom the employer contracts. For practitioners, EES includes electronic applications, resume scanning and tracking, online interviewing and videoconferencing, and electronic database access for inquiries into applicants’ backgrounds. These background assessments include, but are not limited to, identity checks (Social Security number and fingerprint verification), credit and criminal histories, workers’ compensation claim history, and specialty database queries, such as anti-theft lists.
The use of EES has expanded geometrically primarily due to the widespread availability and increasing number of preemployment services. EES offers speed, thoroughness, efficiency, impartiality, and significantly more information. Human resource screening, electronic or not, is receiving increasing attention in all sectors. Organizations have found that a competitive advantage can be achieved through human resource strategies designed to recruit, select, and hire the best candidates for available positions, while eliminating those that pose potential risk or liability. Global competition ensures that the necessity for thorough screening will continue to offer challenges for practitioners.
Research indicates that many, if not most, applicants provide some degree of false information. In fact, the Society for Human Resource Managers estimated that from 40 percent to 70 percent of job applicants enhance their personal work histories. The experience of September 11, 2001, brought to the forefront the seriousness of screening—and not just for airlines. Traditional, non-electronic screening for security clearances can take as long as one year. Using electronic systems significantly shortens this time delay and reduces backlogs. All entities involved in transportation plus those traditionally charged with scrutiny, such as security, health care, youth-related, and residential management organizations, are obliged to expand their background investigations of both prospective and current employees. The relatively recent proliferation of negligent-hiring lawsuits and attendant damages also elevates the value and necessity of thorough screening. Consequently, credentialing, the process of screening and evaluating applicant qualifications and credentials, including required education and training, licensure, and certifications, is receiving well-deserved attention.
As more and more organizations develop Web sites, they are increasingly offering—and sometimes require all job seekers to complete—electronic job applications. The purpose of this requirement is twofold. First, paperwork is significantly reduced. Second, integrated human resource software systems can be updated immediately and background investigations begun.
Whether or not resumes are submitted electronically or in hard copy, many organizations are increasingly utilizing resume scanning and tracking systems. Resumes are scanned into computer databases, which can later be queried for applicants with specific qualifications. That is, organizations are accumulating inventories of resumes that are immediately accessible. Some companies use text searching or artificial intelligence software to track the resumes. Key words from job descriptions can be matched with applicants’ scanned resumes, identifying and often even ranking the job candidates. Current descriptions of these processes in the popular press note the advantages of impartiality and reduction in human errors and/or omissions. Job applicants are cautioned to adhere to certain design restrictions in developing their resumes; they can be scanned most accurately on plain white paper, without bolding, italics, or underlining formats.
Although most job applicants’ references are checked via telephone or in writing, some organizations do visit the Web sites of companies listed as previous employers to identify and find other sources that might have valuable information about job candidates.
Increasingly, companies are conducting interviews and testing electronically. Work simulations and other tests for both job skills and honesty are often conducted electronically via the computer. Some computerized honesty tests record not only the job applicant’s choice but also the time it takes to make that choice (response time). The inference is that if faced with an ethical dilemma, hesitation might indicate dishonest tendencies. There are also national anti-theft databases containing names of workers who have been prosecuted for theft or who have admitted to it.
In the last 10 years, organizations have increasingly outsourced background investigations to firms specializing in preemployment information and/or fraud detection services. These third-party companies conduct background searches for job applicants in varying depth and do so relatively inexpensively and quickly. However, it should be noted that legal liability for accuracy and depth is not alleviated through this outsourcing. Electronic databases are queried regarding workers’ compensation claims, credit histories, conviction and traffic records, and identity confirmation. Only government agencies and selected private sector industries such as transportation, banking, brokering, and gambling have access to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Information Center for fingerprints and known terrorists.
Federal and state laws regulate the inquiry into and the use of information regarding criminal histories. Employers should seek information only about the conviction of felonies. The Federal Aviation Administration and the Food and Drug Administration require criminal checks to prevent bioterrorism.
All employers should pay close attention to some caveats about the use of electronic databases in employment screening. Databases are often inaccurate and incomplete. Experts in the field recommend that Web searches be backed up with telephone confirmations. For instance, a person may have been found not guilty of a crime but the court-ordered expunging of the alleged criminal activity failed to take place. Thus, a candidate might improperly receive a negative search report. There is a dearth of reliable national and state criminal databases necessitating access to county court records, many of which are not available electronically. Job applicants often move out of the county in which they encountered difficulty, thus requiring background checks to query multiple counties. In all of these cases, organizations that make decisions based on inaccurate or incomplete information can be held liable.
The recent increase in identity theft makes credit checks of employment candidates suspect at the very least. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that applicants be informed as to whether a decision not to hire is made on the basis of a negative credit history, and the applicants must be given the opportunity to dispute the report. Preemployment information service companies vary significantly in their attention to detail. Therefore, some screening tools should be used only post-offer, and it is wise for employers to have knowledge of employment and privacy laws.
- Caudron, S. 2002. “Who Are You Really Hiring?” Pp. 57-60 in Annual Editions: Human Resources 2004/2005, edited by F. H. Maidment. Guilford, CT: McGraw-Hill/Dushkin. Reprinted from Workforce, 2002, November.
- Dessler, G. 2003. Human Resource Management. 9th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
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- Penttila, C. 2002. “Playing e-Detective.” Pp. 72-73 in Annual Editions: Human Resources 2004/2005, edited by F. H. Maidment. Guilford, CT: McGraw-Hill/Dushkin. Reprinted from Entrepreneur, 2002, March.
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