What Is a Background Investigation and Why Is It Important?

, , , , | January 17, 2023 | By

When filling employee, contractor, and volunteer roles, the hiring process allows you to meet with and evaluate candidates. There are many tools you can use to evaluate candidates, including applications, interviews, and test projects.

A background investigation should be an essential tool in your hiring tool kit. Background investigations allow you to verify the information candidates provide you and discover other information about them that may impact your hiring decision.

In this blog, you’ll learn about background investigations and why they are essential when hiring employees or volunteers.

What Is a Background Investigation?

A background investigation, also referred to as a background check or background screening, is an evaluation of an applicant's relevant background. Background checks may include:

  • Identity verification
  • Education verification
  • Employment verification
  • Licensure verification
  • Criminal background
  • Sex offender registry review
  • Address background
  • Credit history
  • Driving records
  • Drug screening
  • Health screening

Not every background check includes all of these criteria. The scope of background investigations varies. Different types of information are relevant for different roles and organizations. For example, an applicant’s criminal history is relevant for most roles, while driving history is only relevant where the position involves driving.

Conducting a background check can be complex and mistakes are common when organizations try to DIY checks in-house. Information is dispersed across multiple locations. For example, if you want to check an applicant’s criminal history, there isn’t a single centralized database that you can search (despite common advertising claims about “national” databases). Instead, you need to check a combination of federal, state, and county records.

Similarly, when investigating a candidate's employment history, you need to check with each of the applicant’s recent employers. This can be time-consuming and require multiple follow-ups to get in touch with each prior employer.

Given this complexity and many sources of information, most organizations today use a trusted background screening provider to conduct the most thorough and accurate background investigation possible.

Importance of a Background Investigation

The importance of background investigations is widely accepted. In a recent employer survey conducted by the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA) and HR.com, 93% of organizations said they conduct background screenings of some type.

The following are three key reasons why organizations of all types and sizes conduct background investigations.

1. Improve the Hiring Process

Many aspects of the hiring process are based on what the applicant tells you through their application and interview. While most candidates are honest, anyone that has been in hiring long enough knows, some are less than truthful through direct statements and omissions. A background check allows you to objectively verify what a candidate tells you and identify any red flags that they have not disclosed.

Although often thought of as “pass/fail” tools, background checks can also be a time for bringing opportunity to those who “failed” a screening. In appropriate situations, employers can provide applicants with a chance to clarify the results of a background check and then make an informed decision based on the check and the prospect’s explanation.

2. Promote Safety in the Workplace

Background investigations help you identify and avoid hiring applicants with red flags in their background that could put the safety of the workforce and clients, who may be minor children, at risk. For example, background screenings allow school districts to avoid hiring convicted sex offenders, medical providers to avoid hiring those with drug dependency, and all employers to avoid hiring violent employees.

3. Meet Legal Requirements

Some organizations are legally required to conduct background screenings as part of the hiring process. This is most common in healthcare, education, financial services, transportation, and education industries, where employees are placed in positions of significant trust and unique access and control over others. For example, physicians have authority and control over their patients, which could be exerted to harm the patient.

Even when not required by a specific law or regulation, conducting a background screening helps organizations avoid lawsuits and liability for negligent hiring. Negligent hiring is a claim brought against the employer when someone is injured by an employee, and the employer would have known of the employee’s dangerous propensity if it had conducted a reasonable investigation.

Enjoy the Benefits of Background Screening

Background screening brings truth to the hiring process, allowing you to make hiring decisions based on comprehensive and accurate background information. Informed hiring decisions protect your workforce, clients, and business.

Whether your organization conducts legally mandated or voluntary background checks (or wants to start), you can realize many benefits by working with a reputable, experienced provider like BIB. We have been helping our clients verify the backgrounds of employees and volunteers since 1995.