by Michael Klazema
Whether you are interviewing for full-time jobs or workers from the gig economy, there is a good chance background checks are going to figure into your professional future. Background screening—both as a pre-employment due diligence measure and a post-employment monitoring technique—is evolving fast.
Being cognizant of the trends and changes in background screening will help you prepare for your next job interview and understand what your current employees are thinking. Here are four background check trends that every employee and prospective employee needs to know.
1. Background checks for on-demand workers are becoming more common
For a long time, businesses used nontraditional methods to screen and vet nontraditional workers. Detailed background checks were essential for full-time workers, a little less common for part-timers, and virtually unheard of for contract employees. As the gig economy grows, this habit is dying out. Businesses are increasingly coming to terms with the importance of having freelancers on their teams. They are also starting to recognize that freelancers are still representatives and ambassadors for their brand—even if they are a little more removed from the business than full-time workers.
According to Intuit, gig workers are expected to make up 43 percent of the workforce by 2020. As the freelancing trend continues to spike, more and more employers are running full-fledged background checks on contract workers.
Bottom line, if you are part of the gig economy, you should expect to submit to background screenings to land freelance jobs. These screenings could include anything from criminal history checks to educational verifications. They will likely get more detailed as the gig economy continues to grow.
2. Questions about criminal history on job applications are going to disappear
Depending on where you live, you may have already noticed this trend: more and more employers are removing questions about criminal history from job applications. Some companies are doing it voluntarily, but most have been spurred by a legislative movement called “ban the box.” Ban the box policies are intended to reduce employment discrimination against ex-criminal offenders. By removing the criminal history question from job applications and delaying the background check until after a conditional offer has been made, these policies seek to help ex-offenders get a fair chance at employment.
According to the National Employment Law Project, 29 states and more than 150 cities and counties have adopted ban the box policies. Some of these laws and ordinances only apply to public (i.e., government) jobs. Others, like a policy on the books in Los Angeles, apply to public and private employers alike.
You can click here to find out whether your city, state, or county has a ban the box policy. Even if it doesn’t, it will only be a matter of time before ban the box is the rule rather than the exception.
3. Continuous background checks and ongoing criminal monitoring will become the norm
Virtually all employers have adopted pre-employment background check policies. Companies are split when it comes to screening current personnel. Some require existing employees to update their background checks every five years or so. Others use continuous screening to get real-time alerts when a current employee is convicted of a crime.
Over the next few years, it’s likely that employers are going to come to a consensus on how to screen existing employees. What that consensus will be remains to be seen: it could be an every-five-years policy, an annual background check policy, a semi-annual policy, or a continuous real-time monitoring policy. In any case, job seekers and employees should know that what they do after they get hired is going to matter just as much as what they do before they get hired.
4. Employers are going to continue using social media for pre-employment screening
“Social media background checks” are sketchy from an administrative standpoint. Employers like to look at Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks to learn more about what their candidates are like in real life. However, findings on these fronts are often misleading, out of context, and based on assumptions. Worse, social accounts can reveal personal, potentially bias-creating information—such as sexual orientation, gender identification, race, religion, nationality, and political affiliation—that employers cannot use in employment decisions.
CareerBuilder statistics show that social media background checks are 500% more common than they were a decade ago. As there is still no law or EEOC/FCRA guideline that prohibits or restricts social media screenings, they are likely to remain common for the foreseeable future.
Some employers are changing how they use social media screenings. Some use third-party businesses to do the social media search, requesting reports that exclude information that might create unintentional bias or discrimination. In other cases, a hiring manager might ask an employee or HR rep not involved with the hiring decision to do the social media check.
Employees and job searchers should be aware that companies are looking at what they do online. Ramping up your privacy settings and thinking more critically about the things you post will help you avoid trouble. You may also want to go back through older posts and photographs and delete anything potential employers or current bosses might find objectionable.
Preparing for Your Background Check
As you get ready to start your job search, know that employers aren’t changing their practices because of you. While three of the four trends listed above emphasize employers’ desire to learn more about their workers and candidates, those policy shifts aren’t personal. Instead, businesses are ramping up their employee screening strategies to safeguard their brands, their reputations, their existing employees, and their customer base.
As a job seeker or employee, the best strategy is to be honest, forthright, and amenable to all employer requests. Many employers are willing to overlook past mistakes, but almost none will overlook dishonesty.
Michael Klazema has been developing products for criminal background check and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com. He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.