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9.1 Background Checks

When you hire new employees, check their backgrounds. You may have candidates fill out application forms, but then what do you do? At the least, you should check all references given by each applicant to determine his past record, including reasons why he left those positions. Be certain to verify the dates of employment, and check any gaps in the record. One story we heard involved an applicant who had an eight-year gap in his record entitled "independent consulting." Further research revealed that this "consulting" was being conducted from inside a federal prison cell—something the applicant had failed to disclose, no doubt because it was the result of a conviction for computer-based fraud. Another case involved a four-time offender convicted of computer intrusion charges performing IT consulting for a local police department through a consulting firm.

You should also verify any claims of educational achievement and certification: stories abound of individuals who have claimed to have earned graduate degrees from prestigious universities that have no records of those individuals ever completing a class. Other cases involve degrees from "universities" that are little more than a post office box.

Consider that an applicant who lies to get a job with you is not establishing a good foundation for future trust.

9.1.1 Intensive Investigations

In some instances you may want to make more intensive investigations of the character and background of the candidates. You may want to:

  • Have an investigation agency do a background check.

  • Get a criminal record check of the individual.

  • Check the applicant's credit record for evidence of large personal debt and the inability to pay it. Discuss problems, if you find them, with the applicant. People who are in debt should not be denied jobs: if they are, they will never be able to regain solvency. At the same time, employees who are under financial strain may be more likely to act improperly.

  • Consider conducting a polygraph examination of the applicant (if legal). Although polygraph exams are not always accurate, they can be helpful if you have a particularly sensitive position to fill.

  • Ask the applicant to obtain bonding for his position.

In general, we don't recommend these steps for hiring every employee. However, you should conduct extra checks of any employee who will be in a position of trust or privileged access—including maintenance and cleaning personnel.

We also suggest that you inform the applicant that you are performing these checks, and obtain his consent. This courtesy will make the checks easier to perform and will put the applicant on notice that you are serious about your precautions. In some locales you will need the explicit permission of the candidate to conduct these checks.

9.1.2 Rechecks

Once you have finished the tests and hired the candidate, you should consider revisiting some of the checks on a periodic basis. You would then compare the old and new results and observe changes. Some changes should trigger deeper investigation.

For example, if you have an employee who is in charge of your accounting system, including computer printing of checks to creditors, you will likely want to conduct more than a cursory investigation, including a credit check. If a recheck occurs every two years, and the employee goes from solvent to $600,000 in debt, or goes from having a modest mortgage and car loan to paying off the mortgage in cash and having two platinum cards, you should probably investigate further.

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