The Definitive Guide To
Pre-Employment Screening

Hiring the right people can be a tough task. Not only do they need to have the right skills, but they need to fit into your corporate culture. Some might have access to sensitive information, or risk your company’s reputation when dealing with the public. It’s hard to be right every time, but Pre-Employment screening can go a long way to helping you protect your business.

Whether you are concerned about criminal history or illicit drug use, pre-employment screening can dramatically reduce your risk.


Note: This page is an overview of pre-employment screening. Learn about our pre-employment screening service by visiting our background screening page.

What is Pre-Employment Screening?

Pre-Employment screening is known by many names: Background Checks, Background Screening, Criminal Background Checks… just to name a few.

Pre-Employment Drug Testing, Education Verification, Employment Verification and Reference Checks also fall into this category. They all refer to the process of screening a job candidate before they become part of your team.

Read on to learn what a background check consists of, and how it can help you maintain a safe and compliant workforce.

Why Consider Pre-Employment Screening?

Protect Your Organization and Brand

Your company is only as good or bad as your people. In-depth pre-employment screening makes sure you only hire the right candidates.

Save Time and Money

The costs of making a bad hire are staggering. At best, you waste precious time and resources on-boarding and training someone who is not a good fit, only to have to turn right around and do it again. In the worst case scenario, you could end up with a damaged reputation or even in court.

It’s Good Due Diligence

When you hire someone, you have a responsibility, not only to your customers, but to your other employees as well. Hiring someone with a history of violence, for example, puts everyone they come in contact with at risk. You could be liable if someone is victimized by one of your employees.

Confirm the Details

Candidates often look perfect on paper, but it’s your job to make sure they are not stretching the truth. Pre-employment screening can verify credentials, technical certificates, licenses, employment history, education, military service and other information. Several industries, like healthcare and transportation, have very specific licensing requirements.

What Types of Pre-Employment Screening Services are Available?

Social Security Number Verification or Social Trace

This trace is based on the Social Security Number provided by the applicant. It allows us to find all of the names, aliases, the date of birth and all of the addresses associated with that SSN. It does not verify or confirm if a number is valid, but it shows us what jurisdictions to check for criminal records. It is an essential piece in solving the puzzle.

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Susie shows us why the SSN Trace is so valuable.

Susie Q shows up at your company applying for a bookkeeping job. She says she grew up in the area, never moved away and has a clean record. Her resume looks great and the two references she presented offer glowing reviews. When your background screening partner runs her Social Security Number they find not only did she spend some time living in a neighboring state, but before she was married she was known as Susie B. This Susie B was convicted of check fraud and identity theft! Without the SSN Trace you would have no idea what a risk sweet Susie Q posed to your company’s wellbeing.

Criminal Record Checks

An investigation of criminal records can protect you from Negligent Hiring lawsuits. These reports are a compilation of records from several sources depending on your company’s needs. Searches can be done on the county, state, federal, national and even international levels. Many companies get this information by using only online databases. This tactic is known as screen-scraping and can lead to old or dismissed charges being reported to an employer. The more effective way to get the complete picture of your applicant is to have people on the ground, combing through actual records to make sure they have the right person and the final outcome in any criminal case.

Criminal Record Checks Can Include the Following:

  • County Criminal Record Searches
    County searches are one of the most powerful tools when it comes to uncovering criminal history. Both felonies and misdemeanors are filed at the county level. Searches are done based on the candidate’s address history (obtained through the SSN search) and can provide the charges, the file date, the final outcome and sentencing information.
  • Statewide Criminal Records Search
    Statewide Criminal Searches look at central state repositories for felony and misdemeanors records. Information in these repositories comes from law enforcement agencies, courts and corrections agencies throughout the state. Unfortunately, not all statewide searches are creates equally. Each state decides how information will be imported and who will have access. Not all states maintain accurate up-to-date information, and depending on the state may not cover all levels of courts.
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Bobby the Builder

Bobby the Builder has moved around a lot, his background check takes a little elbow grease. Some states he’s lived in only allow you to check the state repository for criminal records. Others have terribly out-of-date systems that keep the accurate records locked up at the county level. If you have any hope of finding his aggravated assault charges against the guy running the local food truck, you might not want to depend on just one type of search.

  • National Criminal Records Search (NCRD)
    This national database helps identify criminal offenses outside the areas an applicant has lived or worked. The database has hundreds of millions of records that can be instantly accessed. The database is a compilation of criminal records, information from municipal, circuit, district and superior court repositories as well as the Department of Corrections, the FBI, U.S. Marshal, U.S. Customs, the DEA, Secret Service and the Department of Justice. This search also includes the National Sex Offender Registry.
  • Federal Criminal Records Search
    Federal Criminal offenses are crimes committed against the US government and therefore will not appear on searches on the state and county level. Embezzlement, bank robbery and interstate drug trafficking are just some of the offenses that fall under federal jurisdiction.
  • FBI Fingerprint Database Search
    Some industries are required by law to include fingerprints in their background checks. This is done by submitting prints to the FBI fingerprint database. Fingerprint based background checks alone cannot provide you a complete picture of your applicant’s criminal history because it depends on local jurisdictions uploading information about arrests and final dispositions. The database might have some or none of the information. It can be used as a piece of the screening puzzle, but should not be depended on as a one-stop-shop for background information.

Public Records Searches

Public records are documents or information that is not considered confidential. A marriage license, for example would be considered a searchable public record, as would birth and death certificates. When doing a background check for employment purposes you could be interested in records such as credit records, civil judgements, driving records and several others.

Here’s a list of the most commonly searched public records:

  • Sex Offender Registries
    While the National Sex Offender Registry can be searched through the National Criminal Records Database, it is also possible to search each individual state registry. This search will reveal the offense, aliases, the date and state of conviction, current address and current employer.
  • Motor Vehicle Records Check (MVR)
    A Motor Vehicle Record is a report of your candidate’s driving history. The information comes from the Department of Motor Vehicles in each state and can usually be accessed instantly. Results include records of violations, convictions, accidents, suspensions and any disciplinary actions.
  • Credit Report Check
    A credit report check reviews a candidate’s credit history. Results come from the national credit bureaus and can include payment histories, bankruptcies, judgments, current debt and any liens on the applicant. This search is usually reserved for applicants in positions of financial responsibility like CFOs, auditors and accountants.
  • Healthcare Sanctions Report (HSR)
    A Healthcare Sanctions Report identifies candidates that have been excluded from participating in Medicare, Medicaid or other federally funded healthcare programs. This is relevant when hiring doctors, nurses or other healthcare professionals.
  • International Homeland Security Search (OFAC)
    The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is part of the US Department of Treasury and enforces economic and trade sanctions based on US foreign policy. An international Homeland Security Search determines whether a candidate may be a threat to national security foreign policy or the economy of the United States.
  • Workers Compensation Records
    This search finds any workers compensation claims a candidate may have filed. This search is not available in all states and needs to be conducted with full compliance with the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Civil Records Search
    This county based search will reveal any civil lawsuits filed against your applicant. Usually this type of suit revolves around someone not fulfilling the terms of a contract. You might find out that your applicant is less than reliable, or that they make a habit of filing lawsuits. This search is usually used to judge someone’s character.

Verifications and Credentialing

Verification services help you make sure your applicants can live up to the claims they make on their resumes. Do they really have that advanced degree, professional license or military record? You would be surprised by how many people fake these things… and how many people believe them.

Learn how we verify candidates’ education during a background check

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Marilee Jones, PhD!?

Marilee Jones had a fabulous career at MIT, rising through the ranks like a rock star. In 1979 she was hired as an entry-level admissions officer and finished her career as the Dean of Admissions. At the time she claimed to have several degrees, including a Ph.D. – but it was all a lie. Incredibly enough, the ruse was not discovered even as Ms. Jones received promotion after promotion. She was even promoted to Dean of Admissions for the esteemed institution and served in that role for 9 years before it was discovered that she had lied about all three of her advanced degrees.

  • Education/ Degree Verification
    To get this information it is necessary to contact each and every institution listed on your candidate’s resume. Reports include the dates they attended, the fields they studied, the date of graduation, the degree earned, and grade point averages. You can get this report from high school through advanced degrees.
  • Employment Verification
    A call or email to previous employers can confirm your applicant’s work history including dates, reason for leaving, eligibility for rehire and other details. This helps uncover any inconsistencies and gaps in employment history. Significant, unexplained gaps might give new employers cause for concern.
  • Professional Reference Check
    Professional Reference Checks validate a candidate’s work history but also give some insight into their job performance. References are interviewed on a variety of topics, from the reference’s general opinion of the applicant to their moral character. They can ask about the applicant’s strengths and weaknesses and if they would want to work with them again.
  • Licensing and Professional Certification Verification
    This search applies to any type of professional license, for example medical personnel, accountants, attorneys, engineers and real estate agents. The results will tell you if the person’s license is valid, when it expires and if there have been any disciplinary actions.
  • Military Service Records Verification
    A search of military records can show the dates served and the last rank held.

Global and International Screening

Global background checks can increase the efficiency of your international hiring without sacrificing quality or security. The most advanced global background checks will extend to multiple countries and territories with the same high level of information and meticulous attention to detail provided in domestic searches.

Learn how we do international screening

Figuring Out What You Need

Answers to some of the most commonly asked Pre-Employment Screening Questions

How do I know which type of Pre-Employment Screening services to choose?

The background screening services you select are usually dependent on and determined by the role you are looking to fill. For example, you typically wouldn’t need a Healthcare Sanctions Report (HSR) if you are not hiring for a healthcare-related position. Similarly, a motor vehicle records check may not be needed for someone who will not be driving a corporate vehicle.

  SSN Criminal MVR HealthSR Sex Offender Employment References Credit
Forklift Operator        

How long does Pre-Employment Screening usually take?

Screening time depends on the services you select and how easily the information can be accessed when determining how long a background check takes. The majority of services can be completed instantaneously or within 24-72 hours.

How much does Pre-Employment Screening cost?

A “background check” is a very generic term, and price will vary significantly depending on the types of hires you are making. A standalone database search can cost under $10 while a top of the line, executive background check could run $100+, and everything in between. Your cost will depend on the individual services that are appropriate for your organization to ensure due diligence and mitigate risk. Regardless of your industry and your budget, the cost of a negligent hiring lawsuit far outweighs the cost of a proper pre-employment background screening.

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Johnny D. Disagrees

Johnny D applies for a job in the Wingding Factory’s warehouse managing the stock. The company is going through some tough times, since people don’t really need as many Wingdings as they used to. To cut cost, the company decides to cut back on its once aggressive background screening program. They save a few dollars on the front end, but they never find out about Johnny’s violent attack on a co-worker years ago. During a disagreement on the warehouse floor, Johnny lashes out at his manager, landing him in the hospital. Between the workers comp costs and the lawsuit they face once the manager’s lawyer finds out Johnny has a history of violence might be enough to put the factory out of business for good.

Should I include Drug Testing in my Pre-Employment Screening?

A drug test helps identify any illegal substances a candidate may have used or been exposed to. Drug tests may be mandatory in certain industries, and others may be required by company policy. Organizations that staunchly support a drug-free environment may want to include drug testing in its pre-employment screening process.

Can’t I just screen the candidates myself?

We cannot stress strongly enough how important it is to partner with a company with expertise in this arena. Not only are there very strict laws governing how you can access certain information and how you may use it for hiring, but the “do-it-yourself” websites offer only the most superficial look into criminal records. Here are some of the problems with trying to screen applicants on your own:

  • Access to Social Security Number traces and other pertinent information is only available to consumer reporting agencies (CRAs).
  • The data you find online may not be accurate. Jurisdictions have very different reporting requirements so info available online is often incomplete or out of date.
  • Failing to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). FCRA compliance is important: not having correct disclosures, authorizations and adverse action policies can lead to lawsuits by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

5 Common Background Check Misconceptions

1. MYTH: Online Screening Services are Sufficient for Background Checks

These cheap online companies do nothing but scan public records. As we have mentioned, many of these records are woefully out of date and incomplete. The chance of missing important information is extremely high. You might also receive records for someone else with the same name, or miss records because your applicant has an alias.

2. MYTH: All Essential Information is Already Online

Using Google and social media sites to vet your candidates can land you in some extremely difficult situations. If you decide to eliminate a candidate after looking at their Facebook page, for example, they could claim you never asked them in for an interview because of their race or a disability. It is very hard to prove you DIDN’T use that information when making the decision, and you could end up with a costly discrimination lawsuit.

3. MYTH: All Background Checks are the Same

Not all industries or companies necessarily need the same information on a potential hire, which means the application, hiring and screening processes can vary drastically from one organization to another.

4. MYTH: All Background Screening Companies are the Same

Background screening companies can vary as widely as potential job candidates. It is important to look for companies that have proven their dedication to the industry’s best practices. An accreditation with the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) is essential. These companies are committed to the highest levels of accuracy, dependability, security and transparency.

5. MYTH: Only Large Firms Need a Screening Process

Pre-employment background screening is essential for companies of all sizes. Sometimes the smaller firms actually have more to lose by making a bad hire. Hiring an unfit candidate can cost upwards of $25,000, money that’s tougher for smaller companies to part with. Investing in a quality screening process is wiser than risking the time, money and potential damages of a bad hire.

Should I Use Social Media For Background Checks??

The question about using social media outlets as a part of your hiring process is a common yet difficult one. Taking a look at an applicant’s Facebook page or Instagram account might tell you a lot about the person you are thinking about bringing into your organization, but it could also put you in a difficult legal position. While social media checks are not typical steps in traditional pre-employment background checks, there are definitely pros and cons if you are considering taking a look for yourself.

DOWNLOAD THE WEBINAR: Social Media and Employment

How Do You Choose the Right Background Screening Partner?

Questions to ask before talking to a partner:

  • What’s important to our organization? (Criminal History, Education and Employment Verification, Credit Checks, etc?)
  • Will we be doing drug testing? (The two go hand in hand.)
  • How important is personalized customer care?
  • Do we care if our screening partner outsources jobs that require access to Personally Identifiable Information (PII)?

Now You are Ready to Ask the Screening Companies Some Questions

  1. What kinds of screens can you do?
  2. How do you ensure you can find all possible results, even without a candidate’s full name, aliases, date of birth and former residences?
  3. What are your turnaround times?
  4. How do you protect my applicants’ most sensitive data? Do you have a written information security program in place?
  5. Are you and all of your customer service representatives based in the United States?
  1. What type of account management and other support do you offer with your services?
  2. What certifications and accreditations do you hold?
  3. Do you offer a platform that can be integrated into our existing recruiting, applicant tracking and talent management system?
  4. Do you have any history of FCRA violations or litigation? How do you help your clients stay in compliance?
  5. Do you provide customized solutions for different businesses and industries?

EBI's Pre-Employment Screening Solutions

We understand that this is a lot of information to digest. Pre-employment screening is nuanced, highly regulated, and can’t usually be tackled with a one-size-fits-all approach. If you would like to continue the conversation with one of our Screening Experts, reach out to us and we’ll be happy to help!

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Happy Tuesday from Maryland.