Employer Strategies for Successfully Hiring Justice Involved Job Candidates

My gut tells me that many employers are open to the idea of hiring individuals from the justice involved community, but have historically avoided the opportunity for a variety of reasons. Whether they previously had an abundance of other candidates to consider or were intimidated about the steps involved, many organizations haven’t proactively included this untapped talent pool.

After all, they haven’t been sufficiently motivated to do so. That changes now.

Why you should consider hiring the justice involved population

Today, employers can’t afford NOT to look at every viable employee population. Increased awareness and support for inclusive hiring practices coupled with historically low unemployment suggest that the time is ripe for employers to implement strategies that successfully source and retain justice involved individuals.

Here are a few of the benefits to employers who engage employees who are formerly incarcerated or on work release, parole, or probation.

Better job candidate flow

Low unemployment is especially crippling for industries that traditionally experience high turnover in hourly positions and/or with a contingent workforce. With nearly one in three American adults holding a criminal record (ACLU, 2017), employers who are able to successfully engage this population are poised to win the war on talent.

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Giving justice involved individuals another chance is the right thing to do

The formerly incarcerated combat a pervasive social stigma in many facets of their life, and it often impedes their ability to find work. In fact, according to the same ACLU study, 75% of formerly incarcerated people will remain unemployed a year after release. When someone has served his/her time, society should give them a second chance–not a re-sentence once they are released.

Reducing recidivism pays for itself

According to a 2018 special report from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, across 30 states 5 out of 6 (a staggering 83%) of state prisoners released in 2005 were arrested at least once during the 9 years following their release. Recidivism, or the “tendency for a convicted criminal to reoffend,” is on the rise.

And, it’s no surprise when we consider the absence of sufficient resources to support transitioning justice involved individuals back into society. This makes it hard for the formerly incarcerated to get over what some call the “three hots and a cot” mentality.

Consider that the Gross National Product (GNP) is losing an estimated $78 billion to $87 billion annually as the justice involved remain unemployed, according to the aforementioned ACLU report.

Employer tax incentives

Companies who hire the formerly incarcerated may be eligible for hidden hiring incentives such as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. WOTC is a federal tax credit available to employers that hire individuals from specific targeted groups that have consistently faced significant employment barriers. Among these targeted groups are “qualified ex-felons” who are defined as individuals who are hired within a year of being convicted of a felony, or being released from prison from the felony.

Create a supportive network to succeed with the justice involved

It’s one thing for companies to be compelled to act based on the benefits mentioned above; however, in order to realize success in hiring and retaining the justice involved job candidate population, your organization must implement an internal infrastructure that can accommodate their unique needs. Additionally, it should utilize established external resources that may already be available in your area to help transition the justice involved back to work.

This is easier said than done, as there is not an abundance of model employers showing the rest of us how to do it. And, perhaps that deficiency is part of the explanation for the slow adoption of hiring this population.

The best intentions are only a fraction of what’s required for success in employing the justice involved. Employers must put systems and services in place to get this source of talent back to work. According to SHRM’s Getting Talent Back to Work Toolkit, employers should focus on

  • Reliable Checks – working with reputable background checking agencies to make sure the data you use to make decisions about a candidate’s suitability for employment is sound.
  • Relevant Assessment – ensuring your organization’s methods for assessing criminal records on an individual basis are relevant.
  • Reasonable Risk – comprehending and assessing the reasonable risks associated with hiring this population so that you can proceed confidently.

Within these three categories, there are many steps organizations may take to set themselves up for a higher percentage of success in employing the justice involved population. Here are some ideas for consideration.

Make connections during the pre-release period

Consider offering a candidate training program for incarcerated individuals six months prior to their release. Just as you would approach tuition reimbursement for an in-demand nursing student, ask pre-release individuals who have been identified as good candidates for a commitment to work for your organization for a period of time so that they may receive important life skills and a starter wage. This type of arrangement can go far in building employee loyalty in a tough employee retention market.

Develop relationships in your community

Employing the justice involved is a careful undertaking, and can be enhanced by positive and close relationships with local sheriff departments and other representatives at the Department of Corrections (DOC), staffing agencies and other transitional support agencies.

Set expectations with internal staff

For success in employing the justice-involved population, you need to dedicate internal resources to properly setting expectations and training existing staff members on how to undergo this initiative in a productive way. Be realistic and transparent around challenges that may surface, and develop strategies about how your company will address those challenges before you find yourselves in the moment.

Make sure that your organizational structure models success for justice involved individuals. For example, don’t have a single working area or department where justice involved employees represent a majority of the unit. This is their time to transition back into the workforce and recognize positive habits and behavior from others who have succeeded in the organization. If you offset that balance, then negative habits can be perpetuated with poor outcomes.

Invest in offering on-site services for justice involved employees

Some justice involved individuals fall circumstance to rising recidivism rates because they don’t have reasonable access to the services and support they need to get a foothold in the world after release. If your organization is serious about successfully employing this population, then consider offering some of these services:

  • Reentry resources – Links to and documentation about existing public reentry services in your community. For example, Orange County, California has a robust post-incarceration resource toolkit on its website.
  • Basic food needs – Make information available about local food pantries and agencies that make sure people don’t go hungry. Help employees apply for food stamp benefits.
  • Spiritual support – Consider on-site chaplain services so employees can nurture any of their spiritual goals and confide in a third party.
  • Medical care – Make sure that employees are afforded time to take care of medical needs and given information about how to obtain access to prescription drugs, including mental health care when applicable.
  • Basic paperwork – Remember that your justice involved hires may need important documents either located and/or reproduced such as birth certificate, Social Security card, personal ID card and/or driver’s license.
  • Substance abuse support – Recognize that some of your justice involved hires may struggle with substance abuse and therefore create an environment that is supportive of substance abuse counseling and rehabilitation so that destructive habits that often lead to crime aren’t repeated.
  • Ride planning – In order to promptly arrive to your workplace, your employees may need ride sharing programs, access to information about convenient public transportation options, and/or an employer-provided bus to transport employees to and from their current residence or halfway house to your job site.
  • Flexibility for required meetings – A common challenge for recently released individuals is maintaining availability for a shift job while also showing up for required probation or parole officer meetings that might happen in the middle of the day. With proper communication, offer these workers flexibility to attend the meetings that are critical for their post-release success.
  • Soft skills training – In some cases, justice involved individuals may have never learned about or been exposed to positive models for appropriate communication, social behavior, or even cleanliness/hygiene. Understand that services around these soft skills may be critical for employing this population with success.

Communicate your intentions clearly

Because much of employers’ hesitancy to hire justice involve populations is attributable to the stigma often associated with the formerly incarcerated as well as the company’s tendency toward compliance and protectiveness, clear communication is a driver of employment success for this talent group.

Clear communication includes both adjustments in traditional employment policy as well as external job advertisements, company culture content and screening and interview process design.

Remember that it is a violation of Title VII to reject applicants because of criminal records unless it is job related and consistent with business necessity. Employers have an obligation to clearly define what is job related and consistent with business necessity. They should reevaluate the role and scope of background checks in the hiring process, and use effective job evaluation to identify which criminal offenses will not work with which jobs.

Set realistic expectations with your justice involved candidates

Not every employer is going to be able to employ every justice involved employee. However, there is power and respect in being transparent about the opportunities and potential path available with your organization. I recently attended an event (more on that below) where they talked about the “ABC Jobs” trajectory for the justice involved:

  • Any job
  • Better job
  • Career

Which of those types of jobs can you offer this population? And, if it is just any job that has a low wage, how can you prepare that individual to succeed in that job and then move on to another organization (maybe one with which you partner on these programs) where they can achieve the next step?

This job pathing model can improve your community by creating work that improves individuals, makes your company productive and advances the public good through reduced spending due to rampant recidivism.

Anticipate potential setbacks

There will be ups and downs in any endeavor to create an infrastructure for employing justice involved populations…as there is with any other talent population, too. However, being aware of setbacks through conversation with other employers, local law enforcement, state agencies, etc. will bring to light things you can plan to address:

  • “Ban the box” legislation – Do you have work sites in geographic areas that are NOT subject to “ban the box”? If so, then take another look at your employment application and consider whether any questions about a candidate’s criminal history are potentially deterring qualified, but justice involved individuals from considering employment with your organization.
  • Shift challenges – Is your work shift schedule such that it makes it impossible to accommodate the needs of justice involved individuals who must attend parole meetings? As previously mentioned, take measures now to consider alternative strategies for meeting transportation needs and addressing shift requirements.
  • Recognize bias toward unexplained issues – I recently met someone who is employed with the city government and who was previously justice involved. She explained that it is not uncommon for little, unexpected things to happen that can adversely impact the positive trajectory of a justice involved individual. She encourages others to get the facts before jumping to negative conclusions. For example, she has seen malfunctioning ankle bracelets cause productive employees who have done nothing wrong to be hauled away by police on the job in front of co-workers. Without sensitivity to the root cause of such problems, bias and gossip could lead to a lack of support, or even wrongful termination.

The time is now

Is your organization ready to get serious about considering this untapped talent population? I hope the considerations outlined in this blog inspire exploration of this talent pool and fine-tuning of any of your existing initiatives.

Author’s Note: I recently attended a remarkable “Second Chance Staffing Visioning Event” held in January 2020 at Butler University and in conjunction with Allegiance Staffing. This interactive session was a kick-off to a joint research project between these partners and others to explore the job performance of those with criminal backgrounds while on the job. There is not yet much (or current) research in this specific area and the event brought together individuals from social service agencies, businesses, and the government–including thriving employees who have been justice involved. I’m excited about the direction of this research as it perfectly aligns with making a positive impact and with the challenging job landscape. Given the lack of formal studies in this area, their goal is to conduct a more detailed empirical analysis of the relative workplace performance of justice-involved citizens, as well as identify factors affecting this performance. Such a study requires the assistance of local employer(s) willing to share data regarding employees’ attendance, aptitude, and attitude, and they are currently in the process of securing these partners.


Should I Ask This on the Employment Application?

Useful Employment Application Guidelines

Whether the positions an organization is seeking to fill are temporary or permanent, it is important for Human Resources representatives to reflect on the content included in their organization’s employment application(s) to determine if the content is within the scope of fair hiring practices. In this blog, I’ll identify a few employment application audit ideas to help you determine whether you need to eliminate or rephrase any questions that could lead to discriminatory hiring practices.  Please note: ExactHire does not provide legal counsel. If you are in doubt about the compliance of your employment application, please speak with your organization’s legal team.

Download our hiring process questions guide

Background Check Guidance

Many companies complete background checks on the individuals who have been offered employment. For a background check to be completed accurately, the social security number and date of birth are necessary to properly identify the individual. However, an individual’s social security number and date of birth should NOT be included in the application in any format; this highly sensitive information can be collected from the individual at the time of background check consent. If a minimum age is necessary for employment in a particular position, an organization may ask if the applicant is 16, 18, 21 or older (or whatever the legal requirement may be for that position type). No questions regarding the years of attendance should be asked on an application or in an interview.

Avoid Questions Related to Religion

Religious affiliation is one element that should not be asked or discussed in the hiring process. Even though many religious organizations have events and practices which occur regularly throughout the year, for certain religions, there are increased numbers of worship activities in the winter season. An employer can specify the hours/days/shifts for the vacant position but also include that the employer provides reasonable accommodations for religious practices that do not pose an undue hardship towards the employer.

Language Fluency and Employment Applications

Another component that needs careful phrasing within an employment application involves any questions related to language(s) spoken. If relevant to the position for which the applicant is applying, an employer can ask about language(s) spoken, read or written. If speaking, reading or writing another language(s) are irrelevant skills for the position, there is no need to ask for that information so it is best to omit that question. One of the many features of ExactHire’s HireCentric applicant tracking system is that you may create groups of job specific screening questions where an organization can ask applicants questions focused and relevant to the particular position.

Asking About Prior Military Experience

Military veterans offer a tremendous amount of knowledge and skill that can provide long-term benefits to your organization. These brave men and women are seeking to use their skills to enhance an organization’s growth, and if you are looking to start a veteran-focused hiring initiative within your organization, the Department of Labor is ready to help. Organizations can benefit directly in the social and interpersonal capacity, along with the financial capacity, when veterans are on the organization’s payroll. On an employment application, an employer can ask if an individual was in the military but dates and type of discharge should not be asked. An applicant should include the training and skills acquired through the military as professional experience.

Restrictions on Applicant Criminal History Information

With the Ban the Box movement, many cities and states have enacted some form of legislation that affects how and when an employer can ask an applicant any questions related to convictions. The following states listed below have enacted both public and private sector Ban the Box legislation which means an applicant typically cannot be asked about convictions on an employment application or prior to the interview stage of the hiring process.

  • Hawaii
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Rhode Island
  • Illinois
  • New Jersey
  • Oregon
  • Connecticut (Effective January 2017)
  • Vermont (Effective July 2017)

There are exceptions within the legislation that may allow an employer to ask an applicant about convictions early in the hiring process so please consult your organization’s legal team to see if you qualify. To keep abreast of the Ban the Box movement, visit the National Employment Law Project (NELP).

Professional Organization Membership

Many employers view membership in professional organizations as beneficial to the growth of an individual. It is important to encourage individuals to pursue lifelong learning opportunities; however, these opportunities should not negatively impact an applicant’s pursuit of employment. On an employment application and during the interview process, it is important for an employer to seek only job-related memberships and service and avoid asking anything about memberships that could reflect ethnicity, gender, religion and other protected information.

Test Your Own Employment Application

Organizations periodically need to take a moment to reflect on the content of their current employment application(s) and peruse it from a potential applicant’s eyes. We encourage our clients to periodically test their employment applications so they can determine if any changes need to be made. Changes to the content of your HireCentric ATS employment application(s) must be made by a member of the ExactHire Support Team.

ExactHire: At Your Service

At ExactHire, we take pride in doing our best to ensure our clients’ satisfaction.  After you speak with your legal counsel, and if you and your legal team decide changes need to be made to your employment application(s) for compliance, the ExactHire team will work with you to create a new application with the verbiage you specify. Also, one of the benefits of using ExactHire’s HireCentric software as your applicant tracking system is that you can create multiple employment applications, each specific to your needs or hiring practices within a particular state. If you are an existing client looking for more information about updating your current employment application(s) and/or creating additional employment applications, please email, and let us know your needs.

Vermont “Ban the Box” Legislation

As the movement to eliminate potential employment barriers for individuals with a criminal record continues, Vermont is the newest state to pass legislation to “Ban the Box” in the early stages of the application process for public and private sector employment. “Ban the Box” AKA “Fair Chance Policy” aims to reduce recidivism rates and future incarcerations of prior offenders. The policy will help individuals with criminal records “have a fair chance” to be actively considered for employment opportunities despite having blemished records when they are applying for jobs in their attempt to attain employment.
Vermont Governor, Peter Shumlin, signed the legislation on May 3, 2016; however, this legislation does not become effective until July 1, 2017. The time delay will be implemented so that employers will have adequate time to adjust employment processes to comply with this law. The bill, H.261, prohibits employers from asking criminal conviction related questions initially on a job application. Employers are still allowed to ask questions about convictions later in the hiring process. Certain exemptions exist on this law, please consult your company’s legal team for more information on the exemptions and criteria to qualify.

Upcoming “Ban the Box” Legislation

Vermont “Ban the Box” legislation is only the latest to be adopted a state. Currently, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon all have statewide Ban the Box legislation for public and private employment. Other states, cities and municipalities have enacted localized or public employment related legislation related to the Ban the Box concept. To keep abreast of states and cities who enact “Ban the Box” legislation, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) has an interactive map that provides an overview of the current legislative status. For the actual legislation, you will need to go directly to the state or city government website to access the passed law(s) in its comprehensive language.
Employers need to be aware of the legislation that exists and what legislation is pending to be prepared for the potential impact on their organizations. If your organization currently has hiring practices in multiple states and cities, or posts job listings nationally, it is important to be cognizant of the locales’ legal expectations and determine if you need to alter verbiage on your employment application(s) and/or change specific steps in your hiring practices to be compliant with “Ban the Box” legislation.
Please note: The ExactHire team is not legal counsel, and we do not offer legal advice so any questions regarding your company’s eligibility for exemption with the “Ban the Box” legislation and/or proper verbiage for your company’s employment application(s) should be discussed with your company’s legal counsel. To learn specifically how Vermont’s H.261 affects your organization’s hiring practices, please contact your company’s legal team.

ExactHire Clients

At ExactHire, we take pride in doing our best to ensure our clients’ satisfaction is the highest possible. We do whatever we can to resolve clients’ current needs and identify potential needs. After you speak with your legal counsel, and if you and your legal team decide changes need to be made to your employment application(s) to comply with legislation, the ExactHire team can work with you to create a new application with the verbiage you specify for compliance. Also, please know that one of the benefits of using ExactHire’s HireCentric software as your applicant tracking system is that you can create multiple employment applications, each specific to your needs. If you are an existing client looking for more information about updating your current employment application(s) and/or creating additional employment applications, please email, and let us know your needs.

Learn More About ExactHire Solutions

If you are not yet an ExactHire client, for more information about HireCentric ATS, please visit our resources page or contact us today.

Template for a Consistent, Effective Hiring Process – Whiteboard [VIDEO]

A consistent, effective hiring process is a critical factor when selecting and onboarding employees for your organization. In this whiteboard video, Jeff Hallam of ExactHire discusses how to create a template for a successful process, including the use of tools such as background checking and reference checking.

SMB Pre-Employment Screening Guide Ebook

Video Transcript:

Hi there, and welcome to another edition of ExactHire Whiteboard Video Chat. I’m Jeff Hallam and today we’re going to talk about how to create a template for a consistent and effective hiring process. And this predominantly applies to small- to mid-sized organizations, and that’s who we work with for the most part. And this is something that when you’re working for a Fortune 500 organization, a lot of these things are already set in stone and you don’t really have much of an opportunity to change those nor debate them. But for many of these organizations that aren’t at that level, the issue of how do we hire, what does it look like and how do we make sure it’s consistent time after time…can be a little elusive because there may not be a person who spearheads that, and/or that person may not have communicated things very effectively up to that point. And so following a handful of very simple things and making sure that there are a few items in place can really help you in your endeavors to make things much better from a hiring perspective.

So the first one is, as you understand what it is that you want to do, make sure that everybody internally who is going to be involved in that process understands what it is, what the steps are, who is going to be involved and what that is going to look like over time. And once everybody understands that, it really sets a groundwork for everything that is going to happen from there. And I know that seems simple, but that miscommunication or lack of communication is usually the number one culprit for why things don’t work the way folks might like in today’s world.

Likewise, once that’s been set, it becomes very easy for people who are involved in the cycle…and I’ve been guilty of this myself in prior worlds…to want to shortcut the process. This is a really hot candidate, this is a really important job…we have to fill it very quickly. We don’t have time to do these things that we have normally done…and as tempting as that is, and understand you have to have some flexibility, understand there will be exceptions. But as much as you can, try to take this process that’s been communicated and defined and avoid that temptation. Try to keep it in place as much as you can…it can really avoid the notion of everybody thinking their job is the exception.

So once you have that platform, and you understand this is kind of what we want it to look like, there are some elements that most everybody agrees should be part of any best practice that you would consider for hiring. And we’ve just listed those here, and very briefly, they start in order of beginning of the process on forward at the front of the train with relevant job descriptions. Unfortunately, a lot of people still use job descriptions the way they did twenty-five, thirty, forty years ago. Very long, very detailed, very lengthy lists of things that somebody has to have, must do, etc. And frankly those are things that candidates just aren’t paying much attention to. What they want is a quick, little bulleted list of: what is this job; what do I need to have to be qualified for it; so that they can make a good quick decision as to whether they are even interested in learning more.

Once you’ve gotten them past that, the next step becomes how can you make it simple for them to let you know they’re interested in the job? When we were in the throes of the recession, employers could ask for a full online application, multiple sets of references, everything except somebody’s first born child it seemed and they would get plenty of applicants. And that’s because people were desperate for work. But now that that’s reversed and is nearly 180 degrees the other way, applicants are very much the ones setting that tone. And they’re not going to, in most cases, be willing to give you a full online application, let alone a full written application, just for the privilege of being considered for your opening. So really give some thought to what you can do to automate that number one, and number two, to only get what you need initially and then perhaps get the rest later. That’s very much a trend we’re seeing and there are a lot of ways that you can do that. So it’s definitely something worth considering.

One of the biggest issues that we see for most organizations is this inability to keep candidates apprised of where they are in the process. Having them know where they are, what the next step is, are they moving forward, if not, make them aware of it, if so, what does that next step look like and what is the timing for it… I cannot stress how important that is. It’s the number one complaint from most candidates and that the easiest way to protect your employment brand is to not let them feel like their resume or application fell into a black hole. Let them know where they are, keep them posted as they go through your cycle.

Something that’s been around for a long time and people sometimes will almost just treat this as a, “yes, I’m done” type of endeavor is checking references. This is another item that’s even become automated now. There are lots of ways that you can make this much more quick, simple, much less laborious. The key to that is making sure that there is consistency there. Much like everything else we are talking about here…make sure the same questions are asked, make sure the feedback is recorded in the same format. Not just for ease of access, but also to give you a point to go back to over time to find out where things might have been missed. Understanding what somebody has done in prior environments can be an invaluable way to get a better feel for how well they are likely to do in your environment.

And finally, performing background checks. As funny is this might be, initially, this is the thought for a lot of people…”I hope they don’t see this,” “I hope they don’t find out I did that,” etc. People have a lot of skeletons in their closet for better or worse, and certainly not everyone, but a much higher percentage of the population than you might think. So dependent upon your organization and what your needs are, making sure that you understand how they’ve done before, and is there anything that could potentially create exposure for your organization if you hire this person, again, are very necessary pieces that have to be in there.

So when think about this notion of, how do I create this template, how do I make my process consistent and more effective, following these three steps…get everybody on board, make sure there is something that keeps everybody from short-cutting what you’ve put in place, and then making sure that some of these key best practices are there as part of that cycle will definitely help you and your organization, not only make the process more consistent, but overall help you hire better.

How Can I Improve My Background Checking Process? – Whiteboard [VIDEO]

There are many things to consider when it comes to trying to improve the background checking process for your organization. In this video, Jeff Hallam discusses items such as the source of background check record data; the difference in court record reporting at the county vs. state level; the importance of having good legal counsel; having an awareness of EEOC guidelines; and, how to automate the background check process to improve the candidate experience and shorten the time involved with collecting candidate information.

SMB Pre-Employment Screening Guide Ebook

Video Transcript:

Hi, my name is Jeff Hallam, and we’re here today to talk about how you can improve your background check process. And, again, just a very quick disclosure up front…ExactHire…we are not a background check firm. Nor do we claim to be experts in this field, but because it is part of the hiring cycle, this does come up with pretty good frequency with clients and potential clients and it’s something that over the years, there have been changes to it, different things are happening out there…and so it does become something where people are asking about it frequently. And that’s kind of what led us to want to do this video.

One of the first things to understand about background checking is the data that’s out there is going to be pulled from the same sources predominantly by most all background check providers. At least those who are reputable. So, in other words, Background Checking Company A…vs. B vs. C…very rarely is going to have access to any proprietary data that the other two couldn’t. So really in most cases, unless there’s something very unusual going on, what you’re getting in terms of data should be the same from one provider to another. And that’s a nice transition into local data.

What a lot of folks don’t realize is things that are happening out there most often are recorded and kept for permanent record at the local level, usually at the county level. And roughly about 50% of counties out there nationwide are automated. So that means there’s about a 50/50 shot if I have an infraction of some sort in a neighboring state or a county where I don’t live, as to whether it’s ever going to be recorded and reported up reliably to the state level database. So where that becomes pertinent is, again if everybody’s checking the same data, and I as an employer only go down to the state level as far as my searches, because it’s a less expensive background check to do, I may potentially miss some things that are happening at the local level completely or there may be enough of a time lag in there where those things just aren’t made aware to me as somebody who would care about them as a potential employer.

So, that’s something to consider, and likewise that’s a good segue into this notion of having a counsel that you can go to. And typically that’s going to be a labor and employment law attorney, somebody who doesn’t necessarily have any opinion, in terms of making dollars, as to what type of background check you have performed. So, ExactHire, your background check provider, etc. probably, while we might be able to weigh in a little bit…it’s always going to be much more reliable to go to a labor and employment attorney and make sure you understand from their perspective, legally, what are your minimums that you need to be doing and what things should you perhaps be made aware of that you don’t need to necessarily have done in those checks. That also ties in with the EEOC.

EEOC has come out with some guidelines over the last couple of years that are really designed to make sure that discrimination is not happening out there in the workforce from a hiring perspective. And, a lot of that is happening around the background check arena. So, there are times now today, as opposed to a few years ago, where actually doing a deeper check…believe it or not…can actually be punitive from your end. So, to avoid that, one of the things you’d want to do is make sure you’re getting good advice from your counsel as to, is this relevant to the job for which I’m hiring, is it going overboard, is it going deep enough, and then balancing that with cost.

And then finally, the notion of trying to automate. The background check process for many people is still very much a manual one. I have the person sign their FCRA notice, I get all their information on the form, I then take that form and I either key it in or I fax it to the background check provider…in either event there could be some lags in time there, and/or there’s a lot of effort wasted just in terms of getting that to the provider. So, anything you can do to inject automation into that, whether you embed it in your applicant tracking tool, or you set up an online process with your provider…any things where technology can be brought into  it to make that more of a streamlined process are certainly going to help

So, just remember…same data, might be necessary to go down to the local level to avoid any potential issues or missing things; make sure you’ve got a good legal counsel that you can go to for assistance; be aware of some of the things that are changing out there, which again can come from your attorneys; and then try to automate as much as you can. Following just these handful of simple tips should hopefully help make your process not only better, but also more efficient.

10 Pre-Employment Screening Best Practices for HR Department of One

If you find yourself being the almighty HR department of one person for your organization, first off, let me congratulate you on your fortitude because that is a tough job. I’ve been in your shoes and when it is just you supporting the HR efforts of a one hundred- to two hundred- employee organization, you need to be efficient to survive and then thrive. Fortunately, there are many options for making your life easier when it comes to pre-employment screening activities. Are you using all ten of these best practices yet?

1 – Do an HR audit to uncover potential liabilities with your current pre-employment screening process

While an HR audit can be a lifesaver in terms of preventing future liability for all areas of human resources, it is especially critical when it comes to assessing the legality of your hiring process. Here are just a few points to cover:

  • Be aware of any “Ban the Box” laws that affect the geographic areas in which you hire employees, as they will regulate whether you may ask about criminal history on your employment application.
  • Make sure that a credit report is only used to screen applicants in consideration for positions that have a job-related necessity for someone with no credit blemishes. Moreover, for those positions that do warrant a credit check, be certain to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and obtain the employee’s written consent at the appropriate point in the process for your industry before seeking the report.
  • Examine your company’s use of social media in the screening process. That can be a slippery slope due to the type of information that can be uncovered about a person. However you approach social media screening, do it consistently across all applicants.
  • Ensure that you don’t ask any questions on the employment application that could reveal an applicant’s disability and violate the ADA.
  • Double check that your employment application doesn’t ask for any unnecessary information too early in the process…for example, Social Security Number. While it can be easier to collect information all at once, the truth is that you would only need that information later at the point of the conditional offer (unless you a have a specific industry exception). Applicants can be creeped out by sharing that in the beginning. Have a protocol for gathering this data electronically once you actually need it.

2 – Document your process and put it where upper management can find it

Especially if you are the only HR person! If something should happen to you, other select members of management should be able to step in to make sure things like SSN verification, background checks, education verification, etc. continue to be conducted on candidates for hire. They should have contact information for any vendors you use for these activities, as well. Have a documented plan of action explaining what happens when credit checks, reference checks and background checks come back with unfavorable news. Otherwise, upper management may not know that if you decide not to hire a person because of information in his/her credit report, for example, you have to give him/her a copy of the report and inform the candidate of the right to challenge the report under the FCRA.

3 – Tell your applicants what to expect from your recruiting process

Your careers website is the perfect place to add a link/page that discusses your entire recruiting and selection process. A short conversation during a preliminary phone interview will also be appreciated by candidates as it sets expectations with them for the probable length of the hiring process. As a result, some candidates that may have been a poor fit will self-select out of the process and save you time.

4 – Develop job-relevant job-specific screening questions

Proactively work with hiring managers…before you get slammed with eight new job postings in a day…to plan questions that will be relevant and that will elicit the types of answers that will help you make sound decisions earlier in the process. This exercise prevents the likelihood of wasting time reviewing unqualified applications later…time that you don’t have to waste.

5 – Use scoring/disqualification filters on application questions

Set up screening question groups in your applicant tracking system to automatically score and/or disqualify applicants based on their answers to both job-specific and standard application multiple choice questions. Then, filter out candidates that fail to meet basic qualifications when you are ready to view applicants for a job.

6 – Use email templates to make communication to applicants quick and easy

Whether you have canned responses saved in your work Gmail account or you build email templates in your recruiting software, it’s a huge timesaver to have commonly used blocks of text ready to go when communicating with candidates. Not only does it reduce the possibility you will make mistakes (thanks to spell check and a restful state of mind when responses are created before they are needed), but it ensures that candidates stay engaged because you are actively communicating with them throughout the recruiting process. People will regard you as a hiring rock star even though there is only one of you in human resources!

7 – Consider pre-employment testing to improve quality of hire

Unfortunately, just because someone is a great interviewer doesn’t mean that he/she will be a great employee for your company. Using an employee assessment as one tool in your selection process toolbox will provide you and hiring managers with incredibly helpful information about the person’s motivations, cognitive abilities and/or job skills…depending on the type(s) of assessments used.

8- Order background checks that include local court criminal record searches

Don’t rely on just a national database check because you will be missing part of the criminal history picture for many applicants. Much of what is recorded at the local and county court level never makes it into the national database. Even though you are with a small organization and trying to keep hiring costs from escalating, don’t skimp on background checks. You could pay for it in negligent hiring claims later.

9 – Make the candidate accountable for quality reference information

The last thing for which you have time is chasing down references and trying to obtain actual quality feedback about your potential new employee. Affordable technology can take the headache out of reference checking and allow your candidate to take ownership with personalized reference invitations that appear to come directly from the candidate, and the ability for the candidate to monitor the responsiveness of his peers. Make sure that any reference check software platform that you use promotes objectivity and allows references to rate potential hires on your selected job-relevant competencies.

10 – Ask your vendor partner(s) for assistance

Even though you are undoubtedly a strong, HR army of one, you’d be crazy not to ask and accept help from your partners when you need it. While technology solution providers will obviously support you on the use of their software, don’t be shy about asking them for tips and best practices for HR processes. And for vendors who handle background checking, drug testing, and credit checks…they can keep you up to date when it comes to complying with regulations. Many providers will handle communication with candidates when unfavorable results arise, as well.

Do you have ideas for other pre-employment screening best practices? What obstacles do you face as an HR department of one? We encourage your comments and ideas, below.

ExactHire provides many hiring software solutions. For more information, please visit our resources page or contact us today.

SMB Pre-Employment Screening Guide Ebook

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Don’t Hire A Liar – Reference Check Tips

Have you ever looked at a resume and wondered if it was too good to be true? Unfortunately, sometimes that is a legitimate question.

Honesty is always the best policy. This not only applies to personal life, but to professional life as well. Recruiters have limited time to review resumes, so applicants need to convey positive attributes and display themselves in the best light possible on that piece of paper; however, lying–or even exaggerating–is unacceptable. Applicants should be aware that we are all interconnected in this digital age, and verifying resume content is easier than ever through reference and background checking.

Last summer, CareerBuilder conducted a survey of over 2000 employers. Fifty-eight percent of those employers surveyed stated that they had identified one or more lies on a resume. According to the survey, here are the most common lies caught on resumes:



Embellished Skill Set


Embellished Responsibilities


Dates of Employment


Inaccurate Job Title


Academic Degree


Companies Worked For




Looking at some of those points above…candidates need to realize it is not difficult to verify one’s academic degree. By simply calling the Registrar’s Office of the higher education institutions listed on the resume, a recruiter can receive verbal confirmation from the school’s employee that the candidate did or did not graduate with degree XYZ. This information is considered “Directory Information”, and sharing that information is compliant with the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

In some careers, particularly health professions careers, there are state and nationwide license verification websites that provide the initial date of certification, license expiration date, and any action taken against the individual’s professional license. All of this information is accessible to the public.

The Importance of Reference Checking

If you have moved through the channels with a candidate and seem impressed enough to prepare an offer, it is important to conduct thorough reference checks to get a better feel for the candidate from different perspectives. Reference checks provide a great opportunity to ask questions about a candidate and get feedback, ideally candid feedback, from other people who know the candidate. It is important to remember, though, that the references provided by the candidate are, in all likelihood, people who have agreed to give a glowing review. If possible, use your professional network to speak with other co-workers of the candidate to gain more in-depth perspectives. These individuals could give an entirely different view of the candidate.

Our HireCentric ATS employment application can be configured to include a section to acquire information from the candidate regarding his/her references. You can request any of the following items:  Reference’s Name, Reference’s Company, Reference’s Phone Number, Reference’s Email, Reference’s Relationship to Applicant, and the Number of Years the Reference has Known the Applicant. You can even designate the number of references you want the applicant to provide.

Making A Plan For Reference Checks

You want to be consistent with the questions you ask of references for all your candidates. Always find out why the candidate left the position listed on their resume, and then consider using this list to guide your discussion (courtesy of HCareers and Laura Smoliar via Inc.):

  • Verify the candidate’s dates of employment, title, and role.
  • Is the candidate eligible for rehire? Why or why not? What was his or her reason for leaving?
  • Determine the candidate’s advancement in the company.  Did the candidate receive any promotions or demotions, or did the candidate remain in the same role throughout her tenure?
  • What was the candidate’s beginning and ending salary? How often did the candidate receive salary increases?
  • What kind of duties and responsibilities were assigned to the candidate? Did the candidate complete them satisfactorily? Did the candidate go above and beyond what was required without being asked?
  • What were the candidate’s strengths as an employee? Would you describe the candidate a hard worker?
  • Ask the reference to evaluate the employee’s performance the tasks likely to be assigned in the new position.
  • Was the employee punctual? Were there any issues with tardiness or absenteeism?
  • Did the employee get along well with her peers? With managers? With customers?
  • Is there anything else I should take into consideration before I hire this candidate?
  • Tell me about a time when the candidate had a conflict with a co-worker. How did the situation unfold?
  • What kind of schedule did the candidate keep? Did co-workers ever have trouble working with the candidate because of schedule issues? Tell me about a time when this was a problem.
  • Tell me about a time when the candidate surprised you. What were the circumstances? What did the candidate do?
  • If you were to hire the candidate again, what role do you think would be ideal? What role would not be a good fit, and why?
  • We all get frustrated with each other from time to time. Tell me about a time you were really frustrated with the candidate.
  • In which situations does the candidate really shine? Tell me about an example.
  • What else you’d like me to know about this individual?

It can be challenging to reach references by phone. Often when you do make contact with references, they can be hesitant to say anything that could be negatively construed or bring legal ramifications. But it is important to have a plan when calling, so that when you do make contact, you can collect useful information that supports strong hiring decisions

LinkedIn Research

If you take a look at a candidate’s LinkedIn page, you might be able to verify information found on the candidate’s resume. Furthermore, if you have mutual LinkedIn connections, those connections might be able to give you another perspective on the candidate’s professional background. But be cautious when using social media to review an applicant; you cannot discriminate against a candidate because of disability, age, gender, family, religion, sexual orientation, military history, employment status, or other protected categories.

Bottom line: any information that falls into a protected category cannot be used as a determining factor in offering a job to a candidate.

The Perfect Fit

There is no way to know 100% that a particular candidate is the best fit for a position or organization. But no matter how you check a candidate’s references, thoroughly evaluate the perspectives given to you from others and cross-reference that with your team’s professional views on the candidate. After analysis, if you feel like the candidate is going to be a good fit for the position and your organization as a whole, then you have utilized the information acquired during the reference check process to make a valuable decision and ideally a successful return on your investment.

SMB Pre-Employment Screening Guide Ebook

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Colts Vs. Patriots–Background Check

Big game in Foxborough this weekend. And while the matchup features two teams–106 men total–much of the discussion is around just two: Andrew Luck and Tom Brady.

These two quarterbacks differ in many ways, most obviously their age: Brady is 37 (frequently the age when an elite QB’s production drops off) and Luck is 25 (frequently the age when elite QBs start earning the title “elite”). So you don’t need John Clayton to tell you that Brady has the advantage of experience, and Luck the advantage of youth.

But that simple comparison–and the countless, more nuanced ones–will mean nothing come Sunday. The best TEAM will win, and these two franchises know a lot about winning.

A Little Background Check

It’s no accident that the Colts and Patriots are playing for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 49. The ownerships expect excellence, and they’ve brought in the right people to make that happen. Imagine what would happen if these teams  handled personnel differently…say, like the Browns.

Actually, you don’t have to imagine that. Here’s what it would look like:

Cleveland Browns Past 15 Years


Ouch. Note that the past two seasons are not even listed on the team website. Yeah, it’s that bad. But why?

Is it bad luck? Is it the “Cleveland Curse”? Perhaps, but successful organizations like the Colts and Patriots don’t operate at the mercy of superstition. They take control of their situation, do the work, and are prepared to make the critical hiring (signing) decisions that will ensure continued success.

It’s the difference between: Drafting Peyton Manning or picking Ryan Leaf; Drafting Tom Brady in the sixth round or choosing Tim Rattay; Making Brady your franchise player or sticking with Drew Bledsoe; Handing over the reins to Andrew Luck or hanging on to a five-time League MVP.

It’s the difference between drafting “Johnny Football” or choosing character over celebrity.

The Colts and Patriots have sustained success over the past decade because they possess a clear vision for their organization. But more importantly, they have effectively vetted their “job candidates” to maximize the number of players who fit in with their vision. And when faced with critical personnel matters, they gather the best information, perform thorough analysis, and remain true to their vision in making the right hiring decisions.

Sunday’s Game

Back to the matter at hand: big game in Foxborough. I’ve listened to a lot of talk. I’ve heard from the experts and from less-than objective fans. A cold, wet night will make things interesting. Everything indicates that this should be a fantastic game to watch. But who will win?

As an Indianapolis native, I am certainly biased. But I’ll not let that keep me from making the right pick…

Colts 24 – Patriots 20

Note: This prediction takes into account that Luck’s beard has grown much more powerful since Week 11. Now gimme 2 claps and a Rick Flair!


ExactHire provides SaaS solutions that optimize the hiring process for organizations who seek excellence. Our HireCentric ATS includes background check integration and, when paired with other pre-employment screening programs like reference checking and behavioral assessments, supports smart hiring based on job fit.

Learn how your organization can improve your hiring process with HireCentric. Contact us today!


Image credit: Go Colts…Go Colts…Go Colts! by Steve Baker (contact)

How to Assess Your Small Business’s Pre-Employment Screening Maturity

A turnkey, effective pre-employment screening process is critical for today’s small business. We rely on pre-employment screening efforts to alert us of red flags with a candidate, verify the accuracy of one’s employment records, ensure the safety of existing employees, and explore whether one may thrive despite the demands of a position. And don’t forget the importance of saving time for busy HR Directors by reducing the chance of expensive turnover later.

There is a wide spectrum onto which companies may fall when it comes to pre-employment screening process maturity. Identify your small business’s place on this Bell curve as a first step toward improving your new hire screening, background checking, and reference checking methods.

Your Pre-Employment Screening Process Maturity Level

It’s time to get real. How do your company’s resources impact your placement on the maturity curve? Into which category does your company fall on the image below?

Pre-Employment Screening Process Maturity Curve


Companies lagging behind in this phase are resistant to technology in most areas of talent management. They are focused on manual activities such as using hard copy paper employment applications, collecting printed resumes at job fairs, and promoting the ability to apply in person (despite the absence of an on-site kiosk for electronic submission of applications). Businesses in this bucket may not even be doing background checks or reference checks on candidates who have received a conditional offer of employment. If the company has started to grow more quickly recently, putting these methods in place can be further delayed if nepotism is present and new hires frequently come from existing employee referrals.  Additionally, it is unlikely that the standard employment application offers the opportunity to incorporate well-planned screening questions that flesh out whether candidates meet at least the basic qualifications for a position. Lastly, you can assume that any web presence on behalf of human resources is completely managed by the IT department.


Companies in this bucket are often plagued by a lack of staff bandwidth (often an HR department of one trying to support too many employees) and poor buy-in from upper management. They launch isolated efforts to supplement the pre-employment screening process, but do not execute a universal, organization-wide strategy. For example, they utilize employee assessments for only some positions; use inconsistent techniques for reference checking and/or fail to train all hiring managers to follow the same protocol; inconsistently use social media to screen applicants (potentially a big liability); job-specific screening questions are underutilized and ultimately depend on the attentiveness of the hiring manager involved; and there is no automated way to group job candidates based on whether they satisfied basic qualifications. Additionally, these companies may still be collecting background check-related information (such as previous residences and Social Security number) on the employment application (without a compelling industry-related reason) because it is easier for them…neglecting the fact that it can disengage applicants and raise a red flag when the solicitation of that information is not connected with a conditional offer of employment.

Organizing & Conforming

Companies in this stage have the right structure in place for optimizing the pre-employment screening process – including an applicant tracking system and a means to collect employment references and electronic employment applications from applicants. While the integration of technology has advanced these companies into the “late majority” part of the cycle, activities such as reference checking are likely still handled inconsistently and may eat up the HR staff’s time. Though they probably have a go-to background checking vendor in place, they still may be collecting disclosures to run these checks in a cumbersome way (i.e. emailing candidates later in the process with a separate request form and then not having an automatic way for results for the check to flow back into an applicant tracking system). Upper management supports HR initiatives as it recognizes the need to put sound practices in place as the company grows, but the pace of growth is still outpacing the ability to get the right HR resources in place quickly enough. The HR department has a lot on its plate and needs to become even more efficient and strategic as pre-employment screening efforts have covered the tactical bases like background checking and reference checking, but still haven’t touched screening question development on a consistent basis.

Embracing & Engaging

For these companies, a strategic process is in place so that consistent screening techniques are used for every position in the organization and thoughtful job evaluation is used to create relevant and results-oriented job-specific screening questions. The right applicant tracking software technology is in place to allow human resource administrators the ability to quickly and easily view applicants that meet basic qualifications based on answers to questions…and those applicants that score particularly well are highlighted, accordingly. Success in hiring leads to further engagement from hiring managers to help develop job questions, respond about candidates quickly and utilize pre-employment testing tools. This partnership with hiring managers leads to opportunities to continuously re-evaluate and repeat success in the future.

Performance & Scaling

Scalability is of central concern for companies in this stage. They seek to further optimize their pre-screening efforts and are intimately attune with promoting a positive employment brand to both applicants and current employees. By regularly tracking key performance indicators such as time to hire and cost per hire, among others, HR personnel have already proven the business case for using technology to their CFO and company ownership. Many of these companies have undergone a significant spike in hiring recently, and have sought additional ways to leverage technology to avoid taking on more staff unnecessarily. Examples include bi-directional integration with background checking, behavioral and cognitive employee assessment tools and automated reference checking software in which the applicant is especially engaged to impact the responsiveness of his/her references. The HR department, whether comprised of one person or many individuals at this near-mastery level, is very agile, uses practical, easy-to-learn HR technology software and likely has enviable statistics when it comes to number of offers extended to accepted and turnover.

Talent Leader

These companies are completely passionate about attracting and hiring top talent…having employment brand ambassadors from entry-level employees all the way up to the CEO. The return on investment for pre-employment screening efforts has repeatedly been proven as well as scaled as the business expands (and expansion for small business can often mean a pretty drastic percentage increase in growth)…thanks in part to savvy reporting tools available in hiring software such as applicant tracking systems and online reference checking software. Other companies will look to this organization to mimic its hiring techniques and try to steal talent…but the latter attempt will often fail as the leading company has done a great job of pre-screening talent and engaging candidates and employees in the process. The talent leader will have little trouble fielding applicants for most job postings due to its reputation as a choice employer.

Does your business fall into your preferred category when it comes pre-employment screening maturity? What resources can help you move ahead on the pre-employment screening process maturity curve? To find out, visit our ExactHire resources section or contact us today.

SMB Pre-Employment Screening Guide Ebook

Image credit: Curve of Droplets by Andreas. (contact)

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