11 Types of Pre-Employment Screening: Which Ones to Use

After a thorough hiring process, with the hiring decision just around the corner, it can feel like a drag to go through the pre-employment screening process. Things like cross-checking the job-specific details supplied in the resume or having access to credible referencing data are essentials that ensure the employee is set up for success down the line.

Here's everything you need to know about what pre-employment screening is, key details on the types of testing, and why it's not so black and white. 

What Is Pre-Employment Screening?

Pre-employment screening happens at the stage where you've decided on a candidate and want to ensure they're a safe addition to your team. The purpose of background screening is a matter of doing your due diligence upfront to protect your team and company. 

During the recruitment process, employers will use basic information like date of birth and Social Security number to verify the identities of job applicants, but this barely scratches the surface. 

Let's distill it down a bit further by looking at the types of pre-employment screening tests that will help to keep your business safe. 

Types of Pre-Employment Screening Tests

With so many avenues for screening, keep in mind that the relevant testing should be selected based on the job type. This eliminates exhaustive testing for numerous potential job applicants — it could go on forever. Within certain roles or industries, certain screenings may be mandatory, whereas others will be up to your discretion. Below you will find the most important details to help you figure out which testing makes sense for your hire.

Criminal Background Checks

These are most commonly used to identify whether a candidate has had a prior criminal record on a state, federal, or international level. Roles involving work with children or law enforcement are likely to request a criminal background check. 

These checks are meant to prevent negligent hiring lawsuits or fraudulent claims made against a potential employer but should only be introduced after an offer has been extended to the candidate. It should also be clearly stated in the job posting that this type of screening is mandatory. If accepted, written consent must be provided by the candidate in order to move forward with any criminal background check.  

Drug Testing

Drug testing is often a mandatory safety practice in any workplace where hazardous materials or heavy machinery are involved. Some other industries that are most likely to implement mandatory drug testing include:

  • Government
  • Health care
  • Education
  • Aerospace
  • Insurance
  • Information technology
  • NGOs and charitable organizations
  • Biotech

It's in the interest of public health and safety as well as the protection of the job candidate who may have been exposed to illegal substances and have dangerous amounts in their system.

In the United States, this screening process must always be completed in strict compliance with the local laws as they do vary quite a bit from state to state. It helps to be upfront about expectations regarding sobriety and consumption early on and discuss any potential issues (like prescription medications) before testing.

Previous Worker's Compensation Claims 

This information is not available as a screening practice in all states. Where available, it must uphold the strict standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which involves waiting until a former job offer has been extended to perform the screening. 

These results will tell potential employers when a candidate has filed for worker's compensation in the past. The context and qualification of past claims (like how many were approved or denied) should be investigated if this non-mandatory screening is performed. 

Sex Offender Registry Screening

Both state and federal sex offender lists are offered to potential employers as a pre-employment screening process to protect current employees and to safeguard the company's reputation. Industries that would be wise to include this in their pre-employment screening process include:

  • Any industry involving work with children (education or daycare)
  • Medical 
  • Legal
  • Volunteer

That being said, uncovering that a potential hire has a history as a sex offender is not reason enough to prevent them from employment. According to Megan’s Law it is only permissible to withdraw employment if they would be in contact with a person at risk, and even so, it is not clearly defined. 

Aside from the industries listed above, or having a lawyer on staff to legitimize the validity of any concerns, it may not always be pertinent to perform this check.

Credit History

Pre-Employment Screening: Person looks at credit score on phone

To obtain the credit history of job applicants you must have their consent and be willing to share the results openly with them. This is regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). 

Roles involving sensitive financial data may request this screening like:

  • Bank managers
  • Accountants
  • Clerks
  • Chief financial officer
  • Anyone handling cash

A more biased mindset might create the impression that a good credit score means that a candidate is reliable and a negative score is a precursor to irresponsible behavior. However, both are examples of biased interpretations of the data which poses an adverse effect on workplace diversity. Aside from roles that directly affect the financial security of the company, this check is non-essential.

Driving Records 

You can get these records pretty immediately from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Details will include any accidents, misdemeanors, suspensions, and convictions that may have occurred. This would be a good screening option for roles involving the use of a car, like:

  • Sales
  • Logistics and transportation
  • Driver
  • Personal assistant
  • Food or service delivery driver
  • Trucking

If the open role does not require a car or driving, you can skip this screening.

Education Verification 

This is typical of entry-level job applicants who are recent grads or are still fairly green. The Family Right to Privacy Act ensures that job applicants will be required to consent before schools can release any specific details about their degree or grade point average. The FCRA handles all pre-employment screening activities involving education. 

Reference Checks

Most companies use referencing as a means to mitigate risk by collecting reference data through a series of generic questions and deriving a good or bad impression from former supervisors, managers, and colleagues. This is a standard practice in pre-employment screening across all industries.

A tool like Searchlight can outperform traditional reference checks. The platform provides a strategic evaluation that gives both job applicants and potential employers insight into strengths, growth areas, and behavioral tendencies without a single interview. 

Employment Verification 

This is a bit different from referencing in that you are calling to confirm the accuracy of previously provided employment history like dates, reasons for leaving, and job title. Inconsistencies are not necessarily cause for concern but more so a cause for a conversation with the job applicant to go over any discrepancies. This can be quite seamlessly integrated with referencing activities.

Professional License Records Checks

This category is limited to professionals who require certain certifications to perform their roles. This may include:

  • Attorneys
  • Medical professionals 
  • Accountants 
  • Engineers
  • Electricians
  • Real estate agents
  • Architects 

The screening is intended to confirm a valid license (and when it expires) to protect the potential employee, the company, and its clients as it ensures that they have the required skills to perform the role safely.  

Social Media 

Social media is informally considered a good place to get a high-level sense of potential candidates before hiring them. You can use it to confirm basic details like location and get a sense of whether they know their way around Instagram and Twitter. This can be important for a social media manager or community manager role. 

If you ask me whether I think it's a great professional screening method, the short answer is no.

Content on a potential employee's Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram is a Pandora's box. Using social media to screen could result in inaccuracies in judgment, a bad hiring decision, or worse, legal issues rooted in discrimination. Tread lightly. 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Two co-workers talk together looking at laptop

Pre-employment screening is a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, getting greater access to more information about potential job applicants during the hiring process can create the impression of a safer, more reliable hire. 

On the other hand, unless we check our unconscious bias at the door, results without context can lead to unbalanced hiring decisions. 

Even with the best possible intentions, the results collected require perfect execution and a whole lot of patience to get through. 

There Is a Better Way

The Searchlight platform has been designed to hopscotch over nonessential hurdles and provide a seamless user experience that is rooted in high-quality, carefully curated referrals. 

We connect candidates with your open roles by making smart matches through powerful referral systems like our Support a Colleague initiative. If you know someone looking for work who isn't a fit for your team, why not do some good and refer them for a professional contribution that they've made? We'll connect them with over 50 talent teams looking to hire. By joining our ecosystem as an employer, it also means you get access to the same excellent candidates without the rigmarole.

Want to hire more high performers and increase retention?

Serchlight’s Talent Intelligence has got you covered