My first exposure to the world of HR was when I worked in marketing for a startup and was tasked with confirming that a sales applicant’s work history was correct. The candidate’s resume stated that he had worked for the FBI. When I called the local FBI office they had no record of that candidate’s employment with their organization. A couple of hours later, the FBI was in my office requesting everything I’d been provided by that candidate who we’d of course already removed from consideration for the role.

The next candidate stated that she had a dual major; the college registrar confirmed the person had graduated but with just one degree and had taken one class in the other subject area. That second degree didn’t matter for the sales role, but the fact that the candidate didn’t tell the truth? That mattered a lot. We removed her from consideration.

By this point, I was hooked on employment verification and the exciting world of HR!

Finally, when verifying the third candidate’s educational background, the university from which he said he graduated didn’t have any record of his attendance. I asked the candidate about the discrepancy. He explained that he may have been registered under his mother’s maiden name. With that additional detail, the registrar was able to confirm he had indeed graduated. We offered him the job.

Conduct employment verifications to confirm information

The moral of this story is that there’s no guarantee that a candidate won’t embellish their previous job history, education, or professional background when applying for a job. To prevent hiring someone based on false information, many employers choose to use employment verification, reference checks and in some instances background checks to verify the information candidates provide.

When verifying employment, organizations contact a candidate’s previous employers to verify information including dates of employment, job titles, and duties performed. Some employers choose to inquire about the circumstances of separation and even ask about compensation—which increases the risk around negative perceptions regarding pay equity.

Due to the sensitivity around work history, pay, and other verifications, some laws have already been enacted and more are likely coming. These legal requirements make it even more imperative that organizations use consistent practices to avoid putting the organization at risk. Take this approach when setting the standard for your employment verification process:

  1. Request written permission from candidates
  2. Focus on relevancy
  3. Standardize the process

Request permission from candidates

As part of the application process, request and obtain signed permission from candidates authorizing former employers to release job-related information to your company. In your request, advise applicants what information you will request (e.g., dates of employment, job titles, etc.) during the employment verification.

If a candidate does not agree to employment verification, do not proceed with the verification process. You have two options: continue with the hiring process without obtaining confirmation of employment-related information, or remove the offer for employment. When removing the employment offer, be sure this is the consistent approach you take with every candidate who refuses employment verification.

Focus on relevancy

To avoid topics which may create risk (salary, performance, etc.) focus your employment verification on obtaining only job-related information. Do not ask for information that is protected by federal, state, or local law (e.g. the individual’s age, national origin, family status, etc.). Focus on what’s relevant—the purpose of your information request is to confirm the factual, objective data which candidates provide during the application process that directly pertain to the responsibilities of the job for which you’re hiring.

Most previous employers are willing to disclose these types of information, but for their own protection will be hesitant to provide information related to performance or conduct. If an employer inadvertently shares protected information, it must not impact or be included when making the decision whether or not to hire the candidate.

Standardize the process

Be sure your organization’s employment process and procedure is standardized. The information you collect and verify must be the same for every candidate. An important thing to note is that if you conduct verification beyond employment information prior to hiring an employee (e.g., background checks), that information is covered by the Federal Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

The FCRA has very specific guidelines employers must follow when failing to hire based on the results of inquiries related to information obtained during background checks. If you choose to work with a vendor to complete this step of your hiring process, be sure that they are in compliance with FCRA regulations.

It’s understandable why employment verification is part of most company’s hiring practices. To ensure that your organization is starting the employment relationship on good terms and avoiding perceptions of inequity or bias, be transparent: request candidate’s permission, focus only on relevant information, and standardize the process. In this way you’re able to obtain the confirmation you need to protect your organization from a bad hire while also engaging with the candidate in a positive, proactive way about their employment history.