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David Chernick


Managing Director

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Human risk management: Are you in the know?


Align your recruitment and risk strategies

Facing CVs full of lies and rampant ID theft, employers are increasingly defensive and selective about whom they employ. David Chernick offers pre-employment screening tips to help HR professionals align their organisations’ recruitment and risk strategies.

Organisations spend a fortune protecting themselves against external threats: thousands of security guards supervise doorways, sophisticated systems monitor electronic transactions, and CCTV surveillance cameras watch our every move.

But are we unwittingly inviting ID thieves, unqualified professionals, and the dishonest to infiltrate our organisations, by giving them security badges, access to sensitive data, unrestricted entry to buildings, and work with vulnerable staff and customers?

Risk and threat management

The old-fashioned, hierarchical view that senior executives expose more threats than junior employees ignores the example of the office cleaner who might have easier access to sensitive areas than a director.

HR needs to assess its threat exposure from individual or families of roles, and compare these to the organisation’s risk strategy. That way it can mitigate risks appropriately, focus its investigatory effort, and avoid over-emphasising unwarranted checks.

Deciding on the ‘right’ levels of checks depends on your organisation’s sensitivity to risk, which is partly governed by individual corporate values, industry, environment and regulation.

Many risk and security managers are busy defining increasingly defensive and selective employment policies to shield their organisations. But they then delegate pre-employment screening to HR departments, already struggling in the face of tight resourcing budgets, demanding timescales, or the highest vacancy levels on record (source: ONS).

Strategic human risk management

How should HR handle this tricky conflict: finding skilled people quickly and cost effectively on one hand; and safe, compliant recruitment, threat management and protection on the other?

For HR to truly reflect its organisation’s risk strategy, it needs to ring fence pre-employment screening from its other recruitment activities. HR faces pressure to deploy the right staff quickly and cost effectively, but it usually lacks the objectivity, resources, and know-how of a discrete, focused, specialist background checking team. Their organisations needlessly suffer staff-perpetrated theft – and worse – at the hands of repeat offenders.

The ‘right’ checks

Simple checks to mitigate threats

  • Find out who you’re dealing with using a reputable ID verification database.
  • Find out if they’re entitled to work in the employment zone and role.
  • Find out if the salary you’re paying can sustain any insurmountable debt.
  • Attracting a manager or professional candidate costs an average of £5,000 (source: CIPD), and £2,000 for high volume, customer service roles, yet checking who you’re dealing with rarely amounts to more than 2 per cent of this. So what’s putting us off?

    Perhaps it’s because it’s such an effort to elicit a worthwhile work reference that employers simply give up altogether, or rely on recommendations from unsubstantiated referees.

    And, even though a sixth of the workforce has a criminal record, our voracious appetite to find undisclosed convictions, whether or not these checks are relevant or even lawful, can add several weeks’ delay.

    The prevalence of verification databases, which many businesses are already using to confirm customers’ ID and credit worthiness, means you can more reliably check employees’ identifications, their financial probity and address histories.

    Indeed, there is little point using any other selection criteria unless you know who you are dealing with. Dishonest employees are more tempted to steal when their debt repayments far exceed their salaries. Credit reference agencies can suggest how applicants are coping with loans, highlight outstanding County Court Judgements (CCJs) and verify address histories on request.

    Any skilled resourcing specialist knows that they can more reliably predict a candidate’s future behaviour by reviewing their most recent conduct. Referees’ increasing reticence to volunteer anything more than the standard tenure dates and job titles shouldn’t deter vigilant hiring managers. Up to two-thirds of British workers would lie on their application forms to get a job (source: Monster).

    Don’t underestimate the value of authentic work histories; and verify the employment experiences that candidates brag about during interviews and on application forms.

    Reference checking tips

  • Ring fence referencing from other resourcing activities.
  • Check the genuine existence of former employers.
  • Check the validity of named referees.
  • Check tenure dates, job titles, and reasons for leaving.
  • Check your candidate’s record of dismissible, crime related conduct on a dishonesty register.
  • Work references

    We all know from experience that busy previous employers might only yield references half the time. “We’re able to elicit references for well over 90 per cent of candidates because we have dedicated specialists who can focus all their efforts on chasing referees, with all the right authorisations immediately to hand,” says Nick Palmer, one of Reed Screening’s team leaders. “Our main obstacle is simply when the former employer has closed down.”

    Clearly, this outsourced provider doesn’t suffer from the same distractions faced by in-house resourcing teams.

    My top tip on obtaining work references is to not rely on referee contact information supplied by candidates. Application forms typically ask candidates to include names and telephone numbers of former employers.

    But dishonest candidates regularly put forward a loyal friend, family member, or even themselves to provide a glowing reference. Instead, use a reputable company register to check that the organisation exists, and an equally reliable directory to independently find a valid contact.

    Then, as a minimum, corroborate start and leaving dates, job titles and, if you can, reasons for leaving. And even if their previous job ended in dismissal, your otherwise ideal applicant could divulge a reasonable explanation.

    If you believe that lies on CVs indicate a propensity to dishonesty, you will need to pinpoint fictitious employment histories, and fabricated qualifications which, by themselves, may disqualify candidates for specific roles. In some regulated, financial services roles, a firm could threaten its ability to trade by employing an unqualified professional.

    More advanced checks include searches on director databases, and media searches which, as well as highlighting adverse news reports about candidates, also expose journalist infiltrators who may have written damaging articles in the past.

    In addition, information about employees’ previous, dismissible, crime related conduct is becoming more readily available on ‘dishonesty registers’. Many large employers can qualify to become members of these registers if they satisfy data protection legislation, adequate employment practices, and contribute their own dismissal data.

    A final word

    The worst mistake organisations make is to believe that they’ve protected themselves by including the words “subject to satisfactory checks” on job offers when, in reality, they use unreliable sources or simply don’t undertake the right checks.

    There’s now abundant advice, data and services to help. So take advantage and align your recruitment processes with your organisation’s risk strategy.

    David Chernick leads Reed Screening, part of Reed Managed Services, one of the UK’s leading experts on HR and recruitment. Please email [email protected] for more information.

    3 Responses

    1. Take care…
      Thanks for your comments, Mssrs Robson ‘n’ Dobson.

      Diverse workforces don’t confuse “safe candidates” with replicas. They reserve risk tolerance for earlier recruitment stages, particularly the competency framework.
      Background checks protect employers from the dishonest.
      Hence, offers “subject to satisfactory checks”.

      Steve Dobson usefully highlights our instinctive craving for trust. But we all know: false references, qualifications and education histories are commonplace (source: BDO Stoy Hayward). Intelligently checking references mitigates employees’ risk of working amongst ID thieves, unqualified professionals, and fraudsters.

      David Chernick
      Reed Screening

    2. Recruitment is inherently risky… is business.

      Manage risk, don’t eliminate it altogether, or you will only recruit safe candidates, who will bring nothing new to the business.

      Also remember that candidates have to take a risk on you in order to join.

    3. Agree – and HR needs to be more rigorous
      Consider the enemy within… most fraud comes from within companies. However, companies need to provide a more open environment with the employes trusted more and more…
      HR need to therefore ensure that they’re checking up properly (and not just looking up a page on facebook), but intelligently checking references. Of course when you ask for references – if their are problems with a candidate, the referee can’t say much…

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    David Chernick

    Managing Director

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