The Basics of Job Applicant Pre-Employment Screening

Job applicant pre-employment screening occurs prior to the extension of a job offer and involves the investigation into a potential hire’s background to verify claims made during the hiring process. It is also used to discover any possible criminal history, financial irregularities, employment eligibility, or other potentially disqualifying factors.

Also referred to as a background check, detailed pre-employment screening often includes reviewing criminal records and credit history reports, verification of prior employment, and interviews of the candidate’s references. Depending on the requirements of the employer or hiring agency, drug testing can also be a part of this applicant screening process.

The goal of pre-employment screening is to safeguard the hiring employer from the myriad business and security risks posed by the hiring of an ineligible, untrustworthy or, in extreme cases, even violent employee.

Types of pre-employment screening

Criminal records

Report of a person’s criminal history listing criminal offenses collected from a variety of federal, states, and county public records. It can include basic identifying information, arrests, convictions, past addresses, and a history of marriages and divorces.

Social Security Number scan

Reports of names and addresses associated with a particular Social Security Number (SSN). The report may show if an SSN is invalid.

Drug testing

Tests that reveals the presence of illegal drugs in an applicant’s urine or blood, indicating illicit drug use. Drug testing laws vary by state and may be legally required for certain positions. Conversely, local regulations may also limit how and when drug testing may be carried out. 

Workers Compensation Records

Details about an employee’s previous workers compensation claims for job-related injuries, including type of injury, body part injured, date of incident, time lost, and possible job-related disability.

Regulations may forbid an employer from inquiring about an applicant’s medical condition or workers’ compensation claims until a conditional job offer has been extended. However, ff a history of filing workers’ comp claims is found post-offer and the Workers Compensation Record demonstrates evidence of lying during the hiring process or of a history of filing false claims, the offer may be rescinded.

Credit report

Credit history of an individual showing credit card debt, mortgage and car payments, loans (including student loans), and payment history, including late payments. Employers may consider a candidate's credit status to determine if financial problems are likely to impact job performance. This may especially apply for positions in banking, accounting, or other financial fields. An applicant must provide authorization before a credit check can be conducted.

National Sex Offender Public Registry

Federal and state registries for sex offenders, searchable by name.

Motor Vehicle Reports

Also known as driving records, information about a candidate’s driver licenses and traffic violations. Used primarily to determine whether to hire someone for a driving-related job.

Benefits of job applicant pre-employment screening

Verify details

Unfortunately, not every job applicant submits résumés, job applications, and reference info that is 100% true. Verification of employment history and ATS information can ensure the candidate has the experience he or she claims. Pre-employment screening can also verify education, credentials, certifications, licenses, and other criteria that may be requirements for the open position.

Improve hires

Hiring the right candidates is what sets a successful company apart from failing companies. Thorough pre-employment screening weeds out applicants who won’t be a good fit or could be limited in their effectiveness, particularly those who are dishonest or otherwise lack integrity.

Save time and money

Without pre-employment screening, bad hires are more likely—and bad hires are costly. Time and resources are wasted onboarding and training someone unlikely to last very long at the job. Additional resources will need to be employed to find a replacement. In a worst-case scenario, court fees or payouts could cost a business a considerable amount more than what pre-employment screening tests cost.

Minimize risk

A bad hire may damage an organization’s reputation or budget. An applicant with a credit report showing multiple foreclosures and late loan payments could indicate poor decision-making and lack of judgment, even the potential for exploitation of the job for financial gain. And hiring an applicant with a prior criminal record indicating a history of violence jeopardizes the safety of employees, customers, and anyone he or she comes in contact with. A hiring organization could even be liable if someone is victimized by one of its employees.

How much does pre-employment screening cost?

The price of pre-employment screening varies widely depending on the type and number of tests administered. A simple identity and SSN verification check could cost less than $5. An extensive background check performed by a professional screening service could cost more than $150. Drug tests cost approximately $30.

It is also important to consider the potential cost of not performing applicant screening. While this may save on fees in the short term, ultimately, a recruiter can increase the likelihood of hiring high-quality candidates by using pre-employment screening. Pre-employment testing can help organizations save time and overall cost in the selection process, decrease turnover, increase productivity, and improve morale in the long term.

Where to find applicant screening services?

While many standalone applicant screening services exist, recruiting software suites and applicant tracking systems may offer pre-integrated solutions for reference checks, assessments, and background checks. There may be cost efficiencies to this, but it also offers the advantage of keeping all candidate information consolidated in one platform.