Credit Checking Candidates: Is It Right?

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Last week, we talked about the challenges and benefits of personal and professional references. The rising occurrences and prices of lawsuits have made companies wary of giving specific and detailed information about former employees. Even if you get a detailed reference from one employer, the chances of getting all of the candidate’s former employers to cooperate are rather slim.

If you run into obstacles with references, there are two other options that are objective, if not entirely inscrutable. One is the credit check. This is a rather controversial method and it can only be used if the position entails financial responsibilities. The credit check will provide information on bankruptcies and foreclosures, slow or delinquent payments and the like, but anyone who has been unemployed for any length of time knows first-hand that when a paycheck disappears, not all of the bills get paid. It is very easy to draw the wrong conclusions when examining a credit report; just because a candidate has financial issues now does not mean that they will embezzle money from the company tomorrow! And if a candidate has a bad credit history, it is important to let the candidate defend himself.

The other option is the criminal check. This method will tell you if a candidate has ever been arrested or detained for violent or criminal behavior. It is a very good way of spotting potential issues, but the amount of material you can use from a criminal check (especially from sex offender registries) varies from state to state. It is important to carefully assess the material you find: beware of across-the-board bans on hiring felons and consider the nature and severity of the offense (as well as time served) before closing the door on a candidate. Also, a criminal check is not foolproof. Consider a person that lives alone and has anger management issues: they may never have been the object of a police report or even a complaint from the neighbors. That person may be able to adapt into an office setting without any side effects, or something could unexpectedly set them off. Such is the dilemma of human nature.

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