Hiring & Recruiting, HR Policies & Procedures

6 Tips for Conducting Background Checks for Non-U.S. Job Candidates

Background checks for job candidates are commonplace in the United States. Most employers search beyond resumes and interviews for information about a potential new hire. Most job seekers expect employers to dig a bit into their backgrounds.

Source: Smokhov / iStock / Getty

But in other parts of the world, this stage of the hiring process—which is routine in the U.S.—may be met with deep concern and suspicion. What’s more, that criminal record check that’s standard in the United States may be against the law in another country.

These are lessons more U.S. companies are learning as they bring their business—and business practices—to global markets. Couple job seekers’ concerns with employers’ worries about the higher costs of overseas background checks, unfamiliar laws and logistical issues, and it’s no wonder that many businesses forgo screenings when filling positions in far-flung locations.

But that’s never a good plan. When employers don’t screen potential hires, businesses open themselves up to more risk, such as employee theft, fraud, and greater attrition rates.

As companies expand to new markets, it’s possible to ease the concerns of potential candidates, make the process more transparent, and jump over other hurdles that companies encounter when screening international job candidates.

But it takes some planning and work upfront to streamline the process for all. Here are six ways to get the job done:

1. Create an International Employment Screening Program

Consistency in background checks for new hires is key for any employer. It helps to mitigate risk. To ensure consistency, it’s critical that companies establish a standard screening policy for job candidates regardless of where they are in the world.

The policy should lay out exactly how the employer conducts background checks, including what information is needed and how the process moves forward. Of course, laws can differ and may make a routine question in one country impermissible in another. It’s important for the policy to be flexible.

The policy also should outline who can conduct the screenings. When hiring internationally, U.S. companies often look to local screening firms without a global presence. These smaller firms, however, may not have the appropriate cybersecurity practices to ensure that the information they gather is protected and processed according to relevant laws.

Before working with any provider, companies should verify that local researchers not only understand a specific country’s data protection and privacy laws, but they also have the right technology safeguards in place.

2. Know That Local Context Is Vital

In the United States, background checks are standard because employers appreciate their benefits—improved hiring outcomes, lower attrition rates and reduced risk. Elsewhere, pre-employment screenings typically are done only because there is a legal mandate or a client requires it. They often are met with skepticism.

Consider, for instance, the experience during a background check for an applicant, who lived and worked in a country with a recent regime change in government: When the applicant’s former supervisor was contacted, he claimed no knowledge of the applicant.

The supervisor, who was leery of investigations because of the country’s previous administration, then called the applicant to let him know he hadn’t told the researcher anything and not to worry, thereby placing the candidate in a predicament with his prospective employer.

The applicant was able to clear up the issue, but it’s just one example of why employers must appreciate the local context when screening overseas candidates.

3. Understand that Laws and Logistics Vary Widely

When checking a U.S. job candidates’ background, employers can rely on a variety of laws and tools to speed up the process. In the U.S., the Freedom of Information Act spells out what’s a public record. Also, with eVerify, employers can easily confirm employment eligibility.  The Fair Credit Reporting Act provides the framework for candidates’ rights, and employers’ responsibilities.

Elsewhere, the information an employer can obtain is limited and might be hard to get. In Poland, employers generally are prohibited from inquiring into criminal records or credit reports. In Canada, a candidate with a criminal history must consent to get fingerprinted to obtain their full criminal record report and then agree to hand those results over to the employer.

In countries where employers must rely on information provided by job applicants, the paperwork also could be falsified. In India, when employees leave a job, they get a relieving letter, which details their job history at a particular employer. In some cases, those relieving letters can be forged.

When conducting an international screening, employers must work with professionals who understand not only a jurisdiction’s laws, but also what locations may be prone to corruption and other nuances that may affect the outcome of a background check.

4. Plan for an Extended Screening Timeline

Background checks generally take about 5 days in the United States, where much of the information is available online or verifiable in person. In the United Kingdom, where the governmental hoops to jump through in order to screen candidates can be more rigorous, they can take 15 days or longer.

When conducting a global screening, employers must be ready to adjust their timeline to account for the extra time it may take to complete the process.

5. Set Expectations with Job Candidates

To ease applicants’ concerns, it’s vital that employers make the process transparent from the start. First, employers should explain why background checks are so important in the hiring process.

They also must clearly spell out what information they’ll need to complete the process, what documents an applicant may need to gather on their own, and exactly how long the screening may take. Employers can help make the process feel less mysterious to wary applicants by handing them a tip sheet or to-do list to refer to at various checkpoints.

6. Be Ready for Change

Of course, once employers establish their global screening policy, familiarize themselves with global laws and customs, and successfully screen new candidates, regulations change.

Employers moving into global markets often struggle to navigate the world of global screening. Partnering with the right experts can help ensure that employers have the right solutions available to help meet their screening needs.

Catherine Aldrich is vice president of operations at HireRight.