Special from #SHRM2018: Can Applicants Own Their Background Information?

I recently sat down with Tammy Cohen, the Founder and Chief Visionary Officer with InfoMart at #SHRM2018. InfoMart puts background information into the hands of the owner—and uses block-chain technology to permanently store verified information.

Note: As of 6/25/18 some corrections have been made.

Source: phive2015 / iStock / Getty

Background Checks Come in All Shapes and Sizes

We began our conversation by discussing the term “background check.” Such a term can be misleading because all background checks are not created equal. A host of factors play into how useful and thorough a background check really is. This includes how much access the person conducting the check has to an individual’s history, how deep they are willing to go, and how much time and money they are willing to spend on it. When you say you have had “a background check” what you really are saying is that someone conducted something between a cursory look at your background to a thorough vetting of your history.

“Background checks are evolving into more like screening,” began Cohen. She continued, “now once information comes into a server it splinters and it goes out to the court houses, to the interviewers, to everywhere, and then comes all back together to the employers.” This process itself would not be an issue, except, “usually an applicant doesn’t get to see that report,” she cautioned.

A Potential Loss of Talent

And therein lies a potential problem, for applicants certainly, but also for employers. If an applicant fails a background check, they might never even know that is the reason they got ejected from the hiring process. If that same employee was poorly investigated, had mitigating circumstances surrounding a red flag, or even if they had learned from their mistake and can prove it with subsequent behavior—they never get a chance to defend themselves. Such a system can remove a qualified and potentially fantastic candidate from the hiring process at an avoidable loss for the company.

Should Candidates Own Their Own Information?

Cohen’s company advocates what they call “self-sovereign” background checks. She explained that with this process, “we send the report to the applicant, and the applicant has a chance to certify it, dispute it, and then it goes to the employer.” Further, said Cohen, “then the applicant is able to own the information.” The applicant is also able to share their now-verified report with other employers.

One concern that I brought up to Cohen involves the potential for a candidate to falsify or somehow invalidate their background information if they are in control of it. Cohen began, “that is the issue at the end of the day.” However, she assured me that those concerns are addressed by rigorous verification. She explained that information about a candidate is verified by InfoMart—to ensure that it is accurate. Then the candidate has complete control over what information gets sent to whom and for how long.

Candidates can choose to send their criminal history, or not to, for example. Not sending the criminal history would look just as bad as having a bad criminal history, but it would be the choice of the candidate—and potentially give them a chance to be gainfully employed. Employers who use such a system would have to be savvy in how they use information given by the employee. Such freedom, however, cuts the other way too. People who have had excellent backgrounds with no criminal history or red flags can not only prove that their background is squeaky clean, but also be comfortable knowing that that information is safely in the hands of their potential future employer.

The Future of Background Checks

InfoMart is experimenting with using blockchains to secure candidate information once it has been verified, but they have not rolled that out yet. Let’s take a quick look at what that might look like.

For those familiar with how the blockchain works, you know its potential for verifying information, and permanently assigning that information to certain users. For those not familiar, you can learn more here. If you don’t have two minutes, allow me to over-simplify. Basically, networks of personal computers verify transactions simultaneously, publicly, and they do so in a decentralized way. Because of this, the information can be verified by the blockchain with a high certainty that it is accurate.

What does that have to do with background checks? Background check information secured by a blockchain can be considered accurate and secure. Once created, a candidate can’t alter that information without everyone knowing. When it comes time for them to apply for a job, they can give that information to employers comfortably knowing that it will be taken seriously. Hiring managers too can be reasonably confident that the information they receive is accurate.

Stay tuned to the HR Daily Advisor. Over the next days and weeks we will be bringing you more coverage of sessions, interviews with HR innovators, and other content surrounding #SHRM2018.