Incorporating pre-employment screening into the hiring process can help organizations thoroughly vet candidates and ensure qualified individuals make the cut. This guide covers what employers need to know about conducting pre-employment screening, how it can be used to streamline the hiring process, and what federal, state, and local laws may apply.
What is pre-employment screening?
Pre-employment screening is a process employers can use to gather insight about candidates and make more informed hiring decisions. Sometimes referred to as a “pre-employment background check,” a pre-employment screening typically begins with reviewing a candidate’s application and resume to ensure the individual meets predetermined job qualifications. Once a candidate has made it through the initial pre-employment screening, hiring managers can use a range of other techniques to learn more about an individual’s history and verify any information a candidate provides.
Why is pre-employment screening important?
Pre-employment screening can be used to help employers evaluate a candidate’s qualifications and gain important insights into their professional history and background. Here is a closer look at some of the benefits of pre-employment screening:
Make fair and informed decisions. Pre-employment screening can help hiring managers assess a candidate’s qualifications using reliable information from public records and databases combined with personal evaluations from interviews or skill assessments.
Stay compliant with industry regulations. Some industries are required by federal, state, and industry laws to conduct certain types of background checks. Including these checks as part of your pre-employment screening can help your organization ensure compliance.
Maintain a safe work environment. Conducting thorough pre-employment screenings helps employers manage risk, create a productive and supportive work environment, and protect the organization against potential liability claims.
Types of pre-employment screening
Pre-employment screening involves many types of checks that can determine if a candidate meets the qualifications to fill a role. This may include interviews to see if a candidate is a good fit, skills tests to further confirm a candidate’s qualifications for a role, and background checks to look into an individual's history, determine eligibility, and verify credentials.
Here are common techniques hiring managers use during pre-employment screening broken down into two key phases:
Phase 1: Pre-employment interviews and skills tests
From resume reviews and interviews to aptitude tests, hiring managers often use many different types of techniques to determine if a candidate is a good fit for a position early on in the hiring process. These may include:
Pre-interview screenings can help determine if a candidate has the qualifications to move on to an interview. During this process, hiring managers review candidate resumes, cover letters, and applications to ensure basic qualifications are met for the role. Employers will often use an automated Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) to scan candidate materials, but the process can also be handled manually.
Interviews provide the opportunity to speak with candidates directly and ask questions about their experience, qualifications, and interest in the role. Interviews can be conducted over the phone, on a video chat, in person, or in a group setting. Candidates may participate in several different types of interviews and meet with more than one person (human resources, hiring manager, direct report, groups, panels, etc.). Interviews can be handled by an employer or may be facilitated by a third party, like a staffing agency or recruiter.
Pre-employment tests and assessments
Pre-employment tests and assessments can evaluate a candidate’s aptitude, personality type, or skills. These can include online tests, portfolio reviews, sample assignments or presentations, and more depending on the industry, role, and employer vetting needs. Some employers may ask prospective employees to complete a paid on-the-job trial period.
Phase 2: Pre-employment background checks
Hiring managers often conduct pre-employment background checks after making a conditional offer of employment (regulations may vary by jurisdiction) to look into a candidate’s history. This can include public record searches, like criminal history and motor vehicle reports, as well as other screenings, like education and employment verification. Background checks can be conducted in-house or with the help of a third-party consumer reporting agency (CRA), like Checkr.
Common pre-employment background checks include:
Criminal background checks to look into a candidate’s criminal records, including federal, national, state, and county records. They can show an individual’s history of arrests, convictions, and incarcerations, along with both current and past arrest warrants. This is the most common type of screening and may be required by law for certain industries.
Driving record checks (also called MVRs) to search a candidate’s motor vehicle history. MVRs are most useful for positions that require an individual to operate a vehicle or machinery. In some industries, such as commercial trucking, they may be required by law.
Credit checks to search a candidate’s credit history and return financial information like credit reports, bankruptcies, accounts in collections, and payment history. This type of screening is often used for jobs that include financial responsibility. In some industries or roles, pre-employment credit checks may be required by law.
Civil searches to review an individual’s civil court records. These can show several types of non-criminal information, like lawsuits, liens, judgments, and restraining orders.
Employment verification to confirm an individual’s professional background and employment history, including previous employers, positions held, and dates of employment.
Education verification to validate an individual’s academic history and confirm schools attended, degrees earned, and graduation dates.
Professional license verification to confirm that a candidate holds the professional license necessary to be eligible for the role. This type of search is most often used by employers operating in regulated industries where licensing is required.
Drug testing to screen a candidate for certain illegal or prescription substances. This type of screening can help employers stay compliant with their company’s drug policy and industry regulations. This type of screening can be useful for positions that operate vehicles or machinery and may be required by law in some industries.
How long does pre-employment screening take?
Pre-employment screening turnaround times can vary depending on the type of position being filled, the type and amounts of screenings needed, and who is carrying out each of the different screening phases.
If a candidate does not make it past the pre-interview phase (resume and application reviews), then the pre-employment screening process is generally over shortly after a resume or application is submitted.
If an individual’s basic qualifications allow them to proceed to the interview stage, then there could be one or many interviews, depending on the role. This timeline varies widely based on the position and organization, typically taking anywhere from a few days to several weeks or months.
Turnaround times for post-interview background checks can range from just a few minutes to several days or weeks and will vary based on the types of searches being conducted and who is performing them. Employers that choose to partner with a professional background check provider, like Checkr, can benefit from quicker and more accurate background check results thanks to advanced technology that integrates with 100+ ATS systems to further streamline the process. Checkr’s candidate portal also gives both employers and candidates a transparent view of the status of each report along the way.
Legal considerations in the pre-employment screening process
When conducting background checks as part of your pre-employment screening process, employers must remain compliant with all relevant federal, state, and local fair hiring laws. These may include Ban the Box laws as well as laws regulating how an employer can access or use other information about a candidate—like marijuana use and social media activity—when making hiring decisions. To help reduce potential legal liabilities, employers may decide to comply with the strictest regulations.
Specific industry regulations may also apply, depending on the nature of the role. For example, in healthcare sanctions checks are often required to screen healthcare professionals for exclusions, debarments, sanctions, and disciplinary actions. Under federal law, childcare workers are required to pass state and federal criminal background checks.
Here’s a closer look at some of the regulations and guidelines employers may need to follow when conducting pre-employment screenings:
Ban the Box laws
While there is no federal Ban the Box law that applies to all employers, many states, counties, and cities have local Ban the Box laws. These laws vary depending on individual jurisdictions but are generally designed to regulate when employers can ask candidates about their criminal history and what types of information can be requested, among other restrictions.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
The EEOC was founded in 1965 to enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids employment discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion, or national origin. EEOC guidelines also help enforce various workplace discrimination laws designed to protect workers against discrimination based on pregnancy, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, and genetic information. Employers cannot single out any protected classes for background checks during the hiring process. Some states have additional non-discrimination requires along with federal EEOC requirements.
Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)
Employers that choose to partner with a CRA to conduct pre-employment screenings must adhere to the federal regulations of the FCRA. Under this act, employers are required to provide a candidate with written notice of their intent to conduct a background check and receive written consent. If an employer decides not to move forward with hiring a candidate based on information found in a report, the FCRA’s adverse action process must be followed.
Frequently asked questions about pre-employment screening
Employers that plan to conduct any kind of pre-employment screening for prospective employees should consider the following commonly asked questions.
What is the main purpose of pre-employment screening?
Employers use pre-employment screening to vet candidate qualifications and make more informed hiring decisions.
How much does pre-employment screening cost?
The cost of pre-employment screening depends on many factors, including the type of screenings used by the employer, who is conducting the screenings, and any record fees or third-party costs. For example, employers that partner with a CRA, like Checkr, can choose from a range of pricing packages for background checks (Checkr’s packages start at $29.99).
What does the pre-employment screening process look like?
The pre-employment screening process can vary by employer, industry, and role. However, pre-employment screening generally involves three key phases: pre-screening a candidate’s application or resume to determine if basic qualifications are met, interviewing a candidate to evaluate eligibility further, and conducting background checks to look into an individual’s history and verify information.
Does pre-employment screening mean I got the job?
No. An employer performing a pre-employment screening does not necessarily mean that a job offer will be extended to a candidate. A pre-employment screening can, however, help employers evaluate a candidate’s eligibility for a role and verify their qualifications during the hiring process.
Get a pre-employment screening package from Checkr
Employers that use pre-employment screening as part of their hiring process can benefit from partnering with a CRA, like Checkr, for more accurate results and quicker turnaround times. Checkr helps organizations of all sizes streamline their screening process with our user-friendly platform and simplified background check workflows. Our technology easily integrates with 100+ ATS, human resource, and onboarding systems and is designed to help employers stay compliant with federal, state, and local laws. Get started with a Checkr pre-employment screening package now.
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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.
About the author
Sarah writes about small business topics and corporate communications. She has written on a wide range of topics, including background checks, hiring trends, company culture, and employee training and development. Her work includes educational articles, press releases, newsletters, and employee onboarding collateral.