Lessons from the White House: Don’t Forget the Background Check

The already turbulent political world has been rocked in recent weeks by the Rob Porter scandal. Porter lasted just over a year White House Staff Secretary, before resigning after public allegations by two ex-wives of physical and emotional abuse. To further complicate matters, reports surfaced that Chief of Staff, John Kelly knew of the allegations and was even considering promoting him to a more senior role.

Beyond the ugly behavior at the forefront of this saga, there is an important lesson to be learned as it relates to employment.  Porter’s hiring and retention is a prime example of background check failure at the highest level of American politics. Our country’s leaders are not properly vetting in 2018. However, you can and should successfully vet your prospects, and go to every length to check off all the boxes on your candidate before bringing them on board.

Background checks are key to verifying a potential employee’s work history, credentials, and other information, so that you know what you’re getting – it’s not just limited to a person’s work qualifications. Character and culture fit are important to creating a positive work environment and cannot be neglected when going through the hiring process. If someone has a red flag in their personal history, it may present an even greater risk to your business than hiring someone who just doesn’t have proper qualifications.

No matter how strong a person’s resume seems, or how well an individual conducts themselves during the interview, it is important to conduct background and reference checks before offering the position to a candidate.  When you use the same format/process for all candidates you ensure that you are maintaining consistency and compliance because you are seeking the same information about each applicant.  Be sure to check on criminal history, verify education and previous employment, conduct professional references, and check on any other information relevant to the position, such as licensure/certification, driver’s record, etc.

Due to competitive conditions, sometimes an offer of employment may be extended prior to the completion of these checks.  In these cases, it’s important to communicate to the candidate that the offer is contingent upon a successful background check and that the offer may be rescinded if background check is not acceptable.

While a company can conduct these checks themselves, it’s often more efficient to outsource them to a third-party.  You’ll want to ensure that that your background check process is not overly invasive/does not infringe on their rights.  Become knowledgeable of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which governs background checks and stipulates certain notifications.

You also shouldn’t contact a candidate’s current employer without obtaining permission from the candidate. Some employers do not release information about the performance of current or past employees or limit the amount of information provided to dates of employment and position held. This should not be interpreted as a reflection of the candidate’s performance. Rather, it is an attempt on the part of the employer to avoid liability.

The White House scandal involving Rob Porter should be a stark reminder to employers and managers everywhere that no one is above a thorough background check – no matter how great their qualifications may look on paper. Make sure that your company does its due diligence when searching for candidates to avoid the kind of drama the White House is currently experiencing.

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