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Employee background verification can be tricky

LiveMint logoLiveMint 30-04-2017 Sohini Sen

Picture this. You go for a job interview, clear all the rounds and are hired.

Two weeks into the new job, however, you are called into the manager’s office and politely asked to leave. Why? Because there is a discrepancy in the information you provided for verification. 

Background verification is often overlooked by those applying for a job. More and more companies, however, are using this kind of verification to make sure that the employee has not exaggerated his/her role or skills and experience. In most cases, firms are reaching out to specialized verification agencies such as Authbridge, Integrity Verification Services Pvt. Ltd, VVScore and First Advantage. With competition intense, a simple misrepresentation of facts can cost you a great job opportunity.

While it is entirely up to the specific human resource (HR) team to decide if it wants to scrutinize the complete joining form of the candidate or only certain sections of it, there are a few red flags that always herald bad news. “For example, a gap in your experience, a mismatch in the kind of education a candidate has received and the salary he draws, or a jump from one industry or skill-set to another (are components that) usually always catch our notice. We then do further research on the candidate’s history,” says Purushotam Savlani, managing director and senior vice-president of First Advantage.

According to First Advantage’s “Background Screening Trends Report for India”, released in March, cases of discrepancy across sectors like telecom, retail, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), travel and hospitality and manufacturing showed an increase in the discrepancy percentage, from 10.6% in Q3 to 11% in Q4 (which means that of every 100 candidates screened by First Advantage, 11 had discrepancies in their joining forms). The report says a huge chunk of the discrepancies were in the “previous employment” component, followed by “address” and “education”. These include false information on the compensation package drawn from previous jobs, the job profile, current address, place originally from, and the college/institute from where they got their professional degrees.

Be candid?

The reason for exaggerating facts may differ from person to person. According to Suchita Dutta, executive director at Indian Staffing Federation, the apex body of the flexi-staffing industry in the country, most HR managers will take this into account before deciding whether the candidate should be fired immediately or be given a chance to explain, or whether the discrepancy should be ignored as irrelevant.

“If a person has been honest about his skills but doesn’t have the proof—maybe he knows coding but has not worked in any major coding project—you should take his skills into account. Similarly, someone may have worked in a company but was not given the opportunity to update his skills—like those ‘on the bench’ in an IT job. In such cases, the HR team has to use its judgement and not just what the verification results show,” says Dutta.

In certain situations, the very fact that an employee has decided to leave a company could endanger his background check process—even if all the information provided is correct. The previous company may not be too happy with his decision to quit and may withhold the complete information or skip important details. “While mild discrepancies are often overlooked, we do speak to the candidate and give him a chance to explain his position,” says Sheen Akkara, chief human resource officer at cash management company CMS Info Systems.

Akkara explains that it is okay for candidates to do a certain kind of work but not have a title that reflects their exact job description, as long as they have the skill-sets required for their current job. For example, you may be called a programme manager, but your actual responsibilities may have included anything from managing a team to managing a project or a campaign. “A good solution would be to explain this to the interviewer during the face-to-face conversation. Since verification agencies usually use the data from the joining form (as against the curriculum vitae), you have the opportunity to explain your situation,” says Savlani.

In the current economic climate, and given the phases of recession in the past, gaps in résumés are common. It does not reflect poorly on the candidate’s capabilities, unless he/she was fired for non-performance. So candidates should not shy away from mentioning these gaps.

When it comes to education and degrees, Francis Padamadan, country director, KellyOCG India, a talent management solutions provider, says candidates should be completely honest. “If the candidate has faked an academic degree, this will not be tolerated. This trait is a criminal offence and may even lead to the hiring company facing a huge cost if faced with a lawsuit.” 

Compensation is obviously one of the major factors in a job change. Vishesh Khurana, co-founder of e-commerce platform KartRocket, says salary slips or even increment letters often form an important part of the verification process, so candidates should be ready to share these. Khurana adds that providing just one salary slip may not be enough because a lot of companies have variable components. “Be ready to show three months’ salary slips and be honest about the bonuses or commission,” he says.

It’s not easy to choose between letting go of a candidate or ignoring the discrepancies—this is where the HR team’s role becomes all the more important. A follow-up discussion can clear up doubts about whether a candidate lied or whether there was a genuine gap in communication. “Several times the HR team takes a call based on their experience, and that is why only a computerized verification, based on certain parameters, can never do the job. You need a human connect to make the final call,” says Dutta.

The right choice

How to prepare for verification checks

■ When it comes to referees, name someone you have worked with directly. Not your manager’s manager. You should have worked with your referee in the last six-eight months. There is no point in giving the name of someone you last saw three years ago.

■ Résumés are an indicator, while joining forms are extremely detailed. Be ready to upload/submit copies of all your marksheets and previous employment records.

■ Privacy laws govern all verification agencies. While firms usually take a candidate’s permission, it is a good idea to ask the interviewer if there will be a verification process. Make sure you tell your referees to expect a call from the agency. 

■ Be on talking terms with the senior management of your company as well. Sometimes, this is how informal reference checks are done.

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