The basics of background checks



Read time
8 mins

No matter the industry you work in, the significance of comprehensive background checks cannot be overstated. Human resources (HR) professionals are responsible for not only initially identifying the most qualified candidates but also ensuring the safety, security, and integrity of their workplace. A thorough understanding of the fundamentals of background checks is paramount in achieving these objectives.

What is a background check? 

A background check refers to the process of gathering and evaluating an individual’s historical information to assess their suitability for a particular role or position within an organisation. This comprehensive investigation extends beyond the surface-level details presented on a CV, offering a holistic view of a candidate’s past experiences, behaviours, and interactions. Through a background check, HR professionals can gain insights into an applicant’s right to work in the UK, criminal history, education, employment history, credit history, and other relevant factors. This information enables employers to make well-informed decisions while minimising potential risks.

Background checks can be conducted at various stages throughout the hiring process, and serve as a crucial tool to ensure that a candidate aligns with an organisation’s values and role requirements. These checks are particularly essential when a candidate is being considered for a position that involves significant responsibility, access to sensitive information, or interactions with vulnerable children or adults. By verifying a candidate’s qualifications, work history, and personal background, HR professionals can validate the accuracy of information provided by the candidate, and safeguard against any potential risks.

In sectors where safety and security are paramount, such as healthcare, finance, and education, thorough background screenings help prevent potential liabilities and ensure that individuals entrusted with critical roles are trustworthy and qualified.

How to do a background check on someone

When an HR professional conducts a background check on a new employee, a methodical and thorough process is essential to ensuring accuracy and compliance. The first step involves obtaining the candidate’s consent, as mandated by privacy regulations. Once consent is obtained, the HR team gathers the necessary information, including the candidate’s full name, date of birth, and National Insurance (NI) number. This data is then used to initiate the background check process.

In the traditional approach, HR professionals would manually reach out to various institutions, such as educational institutions, previous employers, and law enforcement agencies, to verify the candidate’s credentials, work history, and criminal record. However, advancements in technology have revolutionised this process. Leading HR software solutions, like Ciphr, offer automation capabilities that streamline and expedite the background check process. Ciphr’s HR system can seamlessly integrate with external databases and services, like Trust ID and Experian, enabling HR professionals to initiate multiple checks simultaneously and receive real-time updates. This not only accelerates the verification process but also minimises the risk of human error and ensures that the most up-to-date information is obtained.

By leveraging Ciphr’s HR software, HR professionals can focus their efforts on analysing the results and making informed decisions, rather than getting bogged down in administrative tasks. The software’s intuitive interface and status dashboard allows for easy tracking of background checks’ progress, ensuring that no steps are missed and all necessary verifications are completed. Ultimately, the combination of technology and expertise empowers HR professionals to efficiently navigate the background check process, facilitating confident and compliant hiring decisions.

Why manual background checks are a hiring hinderance

Manual background checks can be a time-consuming experience for HR professionals and candidates alike.

How do manual background checks impact HR?

  • Labour-intensive – manually carrying out background checks requires a lot of time and effort because data has to be transferred from one system to another
  • Increased risk of errors – wherever there is human input, there is a risk of error. If the relevant identity and background checks are not carried out, this error could mean the wrong hires are made and could increase the risk of a security breach
  • Inconsistent record-keeping – if HR teams are dealing with a large number of new starters, information could end up places in it shouldn’t, and records may not be as accurate. As a result, HR may not know which background checks have been carried out and which still need to be completed
  • Data privacy and security – storing sensitive personal data in insecure formats, such as emails and Microsoft Excel, increases the likelihood of data security breaches. Using a secure, digital identity or background-checking provider, whose software is integrated with your HR system, will help to mitigate this risk
  • High cost – depending on how many checks are required, and the types of background checks that are being carried out, there may be a high cost. HR teams will therefore want to minimise the volume of checks being carried out unnecessarily

What’s the impact on the candidate experience?

  • Delays to the hiring process – background checks take time to be carried out. If these checks take too long, candidates may be tempted to withdraw their application and apply elsewhere
  • Checks made too late in the recruitment process – if a candidate accepts a job offer and background checks are then conducted but not passed, the individual may not be able to start their new role
  • Not integrated with the ATS – if candidates are using HR recruitment software or an applicant tracking system (ATS) to apply for a job but the background checks are not integrated with the recruitment platform, candidates might not know what they need to do. This confusion could lead to them withdrawing their application

By choosing to automate background checks with tools like Ciphr HR’s identity and background checking functionality, HR teams and candidates can benefit from a more efficient, accurate and secure process.

What background checks do employers use in the UK?

Here are five common types of background checks that an employer might make:

  • Criminal record checks – as per the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, the criteria for assessing candidates’ criminal records should be relevant to the role. Via the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), employers can access conviction details, which are mandatory for positions involving children or vulnerable individuals
  • Educational credentials – an organisation might seek to verify an applicant’s university degree, technical certifications, or educational qualifications to ensure alignment with skill prerequisites
  • Right-to-work checks – every employer is legally required to confirm an applicant’s eligibility to work in the UK. British nationals typically demonstrate their right to work by providing a copy of their passport, which can be authenticated either in person or digitally through approved identity verification technology
  • Credit checks – financial services organisations often perform credit assessments on candidates to confirm the absence of prior financial mismanagement. This practice aims to mitigate heightened risks associated with money handling and safeguarding sensitive data
  • References – reference checks are a common method for employers to validate the accuracy of an applicant’s employment history

How long does a background check take?

Background checks can take as little as a few business days to as long as a few weeks, depending on a variety of factors. The complexity of a candidate’s history, the extent of verifications required, the responsiveness of external institutions, and the thoroughness of the screening process all contribute to the timeframe.

Basic checks to verify straightforward information, such as educational qualifications or criminal records in regions with readily accessible databases, can often be completed within a matter of days. However, comprehensive investigations encompassing multiple aspects of a candidate’s background, especially when involving international components or intricate employment histories, may call for several weeks for a thorough assessment.

Speed up recruitment by streamlining your background checks

Here are just a few ways our identity and background functionality can help your organisation:

  • Automates admin-intensive tasks, saving time as a result
  • A paperless system ensures better security of personal, sensitive information
  • Helps HR deliver the slick, efficient recruitment process that candidates expect
  • Automated workflows ensure checks are carried out consistently and at the right time for all applicants
  • Can create a full electronic – and secure – auditable history of checks that have been requested and completed

Ciphr partners with two trusted organisations to provide background and right-to-work checks:

  • TrustID provides right-to-work checks that are integrated with Ciphr’s employee background checking software. TrustID is an accredited digital identity document verification technology (IDVT) service provider, which enables organisations to digitally check candidates’ documents as proof of their right to work in the UK
  • Experian simplifies the process of carrying our pre employment checks and regular checks for existing employees – which can even be scheduled to run automatically

To learn more about background checks, book a demo or download our brochure today to learn more about how we can help you streamline your recruitment process.