Background Survey: Qualifications Are More Important Than Criminal Record

When it comes to background screening, employers need to continue to “thread the needle.”

That’s the analysis from the 2012 employer survey by EmployeeScreenIQ (the Cleveland-based employee screening company), titled Threading the Needle: Employment Background Screening in an Age of Increased Litigation & Legislation. The research gives a pretty good picture of what employers are thinking about, and, what concerns them now and in the not-too-distant future.

Here are the some of the key findings, with analysis from the survey:

  • It’s not a big surprise that 99 percent of those polled are concerned about felony convictions on a candidate’s record. However, 63 percent also say they would also be concerned by misdemeanor convictions, and 30 percent express concern about infractions. “While employers are interested in felonies for obvious reasons of safety and security, participants’ comments reveal the reason they are interested in misdemeanors: they’re searching for patterns and/or frequency of troubling behaviors related to the jobs they are filling.”
  • Some 68 percent of respondents estimate that 10 percent or less of their job candidates have criminal records. But, “this finding diverges significantly from EmployeeScreenIQ’s 13-year experience working with employers across the globe, who collectively averaged a 23 percent criminal conviction rate in 2011. We believe this discrepancy is largely a result of a misperception on the part of employers about the screening methods and depth of information offered by their screening providers.”
  • A large majority of respondents (72 percent) say that qualifications are more important than a criminal record. “In fact, this sentiment is borne out in a number of areas within the survey results, including participants’ comments.”
  • Candidates are not hired because of their criminal records less than 10 percent of the time, according to 70 percent of respondents. “Again, this supports employers’ claims that an applicant’s qualifications, references and interviewing skills are ultimately more important than a criminal history.”
  • A vast majority of respondents estimate that up to 40 percent of candidates distort or exaggerate information on their resumes. And “83 percent of respondents say that fabricating educational qualifications is the most egregious resume distortion.”
  • Employers are split in their feelings regarding their use of social networking websites as part of the background screening process. Slightly less than half (48 percent) of respondents consult these sites as part of their screening process (only 9 percent say they always consult this sites), while 52 percent say they never do. “Despite the potential they might hold, social networking websites are not yet widely accepted as trusted background-checking resource. We anticipate that the trend of those who utilize these sites as a screening tool will only increase in the coming years.”

Protecting interests “has never been greater”

I can’t say there is anything terrible surprising in these survey findings, but it is always good to get an update on how employers feel about the background screening process. And as the analysis of the survey points out:

The need for employers to protect their interests has never been greater, as employment laws continue to evolve in profound ways and as the impacts of litigation to a company’s reputation and bottom line can be catastrophic. (Consider that a Missouri-based trucking company was recently held accountable in a $7 million judgment for a fiery crash that led to a man’s death. If the company had performed a simple background check, it would have known that the driver had a spotty driving record.)

Employers must continue to “thread the needle” in this atmosphere of amplified legal risk — insulating themselves against lawsuits while somehow managing to conduct background checks in a universally acceptable manner.”

Encouraging findings?

The survey, according to EmployeeScreenIQ, “was completed in late 2011 by 655 individuals from a wide range of organizations in the U.S. that use a diverse mix of national and regional employment screening firms.”

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I find surveys like this interesting (even if they don’t break a lot of new ground) because they provide a great snapshot in time of how employers view the workforce, what is important to them, and the kind of candidates they’re seeing.

It’s also encouraging to me that nearly three-quarters of employers believe “that qualifications are more important than a criminal record.” I’m not quite sure how that actually plays out in the hiring process, but it is good to note that the good qualities a potential employee brings to the table may actually be more relevant than any minor missteps they may have had in the past.

And that is something very positive we can all take away from this — and from the background screening process itself.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


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