What are pre-employment checks and why are they important?

4 min read  |   4 May, 2023   By Aimée Brougham-Chandler

An animated image shows a man with a briefcase running alongside a large document that has been stamped "approved".

All SMEs want to make sure they get the right people on board. After all, especially in a small business, culture is everything. 

A big part of ensuring new team members can perform their duties well (and legally) are pre-employment checks. 

This blog covers what they are & what SMEs need to know about them. 

What are pre-employment checks?

Pre-employment checks are a series of verifications you perform on someone's previous employment, qualifications, or sometimes in the form of a character reference. Different roles will require different levels of checks, e.g. for security, or the needs of the role. Offers of employment are usually dependent on the successful completion of pre-employment checks. 


Why are pre-employment checks important?

Pre-employment checks help you to determine whether a candidate is suitable for a particular role, and that they have the required qualifications & skills. They also help you confirm whether the person is able to carry out the duties of their new role.

Some roles may require certain pre-employment checks for legal reasons, such as confirming the person has the right to work in the UK. Or, if they’re working with young or vulnerable people, criminal record checks might apply. Certain roles may even require health checks, if the role is particularly physical or potentially hazardous. 


When should you conduct pre-employment checks?

These checks normally take place once you have interviewed candidates, although not always. 

Before a job offer

Conducting pre-employment checks before a job offer can reduce the time between offering someone the job and their start date, as investigations will already have been done. It also means that if they do bring up anything negative, you can simply move onto the next candidate. However, it can be expensive vetting several potentials in advance and you need to make sure you’re legally allowed to do so.

After the job offer

This is the most common route and means you only have one candidate to vet. However, if it falls through you may have to start the interview process from scratch. You also have to tell the candidate they have been unsuccessful, which can be difficult if they've already given notice on their existing employment.


Vetting social media presence

92% of companies now use social media in recruitment to hire & attract the best candidates.

Your potential employee could be a model candidate and ideal for the role, but if you find their social media feeds to contain highly controversial opinions, for example, you might think twice about taking them on (especially if they’re in a client or customer-facing role). If you could find such information in just a few clicks, there’s every chance your clients can too and this could potentially reflect badly on your business.


References – how to collect them & what to ask for

References are a great way to find out whether someone is suitable for the role and will fit with your company culture – it’s hard to know how they will work on a day-to-day basis from just one interview.

They’re also important if there's anything you might want to check or verify on someone's CV.

You'd normally ask for references once you’ve given a conditional job offer and that offer is subject to references being satisfactory. You can do this either in writing or by phone.

If you'd like to request a detailed reference, according to ACAS, you can request the following: 

  • Employment dates and details
  • Details around skills, ability & experience
  • How often the employee was off work 
  • Any disciplinary actions against them
  • Information about character, strengths & weaknesses (related to the new role)
  • The reason the employee left their previous job

Some companies may only offer a basic reference, which is simply a short job summary, the employee's job title and their dates of employment.


Can I withdraw a job offer after pre-employment checks?

You can withdraw a job offer if your checks reveal something negative, as long as you informed the candidate about the checks when you made the offer of employment. The candidate needs to be made aware any job offer is conditional, pending pre-employment checks.

You can have someone work for you before all checks are completed, e.g. during a trial or probationary period. However, you'll still need to make them aware of the conditional nature of it and include a specific notice period in their written statement (should you wish to terminate it).


Author: Aimée Brougham-Chandler

An IDM-certified Digital Copywriter (2023) & English Language & Literature graduate (BA Hons), Aimée is Breathe's Content Assistant. With 3 years' content marketing experience, Aimée has a passion for writing - and providing SME HR teams with solutions to their problems. She enjoys delving into & demystifying all things HR: from employee performance to health and wellbeing, leave to company culture & much more.

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