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

4 min read  |   1 May, 2018   By Melissa Jones

Man writing a checklist in his notebook

 When Hugh Laurie played mercurial American doctor Greg House regularly he often said: “Everybody lies.” He might have been exaggerating but he wasn’t entirely wrong. Not everyone lies, but there are those who do and those who massage the truth to present themselves in a more positive light. And, while you may have found the ideal candidate for a role in your company, you’ve only just met them, you don’t really know them, so how do you know everything they’re telling you is the truth?


What are pre-employment checks?

Pre-employment checks are a crucial part of the recruitment process, enabling you to reduce the risk of hiring someone who could cause your business difficulties. References form a major part of pre-employment checks but increasingly, hiring managers are vetting candidates’ social media presence as well. You can also check the veracity of a candidate’s qualifications and work history, carry out health checks, identity and financial checks if you feel it’s relevant to the role and your business.

There may also be checks which you must make to comply with the law such as confirming the person has the right to work in the country or, if they’re working with young or vulnerable people, criminal record checks will be necessary.


Why is it important to conduct pre-employment checks?

Pre-employment checks help you to determine whether a candidate is suitable for a particular role and that they possess the required qualifications and skills. They also help you confirm whether the person is physically able to carry out the work and that they are legally allowed to work in the UK.


When should you conduct pre-employment checks?

Checks normally take place once you have interviewed candidates though they can be both before or after a job offer and there are pros and cons to both.

Before a job offer

Before a job offer can reduce the time between offering someone the job and their start date because investigations will already have been done. It also means that if they do throw 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 particularly hard if they have already given notice on their existing employment and could even cause them financial difficulties.


Specific legal requirements

If you want to employ someone who isn’t ordinarily a UK citizen you will need to check they have the right to work here. You could be subject to statutory penalties if you employ foreign nationals who don’t have the correct visas and the onus is on you to check.

Employers can also request criminal records checks as part of the recruitment process and in certain areas such as roles with children or vulnerable people which are highly regulated the Disclosure and Barring Service will carry out the checks.


Using social media to support recruitment

According to one recruitment company, 96% of hiring managers now use social media in recruitment and 69% have rejected someone as a result of what they’ve seen. Your potential employee could be a model candidate and ideal for the role, but if you find their Twitter feed is full of abusive messages and racist rants 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 and what to ask

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 to check a person’s CV because in today’s very competitive job market you may find some candidates exaggerate or misrepresent themselves.

You 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.

You should ask for:

  • Employment dates and details
  • Main responsibilities
  • Attendance record
  • Any disciplinary actions against them
  • Any reasons why they shouldn’t be employed.

You can also ask additional questions if you choose to get a fuller picture:

  • What were their greatest strengths
  • Do they think they’re suitable for the role they’ve applied for
  • Would they rehire the candidate
  • What management style do they work best under
  • Do they have any leadership skills
  • Are there any specific situations in which they have excelled at

Some companies have policies of not giving references and just providing basic employment details while others direct you towards HR but be persistent and see if you can speak to their line manager to get the most useful information.


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

You can withdraw a job offer if your checks reveal something negative so long as you told the candidate about the checks when you made the offer. 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 and have them work a trial or probationary period. However, you again 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.


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Author: Melissa Jones

Mel is the Content Manager at breatheHR. She regularly contributes insights into the current small business climate with a focus on how HR is crucial to the success and growth of UK startups.

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