March 28, 2011

Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR, or Proctology?

Filed under: Getting in the door, Stuff I worry about, Stupid HR Tricks

In the March 29, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains that employers’ demands are very inappropriate. She says she’s applying for a job — not a loan. What’s up with consent forms to access personal credit records and other private information?

I had a good phone interview for a job that seems interesting. I’m visiting them next week for an interview. Today, they sent me an e-mail application (a wee bit premature… I’m not sure I want to apply until after the in-person interview) and, more shocking, a consent form to check my credit report. I think this is beyond inappropriate, not to mention the fact that my report is locked because my husband had his identity stolen a few years ago, and we have no idea where it was swiped from.

So, my question, how do I politely tell them I’m not filling out the forms until after the interview, and until I’ve decided to move forward? Do I even need to explain about the credit report? Is this a new thing? Why on earth would they need my credit report in the first place? They’re not loaning me money.

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

Proctology?Imagine being asked to fill out a marriage license and to take a blood test before you have a first date with someone. Or to hand over your credit report before visiting a car dealer? Or to bend over for an exam before going on a job interview?

The explanation for this is simple. The HR department at this company doesn’t recruit or impress. This company’s HR department practices Pure Bureaucracy. Clueless about attracting talent, it serves warrants for information instead. I’m surprised they haven’t asked you to provide a urine sample yet. (Don’t laugh.)

You are right to question the request, and to decline to provide the information until after you have met with the hiring manager. If the company doesn’t have adequate information on which to base an interview, then it should not be talking to you.

Will saying “No” result in the interview getting cancelled? It might. There is always the chance that a company will dump you if you don’t do what it asks. On the other hand, most such requests are routine, and when people ignore them, companies often don’t even notice until it’s “too late.”

Here are your options:

  • Politely tell them you’d like to meet with the manager first. “If there’s mutual interest, then I’d be glad to fill out the forms. But a meeting is necessary to help us both decide that.”
  • Just ignore the request, show up, and do the interview. If they ask where the paperwork is, don’t pretend you forgot or were too busy. That would make you appear irresponsible. Instead, use the statement above. By then, you’re there, and they can deal with it.
  • Give them what they want. I don’t think this is a good option, because as you point out, it not only puts you at risk, it’s inappropriate and it’s a waste of your time.

I would not provide consent for a credit report, or even fill out application forms, until after you decide you’re really interested… [The rest of this advice is in the newsletter. Want more? Subscribe to the free newsletter, which will tell you more each week.]

If they press you, and you’re still interested in talking to a company that funds a bureaucracy, I I’d be frank: Your credit is locked because your identity has already been stolen:

How to Say It
“Many companies rely on third parties to perform credit and background investigations, and I know some of that checking is done overseas, in countries with no privacy protections. Having been seriously burned, my policy is not to grant consent unless I know exactly who is doing the checking, who will have access to my private information, and what will happen to it afterwards. I don’t permit my private information to be stored in anyone’s database. My lawyer would slap me if I did otherwise — this has already cost my husband and me a lot of money. I’m sure you understand.”

You could also ask the employer to sign a letter accepting liability if your information falls into the wrong hands. Then ask for a list of names of people who will have access to the information.

How to Say It
“I’m sure you realize… [Sorry, you've gotta get the free newsletter for the rest...]

Invasions of privacy by employers who have no vested interest in you, and that have not put their own skin into the game yet, are common. This is not a new thing… But again — taking a strong position could cost you an interview or a job. It’s up to you how far you go…

Sometimes you’ve got to wonder which department you’re walking into when you appear for a job interview. Is this HR, or Proctology? If people keep letting employers, investigators and background checkers poke around where they don’t belong, can the doctor be far behind?

Do companies seriously believe they’re recruiting when they tell you to drop trou and stand for inspection? Even before an interview? That’s not recruiting. It’s a joke. How far will HR go to abuse people before it tries to attract them? How impressed are you with a company that behaves this way?

And HR wonders why there’s a “talent shortage.” The only shortage is of common sense when recruiting and hiring. What do you do when employers want to check your teeth before they make you smile? (In case anyone got offended, I switched metaphors… so please post your comments and share your stories and suggestions.)

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58 Comments on “Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR, or Proctology?”
By L.T.
March 29, 2011 at 2:33 am

I have shown up for interviews at far too many companies, only to be greeted by the perky receptionist with “Sally says you will want to (need to) fill out a few forms first.” She then presents me with War and Peace to fill out. My stock response (as I hand the blank forms back) is “Sally doesn’t know me very well then.”

The hiring / tech manager has my resume, that should be enough to spark 20 – 60 minutes of conversation about my experience, how I will be a “good fit”, “team player”, “think outside the box” and most important, how I bring value to the department / company.

The time for filling out forms (and consulting with my attorney on the credit report requests, background check requests and confidentiality agreements) is AFTER there is enough interest to present me with a written offer.

Shoving a bunch of paper at a potential recruit really makes a bad impression.

By Jeff
March 29, 2011 at 2:36 am

At a previous company I worked for, we were required to have everyone submit to a background check and a credit check. We blamed it on one of our wall street clients, who in turn blamed it on the SEC. (never mind that the SEC had no such rule for third party software providers, but I digress.)

While the above scenario is way too early, it is best to get the idea up front and out of the way. Are you sure they didn’t say something like “If we go further in this process, we’ll have to do a pretty comprehensive background check, these are some of the information we will ask you to provide.”?

I understand that some people are unable or unwilling to provide that kind of detailed information, but some companies do have to do it, either contractually (most often) or by regulation (less often.) out of the 6 hires I made in that company, only 1 person declined to give the information, and the second choice for that position was willing.

By Karsten
March 29, 2011 at 3:45 am

What about simply asking the polite question: “For which purpose do you need this information?”

The company is thus given the chance to explain their reasons without being offended, and you may reach an agreement on the issue – or to expose that it is just a routine that tells you this is no good place to work.

By Mayor Bongo
March 29, 2011 at 5:44 am

I walked away from a potential job because one of the members of the management team demanded to call my references before I was ready to apply for the position.

I told them that until I felt I was a fit for the job, and ready to talk seriously about it, that I did not want my references, in the same industry, knowing that I was considering a new position. The manager angrily called off future discussions.

Frankly, I feel I dodged a bullet. Presumptuous behavior in the recruitment process is almost always a sign that you need to do just one thing in response – run.

By Chris
March 29, 2011 at 7:15 am

For those interested, here’s some information on background (and credit) checks and your rights. Be sure to check with your state as they may have specific laws:

http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs16-bck.htm

In addition to the advice Nick and others have given, I would add this if an employer pushes the issue: A not-insignificant number of credit reports contain erroneous or out of date information. Personally, it seems I have to correct my reports every time I get them: incorrect addresses, incorrect account numbers, accounts that are long closed shown as active, etc. Would a company undergoing a credit check for a large purchase want to be judged by the supplier based on erroneous information?

(Interesting side note: I work in sales for a company that bids on very large projects. Bid packages often have documents that request detailed financial information: income, expenses, liabilities, judgments, etc. Every single time I get one, I fill out the name and address and then write that my employer is a private company and none of the information will be shared beyond address, D&B number, and other such public information. I’ve never had a customer reject a bid or refuse to award a contract because of this.)

By Bob Lewis
March 29, 2011 at 9:39 am

With all due respect, I think this discussion (and to a certain extent Nick’s answer) misses the point. Looking at this from the perspective of rights and responsibilities, what HR should have done and so on just doesn’t matter.

The question is, what’s the best way to reach your goal, which is to get a job offer (which you can always turn down; that decision comes later).

The best way to get an offer is to ignore this. HR won’t be making the hiring decision. The hiring manager won’t care if you fill out any paperwork before the interview.

Most important: Once the hiring manager decides you’re the one, your conversation with HR is easy: You establish the process, which is that (1) you fill out the application, (2) they send you a offer letter contingent on your credit check, background check and so on, (3) you sign the various permission forms.

Set the hook first.

By Nick Corcodilos
March 29, 2011 at 9:49 am

@Jeff: You say… “but some companies do have to do it, either contractually (most often) or by regulation (less often.)”

That is the #1 excuse/explanation offered by HR departments when candidates question the demand for private information before an interview has even been conducted. This is why Karsten’s friendly request about, “Why?” is almost unnecessary. The answer is canned. “It’s the rule.” (Karsten, ask away – everyone should handle this whatever way makes them comfortable.)

I’d like to see any written “contractual” or “regulatory” obligation for a company to get all that information simply so it can meet a person.

The degree of brainwashing to which people are subjected over this matter is just astonishing. There is no regulatory prohibition I know of, about a manager meeting a person to talk about a job. If someone can share such a written requirement, please do so.

By Nick Corcodilos
March 29, 2011 at 9:53 am

@Bob: Your suggestion was my #2. And since my #3 is not an option in my mind, #2 is my preferred first “response” as well.

But I still contend that your credit record is no one’s business, even at the offer stage, unless the employer can justify the request. It should not be routine. Ain’t it cute how employers will make the demand… but has anyone ever been handed a written explanation WHY? A mindless, bureaucratic hiring process hints strongly at a similar operating philosophy.

By Karsten
March 29, 2011 at 10:16 am

And then the next question is of course: “Why is it the rule? What is the actual purpose of the information?”.

I realise that there is a grey zone between asking honest questions and being offensive here, but the company’s response will tell you something about whether it is worth working for – if the company are bureaucratic on this issue, how much bureaucracy may be waiting behind its doors?

By Cari
March 29, 2011 at 10:48 am

I’ve had the same thing happen to me, interview is scheduled, then HR tells me I must fill out all sorts of paperwork and bring it with me. Sometimes the paperwork includes a NDA, which I think is reasonable to sign. What I tend to do is spend 5 minutes completing the application by filling in most areas with “see resume” or “to be provided later”, so that it appears that I’m playing their game since they don’t look at it anyways.

By Nick Corcodilos
March 29, 2011 at 11:06 am

Sometimes… when you politely explain that you’d like to defer the forms til after you meet the manager, a good HR person (who is “required” to follow the rules) will chuckle and let it go. Those folks are gems.

By Chris Walker
March 29, 2011 at 11:44 am

Let your Congressional Representatives know you support H.R. 3149, which would ban the majority of credit checking as part of the hiring process.

@Cari Writing ‘see resume’ on an employment application is a lousy idea. First, you aren’t following directions, and you look lazy. Second, on an application, you sign a statement attesting to the truth of everything on it, making it a legal document.

By Nick Corcodilos
March 29, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Hey, Chris Walker – you tossed a real zinger in there. When you sign most apps, you’re attesting to the truth of the entire submission. That’s worth a call-out on the page, by itself. I’m working on an article where I’ll be able to use that… (thanks!).

By Chris Walker
March 29, 2011 at 12:42 pm

@Nick Typical application statement:

‘It is understood and agreed that any misrepresentation by me in this application will be sufficient cause for cancellation of this application and/or separation from the Employer’s service if I have been employed. Furthermore, I understand that just as I am free to resign at any time, the Employer reserves the right to terminate my employment at any time, with or without cause and without prior notice…’

It then continues with the candidate giving the employer permission to investigate the candidate’s background ‘if job related’ (no definition of job related, of course) AND releasing the employer from liability in that investigation.

By lilly
March 29, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Folks – Let’s also think about what this company’s business is and whether there was any correlation between its core business and why they might ask for a credit report. Certain jobs simply just require clearance, e.g. security.

That being said, I do feel that it sounds like mindless paperwork at this stage. Putting myself in the asker’s shoes I would say ” I appreciate your rigorous process to pre-screen qualified candidates. I look forward to meeting you and your team in person, and explore areas of match so I can best follow up with the information needed for the next steps.”

By Jeff
March 29, 2011 at 1:26 pm

@Chris

In at-will states, your employment can be terminated at will. so lying on the App really doesn’t matter (in a legal sense anyways.) If you’ve lied anywhere, they’ll lose trust in you and probably fire you. In right-to-work states, lying on your resume is the same as lying on your app, and is certainly a cause for termination. So I’m not sure what the distinction you are trying to make in regards to the app versus the resume.

There are 2 pieces of paperwork that I am willing to fill out before the interview:
1) an NDA
2) the minority/disability survey form

I’m with Cari. When the time comes to fill in the actual app, other than my release for credit check and my SSN and such (so that I can get paid), everything else is on my resume, so they get a “see resume”. I type about 30 times faster than I write. I’m not about to reproduce my resume on a hand-written form.

By M.L.
March 29, 2011 at 2:10 pm

I heard a stat once. I do not know if it is even true. Approximately 30% of all hires ultimately work out. I think most HR departments are so concerned with avoiding a bad hire that they have lost touch with reality. We all know why companies dodge making a bad hire. Something that Nick touched on briefly within the article, and in greater detail in the past: the interview goes both ways, you are checking them out too!

By Phil
March 29, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Agree that HR is more focused on following rules than seems logical, but there are reasons for rules. There was a time where the completed application was the method to acknowledge consideration of an applicant. For various compliance reports, only completed applications counted as candidates considered (not resumes). If there were a claim, which is pretty rare, then only the completed applications would be provided in response to a compliance agent. Resumes would not be placed into any corporate file as it just added to the size of the file unnecessarily. Completing the application is a convenience for HR. I have had new hires complete an application “for the files” as part of getting on the payroll. Just a matter of the tone that you choose to set. Why should a hiring manager care if the app is complete? If you can’t make the effort to fill out a form, even though you can’t see the value, then maybe you won’t complete a report on-time or as requested because you think it is bureaucratic.

By L.T.
March 29, 2011 at 3:50 pm

The Equal Employment for All Act is H.R. 321 in this session of Congress. All of the sponsors and co-sponsors appear to be Democrats. Unless the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party wakes up to the benefits to the economy of full employment, I don’t see it going anywhere, although it is an outstanding idea.

By Diana O
March 29, 2011 at 4:32 pm

I agree with Nick’s assessment. And after having my identity stolen–not once but twice, in one year–I started declining permission for a credit check before coming to a mutual agreement with an employer that they were interested in me as an employee.

If I am given a form that “must” be filled out, I write “to be provided when written job offer is received.” Only one time has this been demanded before I could talk to the hiring manager.

A couple of people have made statements about this being a “regulatory” requirement, but I doubt that. I have worked as a a government contractor with a fairly high clearance, and was not asked to agree to a background check before I was considered a real candidate for the position.

By real candidate, I mean there was an interview, then a verbal offer of interest, which I said yes to, then a written offer with requirement to pass the background check as a condition of employment. That is the point at which permission was given for extensive access to financial and personal information. This was not required *before* the offer, and especially not before the interview!

Be advised that if you do agree to background checks you have a right to see what the checking agency came up with. It is also important to protect your information: limit the amount of time the information can be kept (say 6 months), and WHO can use it (the company you are talking to).

Write the restrictions on the form and ask someone from HR or the hiring manager to initial it–and GET a COPY!

If the company balks you may want to re-evaluate your interest in them. You can also say, “It is only reasonable that I should protect my financial and personal information in the same way you would want me to protect company information–by restricting who has access to it and for how long.”

By Nick Corcodilos
March 29, 2011 at 5:02 pm

@Chris Walker, Re: Application statement. Thanks for sharing that. Always good to have a verbatim example. But note that this does not make lying illegal, just a contractual violation that results in termination.

The significance of that distinction will become clear when you see an upcoming article I’m working on…

By Nick Corcodilos
March 29, 2011 at 5:06 pm

@Phil: What you’re pointing out is that completed apps serve the administrative needs of HR, not real ones. And if that infringes on the applicant, it’s not good for either the applicant or the employer. I wonder how many good candidates HR loses because they decline to be “inventoried” prior to even a meeting. I doubt HR knows.

By Nick Corcodilos
March 29, 2011 at 5:18 pm

@Cari, @Jeff: Do some research on the legal implications of signing NDA’s (non-disclosure agreements). There are some serious gotchas. I recently declined to sign an NDA with a former client (someone I like and respect a lot). The client might want me to do some more work for them. But I’d rather not see confidential info, because I’m working with another (new, but non-competing) client on a different but related project. Read on to see how signing that NDA could inadvertently lead me to cause trouble for my new client… not just for myself.

Consider what can happen. You sign the NDA, have the interview at Company A. Nothing comes of it.

You go to Company B, get a job. A month later, an article appears in a trade mag about your involvement with project X. Or maybe someone who works at Company B mentions to a friend at Company A that you’re working on project X. Company A is paranoid, and sues you and Company B – because Company A is working on Project Y, which involves something remotely related to the work you did on Project X, and A believes you violated your NDA and used something you learned (from Company A) when you did Project X for B.

It’s not so farfetched as it sounds. If you work at a level where an NDA is even important, you could subject yourself to such a suit. Even if you never disclosed anything. The appearance that you could have might leave you paying a lawyer to defend the suit. Unless your new employer picks up the tab. Which it might.

But the bigger question: Why does a company have to disclose anything at all that requires an NDA in a first interview? Or even in a second interview?

As Diana O points out, you could have security clearances, interview several times, and get an offer — and still not fill out the forms. What is it with companies that think they need NDAs just to do an interview?

Sorry, folks, but I think it’s kooky. Employers over-manage interviews. Needlessly.

By Patrice R.
March 29, 2011 at 5:36 pm

To Nick and all here – I usually lurk but wanted to take a moment to thank you all for the shared wisdom and the great and varied and practical ideas. I learn A LOT every week. Most appreciated!

By Bob Lewis
March 29, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Nick … Why does a company have to disclose anything at all that requires an NDA during the first or second interview? This from the guy who says, “Have the applicant do the job in the interview?”

There are plenty of positions where the only way to have an applicant “do the job” is to lay out the actual situation … which very well might be something you really don’t want your competitors to know about.

Not being an attorney I’m hesitant to comment on the likelihood of a lawsuit. My guess is that even in these highly litigious times, a company filing suit has to have some evidence to base the suit on. If not, if they file suit the employer will certainly be named in the suit as well (so as to allow for discovery), so it’s doubtful the employee will have to engage separate counsel.

My own perspective: If you want to work for the company, conform to the definition of a professional: You have no problems, cause no problems, and solve your employer’s problems.

Making too big a fuss about the paperwork during the hiring process is likely to brand you as high maintenance, so it’s important to pick your battles.

My preference: If you decide to pick one, make about revealing your salary history.

By Lynda
March 29, 2011 at 7:08 pm

It was only a matter of time before this question came up Nick. I am glad to see it here. The job offer should always come first! Then the background, drug screening, credit check ( for the life of me I do not understand what someone’s credit has to do with performence..unless you are handling accounts, checks etc) Especially in this economy! Millions of hard working peoples credit has been destroyed because they have NOT been working. This HR department is a over reaching and needs to step back. It is also HR’s job to tell their company if they are not doing things properly and the risks involved. The interview, the offer, then the checks….and only in that order….or you may run the risk of someone claiming discrimination if they do not get the job BEFORE you interviewed. One last thought..if they want to know all of this before they even meet you…what will they consider their right to know once your working there? HMMM?

By Bob Lewis
March 29, 2011 at 7:41 pm

On the subject of credit checks: In many cases they’re required by outside compliance regulations. For example, PCI, which every retailer has to comply with in order to accept credit cards, requires a full background check of every employee who comes anywhere near credit card data … including everyone in IT, by the way.

And (to anticipate the logical response): Yes, HR should explain this context instead of just asking for a signature on a form. Failing to do so is another attribute of a bureaucrat.

By Nick Corcodilos
March 29, 2011 at 10:23 pm

@Bob Lewis (on NDAs): Well, did you notice how deftly I got you to agree that not disclosing salary is a good thing? ;-)

I think “do the job to win the job” need not involve the company divulging anything proprietary. Heck, companies interview people every day by using purely hypoethetical questions and scenarios, and indirect assessment techniques — they can do this without ever talking about the work itself… (another of my pet peeves)… So I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to discuss aspects of the work that the candidate can “demonstrate” without the need for an NDA.

Besides, I don’t like conforming to anything… if you conform, you break the rule that every chairman of the board proclaims to his or her shareholders… “We want out of the box thinking from our employees!” Conformity is a bad thing. ;-)

“Question authority, and get hired!”

By Scott
March 30, 2011 at 3:10 am

As for NDAs, there is another factor. If you are still employed, you cannot sign an NDA on your own. What if your current job involves the same sort of work you see at the job for which you are interviewing? You may not have deep pockets, but your current employer does.

By Pete W.
March 30, 2011 at 10:23 am

One thing about credit checks: Every check affects your rating in a negative way. This is especially critical if you’re moving and planning to purchase a house, as I did a few years back. During the search a number of companies asked me for permission to pull a credit report early in the process. I gently explained to them that since my credit rating takes a hit for multiple checks, and that I’m happy to provide that information after I have have an offer letter contingent upon those checks in my hand. A few objected, citing policy, but for the most part it was accepted.

I really question the validity of this process in general. I’m an IT manager, and I’ve been in the industry over 20 years. Not once have I seen a correlation between credit status and the quality of the employee. I can think of one IT security specialist who numbers among the best I’ve ever worked with who has a terrible rating due to a failed relationship years ago. It hasn’t made him any less competent.

Far too often we try to quantify people by numbers and metrics, which is impossible to do correctly, as every person is just that — a person. All of us have faults, problems, and issues. The skill in being a hiring manager is to evaluate the person, not just the numbers.

By Suzanne
March 30, 2011 at 10:34 am

Forgive me if this is redundant, I usually don’t post until I’ve read all the other responses, but I have a busy morning ahead of me.

This has happened to me and I used Nick’s first bullet with a twist. I told them I would bring it with me to the interview, just in case I had some questions. HR people are supposed to want applicants to ask questions so it is hard for them to argue against it.

But the god of bureaucracy is one vicious task master and they did press me to comply. So I told them I would feel more comfortable delivering the information by hand because I tend to be hyper-vigilant with sensitive information and wanted to make sure it didn’t get mislayed. HR people are supposed to be hyper-vigilant about personal information so they agreed.

By Lynn
March 30, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Here is another example of invasion of privacy and bureaucracy goig too far.

I recently completed an online application — and I don’t have a problem with that; however, after I completed the application I was also asked to answer a lengthy multiple choice quiz (very similar to Myers-Briggs). It has been over 3 weeks and I haven’t heard from this company, so I was wondering whether I should call them to find out what the results of my “personality” quiz revealed? I feel somewhat violated and foolish that I actually completed the quiz and hit the send button.

I wish I had known of this site sooner.
Thanks all.

By Ed Parsons
March 30, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Hi Nick,

I haven’t had the time to contribute my thoughts lately because fortunately we have been very busy at Berkshire Recruiting.

For the sake of argument, let’s look at this from another perspective. Let’s assume that HR is not the big bad bureacratic wolf but rather just trying to comply with government regulations; something as silly as EEOC reporting requirements for companies in excess of 100 employees or laws created to insure that companies are not discriminating against applicants. These reporting requirements are constantly changing and evolving so thankfully it is HR departments that stay on top of this. I am pretty sure most people would prefer to work for companies who are aware of the hiring laws and comply with them.

Let’s further assume that the company is in an industry that is sensitive to hiring people with sound financial positions (Financial Planners for example). I know it sounds draconian, but wouldn’t you want your financial institution to insure that your Financial Planner had sound financial practices?

I suspect that the reason this issue came up is not because HR is trying to make life difficult but because they didn’t communication the interview and hiring process up front. Do you think if someone (Iike a good recruiter) had presented the request for information with some explanation, that the applicant would feel comfortable with the process?

As part of a good hiring process, communication is key to attracting and retaining top talent. I would have simply told the applicant the following.

“The company needs an application completed before the interview so that we can add you in to our applicant tracking system and so that we can comply with government hiring laws. Furthermore, as we continue the interview process and we decide you are a finalist for the position, we have additional screening that includes credit checks, criminal background checks, and drug screening. Are you OK with that?”

If the person does not feel comfortable with the process, atleast the only person to invest their time is the recruiter. Again, it comes down to managing a process by continually communicating and setting expectations for the process… As a friend once told me, “Surprises are for birthdays, not job interviews”.

Regards, Ed

Ed Parsons
President
Berkshire Recruiting Services
“Where experience makes a difference”
294 North Main Street, Alpharetta Ga 30009
edp@berkshirerecruiting.com

By Karsten
March 30, 2011 at 12:42 pm

@Ed Parsons

While I can understand the necessity to comply with laws, even if they may be stupid – what is the rationale for doing credit checks, criminal background checks and drug screening as a routine? For some positions they may be relevant, as you noted with financial planners, but in general: What is your business if people had some financial trouble or encounters with the law in the past? The reasons may be many, especially in the wake of the financial crisis. If a sentence is served, it is a bygone and should not be an eternal wall of prejudice against the person.

By Chris
March 30, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Personally, I feel the increased reliance on these procedures are just making matters worse than they already are. I am amazed at the absolute disregard for human talent in present corporate America – treating everyone like a simple cog in a machine. Frankly, I feel the majority of these checks are simply to give an excuse for not selecting a candidate rather than just telling them another candidate was chosen.

@Ed Parsons – While I do understand your point, I don’t agree with the analogy. Not meaning to sound crass,and my apologies in advance if it sounds this way, but I bet Bernie Madoff had a great credit rating and it didn’t do anything to determine his true character. Credit ratings have very little impact at all on whether a person is good at a position or not. Sorry, my feeling is that this has become a weak cop out for companies.

Lastly, with the wave of outsourcing in companies these days, the more important question if WHERE that background check is being conducted from and what laws exist there for privacy protection. Other than a company in Japan, I sure as heck wouldn’t want ANY of my personal data accessed or available to another Asian company conducting a check.

By Lister
March 30, 2011 at 1:54 pm

More people need to voice their support for H.R. 321!
Credit checking as a basis for employment is really dumb. With all the lay offs in the past few years (I’ve been laid off from my last 4), of course people’s credit has suffered but it has nothing to do with how well they can perform on the job.
And yes, every report requested hurts your credit even more so it becomes even harder to find a job.

By Dennis Purvine
March 30, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Very interesting, and thoughtful, comments.

Sometimes, however, a background check may make sense. Many years ago I read an article (I think it was in the Wall Street Journal).

According to the article, a man got into an argument with a fellow employee at work. The argument turned violent resulting in the fellow employee killing the man.

The man’s widow hired an attorney. The attorney hired a private investigator who discovered that the “fellow employee” had a long history of workplace violence at other employers. The investigator also determined that the correct employer DID NOT conduct a background check.

I do not know the outcome of any lawsuit the wife filed against her husband’s employer. I do know that I would not like to be in that employer’s shoes.

By DLMS
March 30, 2011 at 5:26 pm

I understand the background check for criminal activity. A credit check though?

I declined to pursue an interview with a company that required a credit check–it is not their business.

By MaryBeth
March 30, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Nick, my compliments on another thoughtful, interesting article.

I can understand an employer deciding to run a criminal background check, but I don’t understand running a credit check, not in these days with so many people having lost their jobs, being underwater on their mortgages, etc. due to the poor economy. I concede that a credit check might make some sense if you plan to work in the financial services industry, but even so, plenty of people have taken hits to their credit scores through no fault of their own–lost jobs, etc. If a financial services company is that concerned about a prospective employee embezzling the corporate kitty, then a criminal background check should be more illustrative. I’ll bet the executives at Enron and Lehman Bros. had good credit–yet they ran their companies into the ground.

I’ve been lucky so far–none of the jobs I’ve had required me to undergo a background or credit check. I’m currently unemployed (casuality of the great recession) and I have a feeling that my next job, hopefully coming sooner rather than later, will have such requirements.

At the job I had before my last job, I was required to have a pre-employment physical. But…I had already submitted my résumé, had two interviews, and been offered the job when the company informed me that they required me to have a pre-employment physical, and that if I didn’t pass it, the offer of employment would be revoked. This, too, was HR-driven and health insurance-driven. The reason was that they didn’t want to get stuck with contributing more towards my health insurance coverage due to any pre-existing conditions. This was back in 2001….and apparently that policy had not always existed. The majority of employees at this particular company were lifers–most had never worked anywhere else and yet as these folked aged, they had the same health problems common in our country. I worked in a 6 person dept. and 5 of my colleagues were morbidly obese–all of them had diabetes, high blood pressure, and the host of other problems that goes along with it. Some had arthritis, back problems, and more. I can imagine the costs of health insurance (employees contributed; it wasn’t free by any measure) were very high. 3 of my colleagues said that there was a long history of diabetes in their families, some had had diabetes all of their lives. Yet only within the past couple of years had HR decided to screen new hires. The new hires tended to be young(er) and fitter, and thus passed the physical. I did hear that they had not gone through with the hiring of someone who they learned had MS. That was too bad–the prospective employee was taking a weekly interferon shot and was managing his MS. He was the best candidate for that job, and company refused to hire him because he had MS.

As Nick said, where does it stop? If HRs insist upon doing physicals, then why stop with the employee? This particular company offered health insurance coverage to dependents of employees, so spouses and kids could be covered too. Yet they didn’t require the spouses and kids to undergo physicals for pre-existing conditions. The employee might be in perfect physical health–nary a pre-existing condition to be found, but the spouse could have MS, the kids could have juvenile diabetes, or a serious heart condition, etc. that would also drive up the costs of insurance.

People scream about government getting “too big” and being too involved in people’s lives, but I think many companies and corporations are just as bad, if not worse.

I suspect the background checks and screenings are just another way for HR to weed out more people rather than hire the person best suited for the job and who will ultimately help the company.

By DarylP
March 31, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Nick…per your request I am posting my feedback here:

Nick,
The recent newsletter Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR or Proctology? that you sent out has some very accurate information on your part, such as when you said: “HR department practices Pure Bureaucracy. Clueless about attracting talent, it serves warrants for information instead.” I agree wholeheartedly and most of that comes from the Corporate mentality that lawyers tell HR departments what to do or say. You also correctly state that refusing to allow a company to ask for your personal information is well within our rights, as long as we understand that it can mean that we get turned down. However, the system is so much more corrupt than that. I have been unemployed for two years and face homelessness soon if something does not happen soon…very soon. Still in this day and age where corporations have unlimited power in Washington (given to them by the Supreme Court) and Labor Unions are under direct attack via corporate wealth using bought and paid for Senators there is not much you can do. I have found that any large company that asks for that type of information up front, does so with impunity. In my case I could have cut my applications in half…yes in HALF…by refusing to submit a social security number or credit check. Companies no longer have to interview the person first, nor do they want to, but would rather get you out of the way ‘legally’ before they feel necessary to even soil their hands with a handshake. I have had companies require not only my personal and credit information right up front, before even doing a phone interview, but required that I come in for pre-employment testing (psychological and math) before they even talk to me. One place was so repulsed by the job seekers that they posted a warning on the door that if you had a head cold that you should not enter! More worried about catching a cold than finding a good candidate. What would happen if a doctor took that stance? I was in one place where it was obvious that the person taking the test was woefully inadequate for the position and a simple phone interview would have stopped then from having to endure the humiliation of the testing. And yes…it is humiliating. Nowadays anyone refusing to submit their personal information might just as well not apply, as the career websites to these places will not even let you proceed if you don’t enter the information. They say that it is a tough job market out there, but in reality it is corporations literally playing politics with us. No jobs….bull! There are jobs, and many companies could easily ad numerous employees but don’t because they are trying to control the system. Honestly…that are doing a great job of that, and much more.

By Nick Corcodilos
April 1, 2011 at 11:35 am

@Pete W.: I’m with you. If a company needs to check for criminal background, that’s one thing. But credit checks should be illegal. Sorry, but if your company’s interview protocol doesn’t assess a candidate effectively so you can make a judgment about him/her, then the company has other problems. Private financial information is no one’s business unless someone who needs to confirm that YOU will be able to PAY THEM. Last I checked, employees don’t pay employers. Perhaps employers should start submitting their D&B reports to job applicants, so candidates have some assurance that the employer will meet its payroll. As for people who “handle money” and “financial information,” since when does not being able to pay your bills reflect whether you will steal money or financial data? The rationalizations have become institutionalized… “Mo’ data about you is mo’ betta’!”

My advice: Tell them to go pound salt. (http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/crocs35gopoundsalt.htm) Just beware: Strong positions can have consequences you don’t like. They might boot you out the door. Before you have a chance to walk out in disgust.

***

@Lynn: Regarding Myers-Briggs and other personality testing. You have a right to request the results, and you should note that in writing and get them to initial it before you take the test. You have a right to see your credit record, which HR wants to see, too… so why not the results of your personality testing? HR is out of control. Every cockamamie “HR Consultant” that recommends more “processes” and “best practices” for huge fees helps turn HR into a meatgrinder. Someone please cue in the board of directors? You’re letting HR make your company look like a place where “out of the box thinkers” and “the best people” won’t want to apply to.

By Nick Corcodilos
April 1, 2011 at 11:35 am

@Ed Parsons: I agree with you completely. HR should fully explain to the applicant exactly why HR needs to poke into private affairs and information. Then the candidate should decide whether that’s reasonable. I happen to believe that most of it is unreasonable and no one’s business. As for whether the proverbial financial consultant’s own accounts are in order, all I care about is whether the FC has a solid record of enriching his clients. I don’t care if he lives in a trailer and is 5 months behind on his rent. That’s not my business. I expect the company he works for is monitoring my account and the FC’s performance.

As for the legal department putting unreasonable constraints on HR, I’ve dealt with that, too. I’ve had lawyers tell me I shouldn’t do A or B, but I sometimes just thank them and do it anyway. Lawyers do not run companies. Management does. Legal issues are but one component of prudent management. I’m not saying anyone should violate the law. But any good lawyer will tell you that the law is subject to interpretation. Most laywers will simply advise based on the strictest interpretation of the law. They don’t want to be held accountable for a problem. But management must make the judgment call. If an HR department wants to find itself with a lousy reputation in the professional community from which it recruits, then the board of directors should take a look at the trade-offs. Too often, HR offers the law as an excuse for poor behavior, as though there is no option. There is almost always an option. The question is, who is deciding how far to go? The lawyers? If yes, then the company is in dire trouble.

By Nick Corcodilos
April 1, 2011 at 11:36 am

@Dennis Purvine: Good point, but there is a big difference between a criminal background check and a credit check. As DLMS says, it’s possible to just say NO and walk away.

***

@MaryBeth: The problem is that companies routinely base hiring decisions on factors that have little to do with ability to do the work. That’s good news for smart companies. It means less competition for the best workers. For job hunters, this seems to be a raw deal. In fact, it’s not. It just means you have to look harder to find those smart companies. Bad behavior by employers makes it easie for job hunters to stay out of trouble. Employers that manage the hiring process poorly might as well put up a sign that says, “Don’t bother applying here because we suck. But we’re glad to talk to the rest of you. That’s how we keep our own jobs. So scrub up the next one, and get her ready for inspection…”

By DLMS
April 4, 2011 at 12:16 pm

The fact that this subject has generated so many comments indicates the depth of this problem in the hiring world. I wish more HR folks read this site so they can get a clue that they are sabatoging the goal they are trying to achieve–finding the best person for the job.

By Suzanne
April 5, 2011 at 1:40 pm

@Ed Parsons

Oh please, none of your reasons are valid.

Why should an applicant have to risk sharing personal information pre-maturely just because HR has a faulty tracking system of their own making?

I am usually a very open-minded person, but your logic makes me sick. Do you have any compassion or understanding of what a job hunter goes through? Our nation’s economy is going down the crapper and you want to justify playing petty power games?

By Les
April 7, 2011 at 12:28 pm

I’ve experienced this change in all of the large corporations. They’ve all been HR’d. “Human Resources” (formerly Personnel) has built a nice tidy ever expanding Bureaucracy inside every company. They continue to dream up new ways to expand their control over the parent corporations. None of these requests for data should be solicited before the interview. I love the ones that want every piece of information including your salary history. I really want to see what being HR’d costs the average American corporation. This will not change until they all fail. This is the primary reason I will not interview or go to work for a large corporation ever again. The cost of all this HR comes directly out of my salary because it’s all overhead.

By Ed Parsons
April 7, 2011 at 2:41 pm

After reading so many opinions regarding candidates frustrated with HR paperwork, I have decided to paint a picture without HR.

First though, let’s describe what we do. We are a large financial institution and we manage our customers financial matters on a day to day basis. Our employees are trusted and never steal, ever, honest!!!

As for paperwork, we don’t have any. Matter in fact, everyone who applies for a position gets interviewed face to face by the hiring manager, regardless of where they live, their qualifications for the position, and how much they make or would like to make. Matter in fact, you don’t have to come to us, we will come to you so that we don’t interrupt your busy day. We can make the interview as long or as short as you feel compfortable. Just let us know so we can plan accordingly.

As for government reporting requirements, we ignore them. We promised the government that we never discriminate on race or age, honest!!

If you are not hired by our company, we not only call you directly to tell you exactly why you weren’t hired, but we also offer to pay up to $5,000 in counseling services for those traumatized to hear they were not the most qualified person for the job.

Lastly, if you were interviewed and you get asked a difficult or personal question that offends you, please let us know and we will withdraw the question and beg for forgiveness. Our goal is to never upset a prospective employee as that is what we expect from them when they become a hiring manager.

Respectfully submitted,

The Fairytale Ranch hiring committee.

By Suzanne
April 12, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Ed, it’s not the paperwork that’s frustrating, it’s the timing of the request. The discussion is about making it a blanket policy to ask for personal information before there is a valid reason just for the convenience of HR and the ethics of how that practice forces candidates to comply just because they are afraid of taking themselves out of the running.

Honestly, if you are feeling so beat up by all this that you need to resort to sarcasm, you need a new profession.

By Karsten
April 13, 2011 at 6:45 am

@Ed Parsons,

Ed wrote, as a suggested explanation to applicants:

“The company needs an application completed before the interview so that we can add you in to our applicant tracking system and so that we can comply with government hiring laws. Furthermore, as we continue the interview process and we decide you are a finalist for the position, we have additional screening that includes credit checks, criminal background checks, and drug screening. Are you OK with that?”

No, I am not OK with that. Because you have not given me any good reason for wanting all this information.

By IT Pro
April 20, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Here is a new twist on the “asking for too much information” and presumptious employers.

How about a company that contacts you and asks you to apply for a position, that asks you to:

– Register for an account and log in to see a job description. (That’s a little weird, but ok.)

– Accept a Terms of Service (TOS) Agreement to register for this chance to see the job description. (Read the TOS, and this is a LOT weird. NOT ok!)

In the TOS, you must agree to:
Give the all rights (non exclusive, royalty free, worldwide, perpetual license, with rights to distribute, display publicly, etc. etc.) to anything that you post on their site, or anything you *send them via email* (your resume, personal information, current job, inquiry about a new job, etc. etc.). Really?

They then go on to say that you have no legal recourse for anything that they do with any of your information.

And to top it off, there is another part that you have to agree to that states there are, um, “explicit materials” on the service “that might be offensive to you” that they are also not responsible for. (What on earth?)

This is followed by a lot more legalize that basically explains that, by using their site, you give up all rights to everything and have no legal recourse to anything.

The moral of this story is that (1) some people think that other people will do ANYTHING just to look at a job listing, and (2) Always read the terms of service and the privacy material before putting your name on anything.

This is just astounding. I thought I would post it just as another example of presumptious employers. And a lesson learned for me about reading what I am agreeing to before I agree to it.

By Nick Corcodilos
April 21, 2011 at 5:02 pm

@IT Pro: My guess is that this “company” poached legal terms from multiple websites in an effort to “protect itself” and to “maximize its return on investment.”

In other words, the people running this company are not worth talking to.

But your main point is well worth repeating: Stuff like this does not happen without the support of dopey job hunters who will do anything to get nothing but the promise of a possible job lead.

Gimme a break. Great story. Thanks for sharing it. Online job hunting and recruiting have degenerated into trolling for bait fish using rotten fish heads.

By Congress Should Act
May 1, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Yet another typical example of a stupid abuse that Congress will have to regulate. For the vast majority of employees, their credit is no more relevant to their work than a degree is to their intelligence. Using either as a proxy for the other is just another lazy way to screen out imaginary risks.

By Chris
March 23, 2012 at 3:13 am

I always find it rather ironic that with this barrage of requests for credit checks, facebook passwords and other pre-op requirements that employers consistently, over the last couple of decades, also complain about the increasing difficulty of finding qualified and strong candidates. Think a process that has nothing to do with a candidate might be the answer?

In my company we do not do this for any position unless absolutely required – after acceptance of a job offer. Background checks are always done. Credit checks only if you are in a position that will give access and authority over corporate finances. Social network passwords (or even using it to review candidates) – not allowed. College degrees are not even a requirement unless the position really requires it (such as having a law degree to pass bar for our legal department). In fact, not to knock those with a college education, the education level in our company with the highest percentage of consistently high performers is – “Some College”. Funny, that is usually the same education level of many wealthy and successful business people also.

I have found, by eliminating most of the junk above which has nothing to do with whether a candidate can perform a job or not has helped us find great people. As the owner and CEO of the business, not to sound cold, but that is all I care about at the end of the day – can a candidate perform the position and contribute to the success of the company. All the other stuff has nothing to do with this.

In the past, I once was recruited into a company that had the same attitude my company currently does in hiring. In 25 years, it was the best group of people I had every worked with in my career. Everyone was excellent at their job and contributed to the success of the company. Strange that what they did was ignore these silly practices and ended up with a company of great talent (and it showed in the remarkable growth and company performance).

So, in the end, who are these practices really hurting? The company itself. These are simply practices in self-defeat.

By Chris
March 23, 2012 at 3:27 am

@Ed Parsons:

Sorry, have to disagree with your reasoning on two grounds.

First, people are the backbone of any company – not cogs in a machine. The success of failure of a company is based on this, and nothing else! Stop acting as if everyone is a cog.

Second, these practices have not, in any way, shape or form been proven to produce better candidates or hires – AT ALL! In fact, these practices have proven the opposite. So, as a business owner, I would ask you to show me the metrics that these practices, which are NOT required by law, are producing better candidates.

It is not about forms and procedures, it is about finding the best people for the job. Somewhere, this has been lost along the way for many, many companies.

By Todd
May 30, 2012 at 1:50 am

I was recently told that because of a great amount of medical debt, I was not employable by a given IT company. As such, I went looking for details about my report, and obtained a free copy of my report from transunion. On this report it showed the hiring company had recently requested a copy of my report. It showed a great amount of detail, but not my credit score. Most of the entries were in fact related to medical debt. It varies by state, but I wonder if this was being considered by the hiring company, as it is illegal in some places to consider this as part of the score. Additionally, there is no facility to re-score an individual omitting some or all of the entries related to medical bills. There were a couple errors on the report as well, nothing huge, totaling around $350. There was one entry which is recent from an eviction, following a job loss, which together with a couple utilities totaled about $3750. So to sum up, a total amount of bad debt just over $4000, prevents me from getting a $12 per hour job!? What has our country come to? I have spent considerable time and expense in the past to correct my bad debt, and until these medical bills happened it was all fixed. Now that my wife is diagnosed as epileptic the bills have tapered off, but to get that diagnosis we built up around $30k in bad debt. Recently my youngest son started having symptoms similar to my wife. I am stuck in a situation now where I cannot find work, and may have many thousands in new debt due to this medical condition my dependants have. Without a doubt, this should be completely illegal, and doesn’t relate at all to wether or not the individual can perform a given job. In the IT industry, PCI compliance is a norm. However, weeding out the people who will not steal information (like credit card numbers) has nothing to do with a persons credit rating. It could be argued that anyone who hasn’t been caught doing this may have already done it, with just as much intelligence behind the arguement (none). In fact it could probably go further to state that those with poor credit accept it, and pay for it to a far greater extent than anyone else in our society, monetarily and socially speaking. This all just makes me feel sick to my stomach, as I am a great computer tech and administrator. We need to stop letting big business treat us like dog sh1t and take a stand.

By Anna Mouse
June 9, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Speaking of HR and not so good hiring decisions/processes. I was working at one of the largest employers in the USA and I overheard the HR staff talking about a potential hire. One HR person said that he (the candidate) did not seem like a people person. To put this into perspective – the job they were tasked with filling would be an accounting position pulling data from various systems and would required intense concentration throughout the day. Furthermore, for one reason or another the terminals and desk were located in the basement with no windows and no co-workers. Now why in the world would you need a “people person” for a job where you could likely make it through the day without speaking to another human being?

By Nick Corcodilos
June 9, 2014 at 10:28 pm

@Anna Mouse: Because when HR pulls on the latex glove to check the candidate, HR knows best.

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – How employers help scammers steal your Social Security number
August 12, 2014 at 12:04 pm

[…] It’s time for employers to stop demanding information they don’t need to recruit you. Today, HR departments ask for the kitchen sink simply because they have a database for kitchen sinks. “We’ll just get all the person’s data up front, so we don’t have to do it later.” More cynically, “We’ll get all their data before we even decide they’re viable candidates because then we can use a keyword scan to quickly reject people we haven’t even talked to yet.” (Less politely: Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR, or Proctology?) […]

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