In The Workplace

Is it necessary for us to do background checks on all job applicants, even if they come from major corporations and graduated from prestigious universities, including those with first-rate character references? Is it possible to waive this step? — Blue Moon.

“Let’s be honest,” said American gun rights advocate Wayne La Pierre. “Background checks will never be universal — because criminals will never submit to them.” That alone should give you a clue about what to do with job applicants. The idea is that you don’t have to do it for all individuals who come to you seeking employment.

You do background check only for the top one or two candidates on your shortlist. Check the number two choice if the top choice appears to be shaky. You must “separate the chaff from the grain,” so to speak.

When separating the chaff, do it in the following order with human resources (HR) as gatekeeper: First, do a paper review of the applicants’ curriculum vitae (CV). Second, conduct an online interview of the applicants who pass the first stage. It’s best to ask difficult questions on how the applicant would make decisions on certain issues.

Third, do a deep-dive face-to-face interview of applicants who pass online vetting. Continue to ask work-situation questions, especially those common issues that arise in that job. The tougher, the better.

Fourth, require those who pass the interview to take a written trade test, if necessary. Sometimes you don’t require it of certain managerial applicants with decades of experience, unless you’re seeking out aptitude for leadership.

Fifth, refer the top five candidates to the requisitioning department for further vetting. This is best done via an in-person interview. If HR has done a good job, a shortlist of the top three applicants can be generated right away. At that stage, a medical clearance and pre-employment documents must be required from the number one candidate.

To avoid encouraging false expectations, you can inform the number one choice that a continuing check is to be done subject to the verification of the applicant’s university diploma, transcript of records, government license, birth certificate, marriage certificate (if applicable), National Bureau of Investigation clearance and other related documents.

If the number one candidate has passed all medical documents and other pre-employment clearances, it’s time to make a formal job offer to the number one candidate. In the unlikely event that an applicant fails to be cleared, then perform the same process with the second choice.

Once again, remember that background checks should be performed only on the number one candidate. This is a continuing process even if the candidate has started working or even if that person has attained regular employment status. This is subject to the condition that the candidate signs a waiver authorizing the organization to conduct reference or background checks anywhere and with anyone.

The applicant’s express approval protects the company from any unwarranted claim against invasion of privacy or other related issues as defined by the Data Privacy Act.

Background checks are imperative and yet more often than not ignored by “busy” recruiters. This happens all the time when you try to confirm details with some character references who are usually old friends, immediate relatives, or favorite college teachers who can be expected to make positive remarks about the candidate.

However, this can be addressed by asking meticulous open-ended clarificatory questions. In the process, you could discover certain shortcomings that will help you decide whether the candidate is right for your organization. Also, dump the old-fashioned method of sending a stock questionnaire with a self-addressed stamped envelope to the character references.

That’s an outdated and ineffective tool. Most people would not bother answering. Character references who do this are worried that they could be on the receiving end of a libel case. A good approach is to request a telephone interview instead of requiring them to fill out a questionnaire. If they agree, then you’re in luck; I have heard that many references are reluctant to answer calls.

I would also recommend that you hire an independent service provider to generate a written report in short order because they have the process down to a science and maintain a network of corporate and government contacts.


Bring Rey Elbo’s leadership program called “Superior Subordinate Supervision” to your management team. Contact him on Facebook, LinkedIn, X (Twitter) or e-mail or via