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July 26th, 2017 | Debbie Lamb, Sterling Talent Solutions

Defining Trends in the Background Screening Industry

At the beginning of 2017, we took a peek into a crystal ball to see what background industry “hot topics” were going to be. The top issues were candidate experience, regulation and compliance concerns and technology. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) also predicted some of the top human capital management trends for 2017. The trends included the following topics: ban-the-box, social media screening and the prevalence of utilizing screening data for hiring purposes. These are the trends from the companies who are in the human resources industries, but what do everyday HR professionals think are important topics in their industry?

Background Screening Industry Trend Reports for 2017

Sterling recently surveyed 500+ US-based employers in 33 industries about their use of background screening to gain key insights into emerging trends, technology and more. The 2017 Background Screening Trends & Best Practices Report uncovers details how HR professionals think about components of the hiring process and how they relate to the background screening industry, how emerging technology is impacting the candidate experience and emerging trends in employment background screening. The premise behind our 2017 Background Screening Trends & Best Practices Report was to take the pulse of how companies are using background screening as part of their hiring process.

Common Findings

The Sterling Background Screening Report findings are similar to other industry reports including one by the National Association of Professional Background Screening (NAPBS) that was released in the beginning of 2017. The NAPBS commissioned to conduct a national survey of human resources managers in early 2017 to gauge their views on background screening. The survey found that 96% of those employers surveyed conduct one or more types of employment background screening check. The Sterling report was slightly less than that with 89% of respondents saying they conducted some sort of employee background screening.

Employers are screening candidates for many reasons, but the majority of companies (89%) screen to protect employees, customer and communities. The other top reasons to screen from the NAPBS responders were:

  • Improving quality of hires-52%
  • Protecting company reputation-45%
  • Law/Regulation-44%

The Sterling survey respondents answered a bit differently stating the top three reasons to screen are:

  • To protect clients and customers-45%
  • To enhance workplace safety-15%
  • To identify the best candidates-14%

Biggest Challenges

According to The NAPBS, the biggest challenge when conducting background screening for companies was the length of time to get results at 62%. For Sterling survey respondents, the top challenges were ensuring that the employers were getting all the information that they needed to make an informed hiring decision (38%), complying with the ever-changing screening laws and improving the time to hire (18%). Sterling then asked respondents to elaborate a bit more on their answers for their most frequently mentioned responses were: Adverse Action regulations, applicants are offered jobs on the spot with competitors, sometimes the information at hand may not fully represent the candidate-making it more difficult to find and hire the right employee for the job and organization.

Trending Topics Are Everyday Concerns

A few of the 2017 background screening trending topics were mentioned by Sterling as part of the background screening survey, including how the respondents felt about ban-the-box laws, improving the candidate experience and social media screening.


Ban-the-box laws are becoming more prevalent in cities, counties and states across the country. These laws refer to the box on an employment application asking whether or not the candidate has been convicted of a crime. It is a controversial topic, but many states and municipalities are continuing to enact these laws to provide equal opportunity and fairness to candidates. Just two years ago in the Sterling’ 2015 Background Screening Trends and Best Practices Report, 76% of companies reported that their job application included questions about a candidate’s prior criminal history compared to 48% in 2017. This is showing a trend that more and more companies are adopting policies to comply with ban-the-box legislations (either because it is mandated by law or companies are being proactive as it spreads throughout the US.)

Candidate Experience

As the competition for high-performing talent continues to increase, employers can no longer afford to have anything less than a consistent, simple and personalized experience for their candidates. A background screening platform should guide you through all of the background screening and onboarding needs. The candidate experience, including application, interview and background screening processes, vary at every company. Some organizations make the process simple and transparent, while others have complex processes in place, which can make things unclear and challenging for the candidate. A majority (69%) of companies are explaining the process to their candidates which will help to speed up the process and improve communications with candidates.

Social Media Checks

34% of survey respondents indicated that they perform social media checks on prospective employees. Of the companies that are conducting social media checks, 95% of the screenings are conducted internally and 5% are outsourced to a third party. In 2015, our survey found that 63% of companies conduct their social media screening in-house compared to 95% of this screening being performed internally in 2017.

  • 57% of the social media checks are conducted by someone internally on the HR team
  • 21% of these checks are informally conducted by someone other than the HR team
  • 17% is conducted by the hiring manager
  • 5% are conducted by a third-party vendor

When it comes to social media screening, compliance is critical. Often, candidates will put information online containing information that cannot be used to make a hiring decision, such as age, gender or religion. It is critical to work with legal counsel to outline a social media screening policy to help establish a social media screening process in your background screening policy.

Employment Background Screening Policy

Companies who have not implemented an employee screening program yet should take an in-depth look at their business’ needs and determine the value they would receive from implementing an employment background screening program. From identifying the best candidates to maintaining compliance, it’s good to get a plan in place to understand the reasons screening matters to your organization. To learn more about the key insights on background screening practices, priorities and challenges, download the Background Screening Trends and Best Practices Report 2017.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.