Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 September 2019

Background checks on possible company recruits become essential

Screening candidates for new roles has been big business in the US and UK for some time but the 'rest of the world is waking up' to them now – with the Middle East is a major growth area.
Steve Girdler, the HireRight managing director for EMEA and Apac, said the main sectors demanding screenings in the UAE are oil and gas, finance, technology and tourism. Courtesy HireRight Limited
Steve Girdler, the HireRight managing director for EMEA and Apac, said the main sectors demanding screenings in the UAE are oil and gas, finance, technology and tourism. Courtesy HireRight Limited

Background checks company HireRight says it found errors in almost two thirds of the information on people – staff and interview candidates – that it screened last year

That’s a lot of errors considering they screened 13 million people worldwide during that period.

As the company opens a Dubai office, Steve Girdler, the managing director for EMEA and Apac, says screenings have been big business in the US and UK for some time but that the “rest of the world is waking up” to them now – and the Middle East is a major growth area.

“Many of the 40,000 customers we work with have significant operations there and we also work with a number of local organisations,” he says, adding that the main sectors demanding screenings in the UAE are oil and gas, finance, technology and tourism. The company is focused on security, so he will not name any clients.

Although the global spend on IT security is set to reach US$81.6 billion this year, according to international research group Gartner, Mr Girdler estimates that just $3bn is spent on screening individuals – less than 4 per cent of what companies are prepared to spend on making their technology safe.

Standard components of a screening, which cost from Dh500 to Dh1,000 for a candidate check and Dh7,000 for an executive check, include checking the last three to five years of employment, highest level of education and professional qualifications. There could also be criminal record checks.

In the US, drug and health screenings are common. At a C-suite level, HireRight might even ensure that an individual is “media-friendly”. As Mr Girdler says, you need to know if your new pharmaceutical chairman is a paid-up member of an animal rights organisation.

The company’s advice is to always assess new hires during recruitment, and to rescreen senior employees annually for information that could change, such as personal finances, criminal records and other business interests and directorships.

This has become common in the finance industry, Mr Girdler says, which has tightened up its regulations since the recession and has been a “real driver” for background screening.

While the process takes a speedy three to four days in the US, in developing regions, particularly with international hires, it can take 15 to 20 days. Africa and South East Asia are particular challenges, Mr Girdler says. In India, for instance, there is a proliferation of private universities, which “may not be as scrupulous as other institutions”.

HireRight has staff on the ground who will physically visit addresses and confirm the institute is real, double-check certificates and even talk to the admissions offer. “A copy of a certificate of education does not mean it has not been Photoshopped and generated by computer,” says Mr Girdler. For the same reason, the company never accepts mobile numbers.

Suhail Masri, the vice-president of employer solutions at online jobs site Bayt.com, says recruiters should always ask for references and even set up questionnaires as part of the application process to do their own screening. About 82 per cent of employers research a candidate online before even calling them for an interview, he says.

Cynthia Trench, principal lawyer at Trench and Associates, says that due diligence is an “essential step” and that recruiters should “use all options available to know your candidate”.

That may include asking previous UAE employers for an end of service certificate, requiring a written declaration that the individual is not subject to any employment ban and even demanding that candidates provide a good conduct certificate from the local police in the UAE. This can be done online and costs Dh200, or Dh300 if applying from overseas.

Recruiters, she says, can also contact the appropriate regulatory body for a candidate’s qualifications (such as the Law Society in England and Wales), run online searches for any public tribunal records that may point to previous issues – and even check their social media accounts. And, she highlights, the visa application process requires original and attested education certificates, and Ministry of Labour regulations now require a CID screening process of all employees.

Mr Girdler sounds a note of caution, though, that HR is often “saddled” with the task of screening, turning it into an “admin burden”. Outsourcing, he says, makes screening quicker, more efficient and cost-effective, as well as auditable.

HireRight, he points out, has offices in 16 locations across multiple time zones and has paid subscriptions to screening databases and the contacts worldwide to do full checks.

“Screening is your assurance that the person is who they say they are and has done what they say they’ve done, and that they are no risk to you,” says Mr Girdler.

But he stresses that background checks are only done after receiving the individual’s consent, to ensure that the candidate’s experience of a company is not “tarnished” by their screening experience. “Our job is not to snoop,” he insists.

business@thenational.ae

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Updated: August 28, 2016 04:00 AM

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