By Max Wesman, VP of GoodHire - HR West 2016 Power Station Sponsor
Nearly 70 million people in the United States have criminal records. That means you will almost certainly encounter job candidates with records at some point in your career.
How you (and the hiring managers you work with) react will likely depend on your understanding of the laws that govern hiring, the candidates’ openness, and something that can’t be overlooked: feelings.
A Charged Issue: Criminal Records In Hiring
For most people, discussing criminal history is, frankly, uncomfortable. Think about it: The incident probably represents a low point in the candidate’s life, and few people relish discussing their lowest moments in a job interview.
At the same time, even seasoned HR professionals and hiring managers tread carefully when discussing criminal history out of their own unease, concern about applicable laws – or both.
Twenty states, including California, and many cities have passed “ban-the-box” laws that govern how and at what point in the hiring process employers can ask about criminal records. In San Francisco, for example, employers can’t ask about convictions until after an initial live interview.
As a result, a background check often serves as the first mention of a criminal record.
Background Checks: A Useful But Limited Tool
Having run tens of thousands of background checks over the past three years, I’ve seen first hand how employment screening can help companies build great teams. But I’ve also seen that it’s far from a perfect solution.
That’s because, without context, records in a background check tell only part of the story – that a conviction occurred. The records say nothing about why or what has happened since.
Without that context, employers run the risk of excluding otherwise qualified candidates. Worse, excluding people with criminal records from consideration could attract unwanted attention from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which has strengthened its focus on the disparate impact of policies on protected classes.
Context Is Everything: EEOC Guidance And Hiring Best Practices
A survey of California employers found that most are more willing to consider hiring a candidate when they know the nature of the offense. For example, 84% said they’d be willing to hire someone with a misdemeanor offense.
That openness turns out to be a good thing, because considering individual circumstances and context around a criminal record is a best practice for avoiding EEOC scrutiny. Other best practices include considering the nature and gravity of the offense, the time that has passed since the offense or completion of the sentence, and the nature of the job sought.
Asking for context, which may show rehabilitation, good character, or successful performance of similar work after the conviction, gives you a more complete picture. And it helps you avoid dismissing an otherwise qualified candidate – a big consideration in a hot labor market.
Yet the question of how to get that context brings us right back to the original problem: people’s reluctance to discuss criminal records.
A Technology Assist: Comments For Context
Here in Northern California, we tend to look to technology for answers. And I believe technology can help smooth the way for these necessary, though difficult, conversations.
Giving hiring managers a tech-based way to request context around background check results makes the request simply part of the process. Think of it as similar to requesting e-consent to run the background check in the first place.
Technology can also help on the candidate side. A solution that lets candidates enter comments directly on their background check results helps them tell their circumstances outside of the stressful job interview environment. In an ideal solution, the context provided would stay with the candidates’ results, so anyone authorized to view those results would get the same information.
At GoodHire, we’re working on this challenge now as part of our commitment to fostering trust, safety, and fairness throughout the hiring process.
Soon, employers who use GoodHire services will be able to ask candidates to add comments for context through the GoodHire product. And, if candidates have already added comments as part of their own job search process, any authorized employer who runs a background check through GoodHire will see the context provided.
Rehumanizing Employment Screening
According to the National Employment Law Project, many companies that hire people with records find them to be model employees. The group quotes Brad Friedlander, CEO of Red Restaurant Group, as saying that people with criminal records “are frequently the most dedicated and conscientious. A lot of doors are shut to them, so when someone gives them an opportunity, they make the most of it.”
An innovative technology solution that promotes context on background check results can help employers get a more complete picture of their candidates. It doesn’t necessarily take the place of in-person discussions, but it can make those conversations easier to start.
In doing so, it promises to help employers see the human in their potential resources.
Want to learn more about comments for context?
Look for team GoodHire at HR West 2016!
About the Author
Max Wesman has led GoodHire from its launch in 2012. Today, GoodHire serves more than 23,000 businesses, and Max oversees all aspects of its services, from strategy to product development and design, to legal compliance, to customer support. Before joining GoodHire, Max managed and launched enterprise solutions and small business software products for Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft. He received an MBA from the University of California Berkeley's Haas School of Business and undergraduate degrees from the Wharton School and the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania.