HR & EDUCATION | Contributed Content, Hong Kong
Camilla de Villiers

Busting myths about background screening – what Hong Kong companies should know


Any business leader will tell you the importance of attracting and retaining quality hires in a company – after all, we're only as strong as our weakest link. In spite of this, research by Robert Half International revealed that many companies still made poor hiring decisions. In fact, it is estimated that supervisors still spend 17 percent of their time managing bad hires in the company – precious time that could otherwise be used more productively.

Background screening is a process which remains relatively unfamiliar for many companies in the APAC region. According to HireRight’s APAC Employment Screening Benchmark Report, the one issue that permeates businesses in Asia is the inconsistent or simply non-existent approach to background checks.

This inadvertently results in misconstrued notions about background screening and what it means to conduct such checks. More often than not, it is this misalignment between the perception and reality of background screening that leaves companies open to physical, financial, and even reputational damage through inadequate screening procedures.

Take for example a CEO from Hong Kong who was convicted of fraud for using fake credentials to attain her position – her monthly paycheck worth a hefty HK$88,000. In such instances, organisations could suffer reputational damage that may plague them for a long time to come if such cases get published by the press. Clearly, there has to be some form of check and balance put in place, and more importantly, a deeper understanding on what background screening entails.

Seeing as such, we set out to uncover the other impressions businesses in APAC have about background screening, and how we can tackle these perceptions. In fact, we've taken the liberty to address some of the common myths surrounding background screening that have perhaps crossed the minds of those in the HR department once or twice, and debunk them once and for all:

Myth 1: It is too expensive an investment for companies to carry out background screening on all their applicants
One common misconception is that the background screening process is too expensive an investment for the company. Spending on background screens is seen as incurring additional expenses that can be easily reduced. However, think of it in another perspective. Would you rather spend the money on ensuring that you have the perfect hire before recruiting, or spend more on managing a PR disaster if (or when) an employee is found to have committed credential fraud?

Take for example Telstra who has received much flak from the recent sacking of CTO Vish Nandall due to alleged credential fraudulence. Because of one employee's mistakes, it cast the entire company in a bad light. Administering a background check is well worth the investment to prevent future credential fraudulence and more importantly, protect your company's reputation – reputational damage is a far more costly consequence than putting a background screening policy in place.

Myth 2: Background screening only involves checking past company references
When tasked to carry out a background screening, it is usually assumed that this would involve calling up an applicant's past employers to ascertain whether the potential hire has indeed worked there, and in some cases, to enquire about the said hire's work performance. However, background screening in its entirety involves much more than a few phone calls to past employers.

Depending on the nature and scope of the company, it involves carrying out identity checks, validating educational and work qualifications, past criminal records, and more from various sources. While this sounds like a lot of work, all these steps aid in providing a comprehensive overview of the potential candidate. Sometimes, the findings will amaze you – positively or not.

Myth 3: Background screening on candidates take too long
Finally, there is a common notion that the process of administering background screening takes too long. This is perceived to not only affect the candidate experience with the company, but also seen as inefficient for recruiters, especially for companies with high turnover rates. So, how long exactly does a background check take? The answer is – it depends.

The reason for this seemingly lacklustre response is that background checks are catered specially for each company. Depending on the elements of the background check that a company requires in different industries, the time taken will therefore vary accordingly.

In addition, other considerations have to be taken when screening international employees, such as the time taken for international educational and employment verification beyond the country – this inevitably lengthens the screening process as well. However, screening processes for recruiters have thankfully become much more fluid with technological advancement and has since proven to be a much more convenient process than we think.

Now that our perceptions and realities of background screening are aligned, spending precious time and resources managing bad hires can be a thing of the past. After all, all recruiters have the same objective – to ensure we hire the best candidates.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Camilla de Villiers

Camilla de Villiers

Camilla de Villiers is the Managing Director for the Asia Pacific region of HireRight. She joined HireRight in 2016 after 15 years at Thomson Reuters. Camilla is based in Hong Kong, where she has lived since 2009, developing a strong understanding of the region, its cultural diversity and promising business landscape. She holds a Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Law degree from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.

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