We Are the World: International Staff Screening

By Melanie Lockwood Herman

The world gets very small after a while, if you stick around long enough. – Edie Falco

Your goal of recruiting capable staff members who bring different perspectives and diverse backgrounds to your mission may lead you to  seek and consider applicants who have worked, lived, or even studied in a country on the other side of the globe. A recent survey by HireRight indicated that more than half of employers are considering applicants who have studied or worked overseas.

While the staffing needs of nonprofit organizations vary to a great degree, there is ample evidence that the commitment to appropriate, consistent screening of prospective employees and volunteers is deepening within mission-driven organizations. As discussed in the Center’s book, Staff Screening Notebook: 10 Steps to Quality Staffing, “The advent of the Internet heralded a giant step in the amount of easily available information concerning applicants for paid and volunteer positions.” How might traditional screening mechanisms be made more relevant to organizations considering international applicants?

Reference Checking

The Center advises all nonprofit employers to consistently check references for the finalists for regular staff positions and most volunteer roles. Reference checking provides a wonderful opportunity to obtain information about a candidate from someone other than the candidate! At the Center we check references before we conduct finalist interviews. Why? We don’t want our reference check conversations to be biased by the positive or negative impressions formed during an in-person interview. Additionally, references might allude to skills or qualities possessed by the applicant that you wish to explore further during an in-person interview. The advent of affordable calling plans that include many international locations has made checking overseas references cheaper than ever. Hence, there is no excuse to exclude former international employers from your reference checking process. Resolve to check a minimum of three references as part of the screening process for all paid positions, and most volunteer roles.

From time to time you might speak to a reference who indicates that it is ‘company policy’ not to provide references, aside from ‘title and dates of employment.’ In these situations, try stating, “I understand. I have two simple questions.” In some situations, a reluctant reference may be willing to answer the following two questions:

  • “Would you have any hesitation placing this candidate in a position of trust with respect to _________?” (children, elderly clients, financial assets, etc. Fill in the blank with the word(s) based on the work the applicant would be doing at your nonprofit.)
  • “What can you share with me about your management style so I can assure that this applicant enjoys as much success at our firm a s/he did under your direction?” Or “What should I know about your firm or work environment that we can emulate here to ensure the applicant enjoys as much success as s/he did at your organization?”

The second question and its variation above is a favorite of Amy Davidson, a career HR leader who currently serves as Director of Human Resources at American Jewish World Service, a Center consulting client. According to Amy, offering the reference a compliment encourages candor.

Academic Degree Verification

If a specific educational credential, such as a bachelor’s degree, is required for an open position, then take the time to verify that the finalists indeed possess the required degree from the institution listed on their resume or application. The verification process may be easier than you first thought, as many colleges and universities subscribe to a national service offering degree verification and student transcript services.

According to an online survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder, job applicants commonly lie about their academic degrees. Across the 2,188 hiring managers and HR professionals participating in the poll, lies about academic degrees were recognized as the fourth most common resume fabrication after embellished skill set, embellished responsibilities, and dates of employment and job title. Add to the picture the existence of ‘diploma mills’ that generate faux certificates of completion for a fee; employers can’t be too careful in this facet of screening.

International Background Checks

Conducting international background checks remains a challenge for many nonprofits that are otherwise committed to a screening process that includes background checking.

According to a 2013 poll conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the most common reasons for not screening prospective workers from outside the U.S. are:

  1. International background checks are for organizations based overseas or companies that hire large numbers of foreign workers
  2. It’s difficult to know where to start
  3. International background screening is overly complex
  4. International background checks take too long
  5. Background checking globally is unaffordable or costs too much

What makes conducting international background checks so hard?

  • First, most record checks used by nonprofits are name-based checks that require an applicant’s name, date of birth and Social Security number. Foreign applicants don’t have the latter piece of information.
  • Second, each country has its own laws and practices related to the collection and sharing of criminal records. Discrimination laws pertaining to how criminal history information may be used also vary.
  • Third, there is no global criminal records database, which means that an employer considering a foreign applicant or U.S. citizen who has worked or studied overseas may have to check the records of multiple countries. Still, there is no guarantee that any records repository will be complete.
  • Fourth, some employers perceive that international background checks take too long. Many organizations note time to hire as an HR or recruiting metric, and HireRight’s 2013 Employment Screening Benchmarking Report confirms the perception among employers that international background checks take too long.

Background Checking Q&A

To better understand some of the challenges associated with international background checks, I reached out to Kim Chochon, VP of Partnerships at Verified Volunteers, a background checking firm with a large nonprofit customer base.

Q. What are some of the challenges obtaining background check information on foreign applicants, or US citizens who have recently lived overseas?

KC: “International background screening can be expensive and complicated, especially trying to understand the varying laws of each country. Outsourcing the process to an experienced 3rd party vendor with global expertise can significantly help streamline efficiencies.”

Q. Are there different types of international background checks? If so, what are the principal differences?

KC: “There are different types of international background searches including, but not limited to, Criminal (i.e. Comprehensive, Police clearance authentication), Identity (i.e. Passport validation, National Identity Validation, Right to Work Validation, Driver’s License check), Verifications (i.e. Education, Employment, References, etc.), and Financial (i.e. Credit, Bankruptcy, etc.), among others.”

Q. Do you have any final tips to share on conducting international background checks?

KC: “The keys to global screening success are: 1. knowing where to search, 2. knowing what to search for, and 3. understanding compliance requirements in the countries where you are conducting background checks.”

International applicants or U.S. Citizens who have worked or studied abroad are likely to be in your pool of candidates for paid and volunteer positions. Although international screening steps may require additional time and cost, your mission warrants the extra effort it takes to thoughtfully screen applicants from an increasingly diverse pool.

Melanie Herman is Executive Director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. We welcomes your questions about screening staff at Melanie@nonprofitrisk.org or 703.777.3504.

International Screening Resources

Staff Screening Notebook: 10 Steps to Quality Staffing, Nonprofit Risk Management Center

“Benefits of Global Employment Screening Outweigh the Costs,” Society for Human Resource Management, http://blog.shrm.org/workforce/ benefits-of-global-employmentscreening- outweigh-the-costs

2016 HireRight Employment Screening Benchmark Report, www.hireright.com/assets/uploads/files/ HireRight2016BenchmarkingReport.pdf

2013 HireRight Employment Screening Benchmark Report, www.hireright.com/resources/ view/2013-employment-screeningbenchmarking- report