Is Automated Background Screening Here for Good?

Look at how business processes are evolving in any industry today, and you'll spot one trend right away: the word "automation" is everywhere. There is a major push to find ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of all work in an economic environment that is perhaps at its most competitive point in history. Advocates say automation can reduce errors, improve work speed, and more—even in areas such as background screening.

Is that true? Is automation the future of background checking in business? If it is, what does that mean for companies in terms of compliance? There can be significant benefits to unlock along the way, too. One thing is for sure: with the growth of the marketplace for applicant tracking systems, automation has grown alongside it.

To understand the impact of this change and what it might mean for SMMEs, definitions are the first order of business. Let's unpack what automating background screening means in practice today. From there, we can explore what's behind this trend and the takeaways for small business owners.

Is this all about artificial intelligence?

Before we dive into how background screening companies and their partners can build automation into the process today, it's important to touch on the subject of artificial intelligence. Specifically, what role does it play in screening today, and what can it do? There are many misconceptions in this area.

As we'll see, most AI applications analyze data to understand which software system should receive it. However, there has been a great deal of interest in using AI to make actual employment decisions. Various methods have been proposed, such as using AI to rank and score candidates based on all their attributes.

However, such decision-making AIs are heavily skewed toward the biases of their creators and the training data they use. Even without intent, implicit biases can pollute the data—and the decision-making process. Such concerns are why some states have banned AI in hiring or tried to regulate hiring AIs. However, there are still other applications for AI in this space that do not involve turning over all hiring decisions to a machine.

How does automation work for employment background screening?

Automation can touch a large portion of the screening process by taking some of the most time-consuming manual steps out of your hands. Today, many businesses have adopted a software tool called an applicant tracking system. This is a centralized system that contains data on all your current applicants, where they're at in the process, and more. These systems let you compare and contrast applicants at a glance. They also integrate deeply into other business systems.

That level of integration is where automation comes into the picture. Tools such as robotic process automation and even AI/ML-powered tools, such as natural language processing or the cognitive capture of documents. Such tools let you automate processes such as:

  • Sending FCRA compliance documents to applicants, such as a consent form, and filing the appropriate information in your systems.
  • Retrieving background check data from third-party sources.
  • Analyzing the structured data of a background report to extract relevant items and populate them into your applicant tracking system.
  • Cross-checking data from different sources for accuracy.
  • Automating the adverse action compliance process by sending documents as needed.

In short, automation in background checks primarily concerns capturing data and placing it into the appropriate systems for human reviews.

Automate the process — not the decision

Automation can provide significant benefits for businesses, but one thing needs to be clear: you can automate how you collect information, but you should be very cautious about automating any decision-making. In many states, such a step could immediately cause problems with ban the box laws. Some, such as California and Washington, have outright banned AI use in hiring decisions.

All hiring decisions should ultimately be in your hands—not a computer algorithm. As you explore screening automation, keep this important fact in mind. You can certainly speed up how you acquire critical information, but you should still analyze the results and make your own decisions.

Why do businesses choose automated background screening?

Speed is usually the first consideration for most companies. Reducing time-to-hire ensures the business has the necessary skills on staff to operate at maximum efficiency. Hiring is an expensive process, too; reducing costs by automating certain aspects that might otherwise require multiple person-hours of work can improve your company's footing.

Reducing errors and oversights in the process is essential, too. Introducing some automated elements into your compliance workflow, such as adverse action letters, ensures you never miss one of those important checkboxes. Speed, consistency, and reliability are all possible with a well-planned implementation for automation.

Are there risks associated with automation?

As with any change in business practices, there is always some risk involved. Automation can potentially be a transformative technology for your screening processes, but it's not a silver bullet. It's important to be mindful of the possible pitfalls, such as:

  • Failing to ensure that you've taken proper compliance measures into account.
  • Taking too much time to develop efficient automated processes.
  • Not implementing oversight into automation to ensure it works correctly.
  • Relying too heavily on automated processes such that small errors can compound themselves.

Automating any process, especially background screening, requires careful thought and planning. From selecting the right tools to setting them up, be ready to plan and execute this like any other major business project.

The importance of the right screening provider

As more companies focus on automation, it doesn't mean that third-party screening providers will fall by the wayside. On the contrary, the quality and reliability of their services will matter even more. For example, some providers can already offer automated FCRA compliance letters when you choose to begin taking adverse action. Others may offer APIs you can use to request and pay for background checks, with the data returned automatically to your systems for human review.

Data security matters, too. Keeping applicant data safe from prying eyes or potential leaks is critical. Working with a background check company that understands these needs—and has an eye toward the future—can lead to the valuable outcomes you imagine automation can offer. With an experienced and trusted partner providing your screening, you can confidently automate more steps.

Looking to the Future of Background Checks and Automation

Background checks are and will remain fundamental to a safe, effective hiring process. At a time when speed and efficiency are major drivers of business innovation, though, automation has found a comfortable niche. The way of doing things has shifted, and now is the time to look at how to adapt.

For SMMEs, automation could provide critical support and expanded capabilities when you grow and scale up toward a larger payroll. However, it may not offer a value equal to its cost when you only screen a few individuals a year. Nonetheless, you should be ready for when the time to grow arrives. Choose a partner that's looking forward into the future of background screening services and start thinking about how you can use automation and applicant tracking systems today.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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