Why Educational Background Checks for Employers Matter: A Guide

Aside from some visual and layout improvements, the standard format for a resume or a CV hasn’t changed much over the last few decades. The information these documents present remains much the same, as does their purpose: showcasing one’s credentials to a prospective employer to demonstrate why you’re the right choice. Near the top of every resume is often a candidate’s educational history—but is it full of facts or falsehoods? Academic background checks for employers help make that determination.

Rather than only looking at someone’s potential criminal history during hiring, employers should seek to verify and validate as much resume information as possible. Educational credentials are especially important for evaluating candidates—many employers want to see specific degrees or areas of study, especially for advanced fields. Verifying those credentials can make a difference.

How can you do that, and why should you take such steps in the first place?

Some Candidates Lie—Avoid Hiring Unqualified Individuals

Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s clear that many job-seekers don’t share that opinion. In one survey of more than 1200 individuals, a whopping 77% said that they had lied or exaggerated on resumes in the past. Nearly half, about 44%, said those lies often went into the education section of the resume. Per the survey results, education is the section where people are most likely to push falsehoods. Not even a candidate’s years of experience or skills were exaggerated as often as their education.

These stats make one thing clear: employers are more likely than not to eventually encounter at least a few applicants ready to misrepresent themselves during the hiring process. If you accept resume information at face value, you could expose your business to the serious risks of hiring someone who isn’t qualified. If you have specific educational requirements for a job, those expectations exist for a reason. Why settle for a candidate who doesn’t have the knowledge and training that you expect?

Hiring unqualified candidates can create many risks for a business—potentially even issues related to legal compliance. In some sectors, certain types of degrees are a must-have. For example, a hospital wouldn’t want to hire a nurse with phony credentials. That type of concern is often why other types of verification go hand in hand with educational background checks.

With that in mind, it’s clear that you can’t simply skim over the education section of a candidate’s application. Accepting what applicants say at face value is too risky. However, you’ll need to create a reliable and legal process for verifying the information you’ve received.

Understanding FCRA Compliance and EEOC Regulations in This Area

Similar to any kind of background check you run through a third-party consumer reporting agency, there are compliance concerns to consider when verifying education. Since you intend to acquire this information as part of the hiring process, federal laws such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act come into play. Without abiding by these rules, you could risk expensive and time-consuming lawsuits that can hamper your ability to work effectively.

Before verifying a candidate’s education, you must obtain their consent to the process. This is a part of the standalone disclosure requirement created by the FCRA. You must provide each individual with an independent statement about your intent to use background checks and the candidate’s rights. In addition, you have to obtain written consent to proceed.

Don’t worry: you don’t need to do this process for every check you might conduct on a candidate. One disclosure per candidate is enough to satisfy your obligations. However, don’t overlook this step—skipping it could prove costly.

You must also consider how to abide by the rules set forth by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC sets guidelines to explain and enforce the provisions of laws such as the FCRA. Chief among these guidelines is the need for consistency in your approach to screening. In other words, if you intend to screen one candidate for accuracy in their educational claims, you must screen all candidates. Don’t make exceptions or provide special treatment during this process.

How Can You Conduct an Education Verification Check?

Compared to other kinds of background checks, verifying education is relatively straightforward. Although there is a database that claims to have enrollment and degree information from nationwide sources, it does not include all schools and may not be able to furnish you with information on your candidate. Working with a background screening company, you can trust in a process that involves directly contacting the educational institutions in question to verify attendance and graduation.

To conduct an effective educational verification, you will need some essential items of information. The candidate has likely supplied most of this for you on the resume, but you can always contact the applicant for additional details as needed. The most important elements you should obtain for verification include:

  • The full name of the school the candidate attended and its address or contact information.
  • The type of degree that the candidate obtained.
  • The name the candidate used during attendance, if it was different than their current name. For example, a student may have attended college under a maiden name or a nickname.
  • The approximate dates that the candidate was enrolled.

What goes into the process once you furnish this information, and what can you find out?

What You Can Learn From an Education Check

Once your screening provider has the necessary details, they undertake the effort of contacting educational institutions directly. Doing so provides the most direct route to trustworthy information. The screening provider will request confirmation of the details you’ve provided, and the college or university can confirm or deny the accuracy.

You usually won’t find out specific information from the university, such as what a candidate’s GPA was, without following a special request procedure. Most colleges won’t disclose detailed information because it is often considered a violation of the Family Education Rights and Protection Act, or FERPA. Instead, you can confirm if the candidate has the degree they claim and that they attended at the time they said.

Do you feel you need the detailed information only a college transcript can provide? You will need to ask candidates about furnishing this information themselves. The process usually requires a formal request and a fee to the college, so beware that many applicants may balk at the idea of handing over their transcripts. Confirming the accuracy of the information an applicant claims is often sufficient for determining trustworthiness in this area.

The Benefits of Verifying Education During Background Screening

Once you’ve received the results of this type of background check, you can better understand your candidate and how truthful they’ve been during the process. Although this step can add time to the hiring workflow, it’s well worth that effort. By doing so, you can enjoy several important benefits, such as:

  • Establishing that a candidate is at least trustworthy enough to represent themselves during a job hunt accurately.
  • Confirming that an applicant has the specific educational background that you want in the role you need to fill.
  • Verifying that an applicant has completed the necessary specialist training or post-secondary education necessary for licensing or specific types of work.
  • Ensuring you will not need to replace an unqualified candidate on short notice when it becomes clear they cannot do the work.
  • Creating an audit trail demonstrating your total commitment to due diligence in the hiring process.

As part of a broader screening package, verifying education should not cause significant delays. Most colleges and universities have regular operating hours that make contacting them easy. Regular follow-ups by your screening provider help ensure you get the correct information sooner rather than later.

What Should You Do if You Catch a Candidate in a Lie?

In an ideal scenario, you will simply receive confirmation that a resume is accurate. However, sometimes, you may learn that a candidate has lied to you about their education. What next? Lying on a resume isn’t usually considered illegal, so you should simply move forward to another application. Most employers will choose to begin the process of dismissing the candidate’s application after detecting a lie.

Doing so requires that you follow the FCRA’s adverse action guidelines, including allowing for some time for the candidate to offer any evidence that the information they provided was actually true. After a pre-adverse action notice and a waiting period, you can issue the final adverse action notice and close the book on that candidate.

Final Thoughts

Background checks for employers yield vital information about candidates and adding them to your hiring process is simple. With a proven reporting agency supporting your vetting efforts, you can offload the effort of checking with institutions onto a trusted third party. Whether you find a discrepancy or confirm the accuracy of what a candidate says, you will learn valuable information that contributes to smarter, more fully-informed hiring choices. Evaluate your procedures today and see if this is one area where you could strengthen your procedures.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

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

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