The Perfect Background Check – More Than the Sum of Its Parts

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“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – Aristotle

Aristotle was, of course, a brilliant thinker who was way ahead of his time. His simple, yet profound epiphany defines what we now call synergy[1]. Many metaphors have been created to express the notion using other words, all of them true. “A painting is more than the sum of its parts” – Wendelin Van Draanen. The rather heavy “The world is more than the sum of its suffering” – Deepak Chopra. And somewhat impactful — and our favorite, “A fist is more than the sum of its fingers” – Margaret Atwood.

In the same manner, a background check – we’re talking a thorough background check — is far more than the sum of its parts. Criminal/public record searches, previous employment, education, drug testing – all are extremely valuable assessments designed to help ensure that what your job candidate tells you is the truth and the person you’re hiring is really who they say they are.

The best and most thorough background checks comprise multiple components, which enable employers to see a prospective employee from multiple angles. The best background checks are like recipes or jigsaw puzzles, comprising different screens that, together, offer the most complete and reliable profile. Fingerprinting is extremely valuable. So is an E-Verify check. But when added to criminal record reviews and other screens, they offer a more complete candidate review that’s far more effective in helping ensure a safer and more secure workplace.

Individually, each component tells you a lot. As shown in our 2019 Employment Screening Benchmark Report, criminal/public record searches remain the most popular type of screen, with 93% of organizations stating they depend on this test. Identify confirmations are run by 64% of organizations, while previous employment and/or references were verified by 56% of companies surveyed. But as we noted, “Most organizations perform background checks that include several types of searches.”

Of course, much depends on the type of job. Individuals applying for positions in which driving a company vehicle is a major component of the position – e.g., a commercial driver, limousine driver, or cab driver – will quite likely have their motor vehicle records reviewed. Such an examination may not be required for individuals applying for a job as a technical writer.

The same goes for the industry. A candidate applying for a position involving handling money or having access to financial records may have their financial history reviewed since their ability to handle such matters accurately and responsibly may be pertinent to the position offered. Candidates for other sorts of jobs not involving finances may not have their financial records reviewed.

What other types of screens can comprise a complete and thorough background check? While you may not require each and every one of these, consider adding screens that may provide a more holistic look at the candidate with whom you may be entrusting your company’s most sensitive data, corporate (and possibly your employees’) financial information, direct communication access to your most valued clients, and your organization’s brand and reputation.

I-9/Employment Authorization

  • Form I-9 is used for verifying the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired for employment in the United States. All U.S. employers must ensure proper completion of Form I-9 for each individual they hire for employment in the United States. This includes citizens and noncitizens. HireRight has made the process online and intuitive where customers can create, view, download, store, and print I-9 forms via a dedicated web-based portal.

Drug/Alcohol Testing

  • Businesses of all sizes, from commercial transportation systems to hospitals to manufacturers require an alcohol and drug-free workplace. Experienced and large background check organizations like HireRight partner with the industry’s most respected SAMSHA certified laboratories and device manufacturers to offer clients a full suite of testing methodologies and services.

Education Information

  • As you may have read in numerous articles, many individuals falsify their education – including C-level Particularly for high-profile employees and even board members, verifying education may save unwanted negative publicity in the future.

Motor Vehicle Records (MVR)

  • Anyone who will be operating a company-owned vehicle may have their driving record reviewed. Such a review will show if the candidate has been cited for excessive speed, or committed illegal acts like driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Organizations operating in a Department of Transportation (DOT) regulated industry are required to request a new copy of each driver’s MVR every 12 months.

Professional License/Qualification Verifications

  • Organizations in the medical, life sciences and other fields require licensure and verification of candidate’s qualifications. Ensuring these certifications and qualifications are current and accurate are paramount to the safety and security of the organization and its customers.

Credit History

  • Employers may request a credit check, particularly if the candidate will be involved with access to money or financial transactions. While a candidate’s credit score won’t be revealed, employers may see a modified version of a candidate’s credit report. A poor credit check may reveal late payments, excessive debt, or debt mismanagement which could indicate an increased risk of theft or fraud.


  • A fingerprint check verifies the candidate’s fingerprints against a database. Candidates in fields like education, health care, child care, and security-sensitive positions are more likely to have their fingerprints taken. Many of these positions are required by state or local law to include fingerprints in the background screening process. Most fingerprints can now be captured digitally by a scanner. Candidates have their prints scanned at a kiosk. Those prints are then transmitted to the FBI electronically. Results are often returned within 24 hours.

Social Media

  • While reviewing social media profiles may provide additional insight into candidates, it’s a best practice to conduct this check later in the process to avoid potential questions of discrimination related to a candidate’s appearance, race, gender, or other factors visible on their social profile.


While applying basic screens such as criminal, identity and previous employment individually offer a critical glimpse into a candidate’s history, augmenting your screening parameters to illuminate other aspects of a candidate’s background may provide a more holistic and dependable look. Customers of HireRight can easily augment their background check criteria by conferring with their Account Manager.

Finally, as we noted in our Benchmark Report, “When determining which checks to perform for each candidate, organizations should consider both the requirements of the position and what is permissible under the law.”

[1] The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.


Lewis Lustman

Lewis Lustman is a content marketer who enjoys developing materials that engage, inform, challenge, and hopefully entertain my audience. Lewis is a former journalist for Los Angeles Magazine and the Los Angeles Times, and has worked for a number of leading advertising, marketing, technology, and PR firms over the years. Interested in a topic that he hasn't yet tackled? Drop him a line in the comments section!

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