Written by Reina Cheng
Around the world, employment background screening is an accepted best practise. In fact, it’s expected in many countries. However, not so much across Asia.
Take Hong Kong, for example. The financial services industry is required by regulators to screen its employees, but beyond that, the practise of background screening is mostly relegated to companies that are headquartered in other, more “background check friendly” countries.
Ask a job candidate in Hong Kong to complete a background check and they’re likely to be offended. “What? You do not trust me!” They feel their integrity is being questioned. However, this thinking is flawed, and worse, it could jeopardise the integrity of the larger organisation.
Here, I’ll break down this and other common background screening obstacles and share why it’s in the best interest of Asian businesses to push past the objections and integrate background screening into their hiring process.
Screening is different in Asia.
Apart from the candidate pushback, background screening is different in Asia for other reasons. First, there’s no “one source of truth” or consolidated data repository available to quickly research and validate candidate information. That means, performing a proper background check will likely require more time and effort. For this reason, background checks cost more in Asia than other parts of the world.
Now, let’s pivot back to the financial services industry. Bankers and lenders have resolved all these issues. Sure, they’re required by regulators to perform background checks; however, they also do it for another reason. They do it to measure employee integrity.
These businesses have a vested interest in maintaining the highest level of integrity; their customers demand it. Performing background checks helps ensure that an employee’s integrity aligns with that of the business. It helps validate their ethics and values. It helps ensure the employee’s performance and output will measure up to the standards set by the business. And yes, it also helps strengthen and protect public perception of the brand.
Integrity should matter in every industry.
According to a 2020 Global Integrity Report, nearly 30 percent of respondents indicated they would be prepared to act unethically in order to boost their career or improve their compensation package. The report went on to suggest this number might grow higher as the COVID-19 pandemic further strains jobs and salaries.
Given the market forces at work today, it makes perfect sense that businesses want to hire employees with high integrity. This includes employees who are committed to the same values as the business. Employees who understand what’s at stake and align their goals with those of the business to achieve high levels of productivity.
The basic principles of integrity should apply across all industries in Asia, not just financial services. Why wouldn’t an engineering firm be interested in employee integrity, when they’re responsible for safely constructing the very roads, bridges and buildings we use every day? What about lawyers and healthcare workers? We literally put our lives in their hands when we work with these professionals. What about teachers? We trust them to keep our children safe while helping them achieve academic excellence. The point is this: if your organisation is founded on integrity, you should hold your employees to the same standard.
The consequences are real.
In 2019, a teacher in Hong Kong poisoned a kindergarten class after having a dispute with another teacher over “student management questions.” One student died and 23 others fell ill. Three years earlier, that same teacher poisoned her husband. He got sick but survived. A background check may or may not have uncovered her criminal past. Regardless, her “integrity”—or lack thereof—clearly did not align with that of the school and was worthy of a background investigation.
This is just one example. It can happen to any business or organisation, in any industry. A 2020 PWC Global Economic Crime and Fraud Survey revealed that nearly half of reported fraud incidents resulting in losses of US$100 million or more were committed by insiders.
Never forget that your employees are the face of your organisation. They engage with customers. They drive revenue. They access financial and proprietary information. They fuel innovation. Background checks can help you understand if they possess the morals and work ethic required to push your business forward, instead of putting it—and your customers and colleagues—at risk.
Measuring integrity with background screening.
At First Advantage, our background screening recommendations are straightforward, proven and trusted by organisations around the world. Specifically, within Asia, recommended background checks include:
- Education and employment verifications, which can help confirm information provided on a candidate’s curriculum vitae regarding employment and all education and degrees.
- Credit and bankruptcy checks, which offer visibility into a candidate’s financial background. This is important for employees with fiduciary responsibilities or direct access to money or proprietary information.
- Criminal and civil litigation checks, which can reveal relevant past incidents of criminal behaviour or wrongdoing.
- Global sanctions searches, which scan a mix of international terrorist watch lists.
- Global media and directorship searches, which search for positive and negative media articles and images pertaining to a candidate.
- Global social media checks, which can provide insight into a candidate’s overall character.
So, how can background checks be used to measure integrity? Take, for example, education and employment verifications, which produce the highest discrepancy rates in our business. The discrepancies are often simple errors in dates of graduation or employment; however, sometimes a candidate may intentionally embellish dates to exaggerate their experience or shrink gaps in unemployment.
Embellishments may seem harmless, but they can point to compromised integrity. Consider a fresh college graduate with little to no work experience who is relying on their education to get a foot in the door. Yet, if they lie about their education, that’s a red flag. The same goes for older workers who are being hired for their experience. If they exaggerate their job history on the resume, that’s another possible red flag.
Another test of integrity is honesty. Imagine that a candidate is honest and proactively discloses information that might be revealed on the background check, such as a criminal offence. This simple act of honesty can help strengthen the organisation’s trust in the candidate and boost the candidate’s integrity.
Other checks such as a social media search can provide a more comprehensive view of a candidate. For instance, you may discover a candidate regularly volunteers with local community organisations or recently led an online fundraising effort. Conversely, you might uncover risky behaviour such as illegal drug abuse, violence or conflicting business interests. Either way, understanding how they engage socially online can offer valuable insight into a candidate’s integrity.
Don’t wait until the damage is done.
Think about the concept of “babyproofing” a home. We don’t wait for a child to fall down the steps before we install a protective gate. Instead, we try to avoid the risk by doing the research and anticipating the potential for danger. The same principle goes for using background screening to help measure employee integrity and protect the business.
Hold your employees accountable to the same standards of integrity as your business. Don’t wait to read about a negative employee-related incident in the news—after the damage to your brand is already done. Instead, develop a comprehensive background screening policy and integrate it into the hiring process. It won’t prevent every incident, but it will help mitigate overall employee-related risk and go a long way toward advancing your organisation’s brand reputation, performance and productivity, and ultimately, your bottom line.
Reina Cheng is the Vice President of New Sales and Account Management for HKASEAN, Japan and Korea at First Advantage. Reina joined the organisation in 2019 and has 10+ years of experience partnering with customers, across a wide range of industries, to deliver innovative solutions to HR and Talent teams in the APAC region. Reina has a BDS in Dentistry, an MSc in Human Resources Management and an EMBA from INSEAD.