Apples to Elephants – Not all background checks are the same

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The different types of background checks

The Different Types of Background Checks

There are so many different employment screening options available to employers in today’s marketplace. When looking through all of these options it can sometimes be a daunting task to figure out the difference between the different types of background checks available. With the notion in mind that all background checks are basically the same, how is it that some can cost so much more than others or take so much longer to produce?

The truth is that there are many different types, categories, differentiators, that make background check services different.When comparing the different types of background checks, using one singular point of comparison – whether it be price, turnaround time, comprehensiveness, etc. – isn’t enough on its own to truly determine its value. With this in mind, these are the things that employers should know about the different types of background checks:

Background checks come in all shapes and sizes

One of the most common misconceptions about the background screening industry centers around people outside of the profession not understanding what exactly goes into a background check. Do all background checks come from the same sources? Is it just one central government database that all organizations plug into? If that’s the case, why do some background checks cost more than others and some claim to offer more information than others?

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The first thing that you must know if you are new to background screening is that background checks come in all shapes and sizes – none of which come from an all-encompassing government database.

The source of the information used in a background check plays heavily into the cost, speed, and comprehensiveness of a background check. Information collected from one source may require large amounts of research time or may have a high usage fee. For Example – the average court record fee is $5. It costs $65 for county court records in New York. That’s 1200% higher than the average county court record access fee across the US.

Background checks are best categorized by the type of information that they collect

While there are thousands of different background screening services out there, the list of relevant services is made much more manageable by lumping them into categories based on the types of information that they collect.

Common types of background screening information include:

  • Criminal Records
  • Driving Records
  • Credit Reports

These different types of background checks each gather information from different sources and are used for different purposes. In general, criminal records will originate from the different court systems in the United States (i.e. municipal, county, or federal). Driving record information will come from state Departments of Motor Vehicles. Credit information used in a credit report comes from many different types of institutions linked to a consumer’s finances.

Comparing criminal records to credit reports is like comparing apples to elephants

If you are trying to compare the pros and cons of different background check services. Comparing high-level categories like credit reports and criminal records won’t get you very far. The only comparison that should really happen at that level is the comparison of how those different types of information would benefit your organization’s screening process.  

Once you’ve decided on the type of information you want to collect. your attention should turn towards the differentiators within that single category. For example – criminal record  searches have two basic types – databases and live research. While both of these are criminal record searches, their information is gathered in very different ways and have very different draws.

If you are focused entirely on price when looking at a line-up of different criminal record checks you may see one is priced much lower than the others. At face value this may seem like the best option, but like anything else, you get what you pay for.  Lower priced criminal record checks come from databases and lack the comprehensiveness of live research. It’s differences like this that are why it isn’t wise to use a single point of comparison.

Final Thoughts

As I’ve outlined, there are many different ways to package a background check service. Understanding the different categories and types of background checks will help you to see past the subjective differences between services – leaving you to compare based solely on the objective truths.