For the second year running, Lawyers Weekly, in partnership with InfoTrack, assembled a round table to discuss the critical need for police and reference checks to be more widely implemented across both the legal community and corporate world.
Here, we share some of the discussions that have taken place as well as key findings uncovered in a revealing report embarked on by the parties.
PT: Phillip Tarrant, managing editor, Lawyers Weekly
JA: John Ahern, CEO, InfoTrack
LM: Lori Middlehurst, director and assistant general counsel, VMware
MP: Mariah Pollard, national recruitment consultant, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers
PT: G’day everyone. We’re going to be talking about mainly police checks but also about how the right people, in terms of recruitment in your firm or your business, can shape the way it grows, the way it evolves, the way it generates shareholder value and the way it generates employment value.
We’ve done a survey with InfoTrack which had over 200 respondents. We wanted to understand the rigour that firms and in-house counsel are undertaking to ensure that they’re getting the right people for their business.
[One] of the questions we asked respondents [was], ‘Has your firm or any of your clients’ businesses been a victim of crime committed by someone internally?’ Interestingly, one in three people who responded said that ‘Yes, their business or a business that they work with has been a victim of crime.’
We then followed up with a question that said, ‘Have you, or your clients, ever worked with someone and later discovered that they lied about their background?’ The results found that 37.5 per cent of people have worked with someone who had lied about their background, while 62 per cent said they hadn’t.
John, what do you think about that? Is that pretty common?
JA: I think it is common. We certainly hear about it. I’m not surprised that people have lied about their past. What I’m shocked about is that more people don’t take actions to check into people’s pasts. My clients, being predominantly lawyers, hold a lot of identity information so you would think that they would be more worried about hiring people that could handle that sort of sensitive information as it ran through their practice.
We hear stories from our clients all the time about different staff they’ve had come into their business who have lied about their past, done some damage to the culture of the business and then moved on, and it’s a real shame.
PT: Can it really put the handbrakes on a business if you get the wrong people?
JA: Absolutely. Culture is everything in a business. It stifles innovation – if you don’t have a good culture, you can’t innovate. Sales people need a good supportive culture to compete, so in my business it’s everything.
Culture is absolutely the number one thing I worry about, and I worry about building constantly and protecting. You have one person come into the business and do something as simple as thieving things off desks and all of a sudden it drives gossip up in the business, it drives mistrust, people start wondering what’s going on in the business.
All of a sudden people lose focus on the end game which is in my business attracting new clients or training our clients on how to use our services.
PT: Mariah, finding the right people is a big focus for you and your team. If someone is misleading on their CV, can you guys smell it pretty quickly?
MP: Yeah, [we] can. I think that if something doesn’t seem right and the person can’t explain it, it normally isn’t right. You need to do your due diligence and if everything checks out, sometimes there’s nothing you can do. But normally if something doesn’t seem right on a CV and the person can’t explain it, it normally isn’t right.
If they meet the criteria but something doesn’t stack up, we would have a conversation with them, because sometimes it has been a typo or they’ve gotten the dates confused. More often than not, that is the case. But there are some people who apply multiple times and you might check their initial CV a year ago and it’s very different to the one that they’ve submitted this time – things like that normally aren’t very explainable.
PT: How do you make sure you get those data matches? Is that a case of someone remembering that they’ve seen a person before, or do you have a process for doing that?
MP: It's all in our recruitment system, so we can see how many roles they’ve applied for. And you can see in there if they’ve used different documents to the previous time they’ve applied.
Most of the time people have just updated their CV or they’ve changed the format or made other small changes, but sometimes you see key changes in the years, key changes in the employers and that should ring alarm bells.
PT: Do most people embellish their CV a little bit?
MP: I think so, but I think for most people it’s probably within the limits of being okay. But then there are some people where you come to find that their titles are not correct, or the years of work aren’t correct – that’s where it’s crossing the line.
PT: Lori, what measures does your business put in place to make sure it has a true understanding of who it’s hiring?
LM: I think you need to be careful about it because often people come in through a lot of different ways. They come in through a recruiter, they come in directly. They provide us with one resume, they might provide a recruiter with another one, so we need to make sure that all of those things line up, because that’s where you can find gaps. Maybe they’ve got one resume going with the hiring manager and a different resume with the background check people.
These days you can look on LinkedIn and you can look [at] somebody’s resume. And if there’s [something that] disconnects there, then that’s something that you might look at as well.
PT: Could you say that people who have things to hide get very good at working out how to hide things in their CV?
LM: Yeah I think that’s right. There are a number of different things that are now markers. Somebody who’s worked at a number of companies that have been acquired, and there’s nobody to contact at the company because they've been acquired, right? So how do you check those kinds of things? And being a little more savvy about it, like I said most people are honest. There are a few people who aren't, and when you get somebody like that, you really need to deal with the situation.
PT: Do you ever find yourself in a dichotomy of saying, ‘We’re trying to find holes rather than trying to find the good’?
MP: Yeah, and I think when something does go wrong then you question, ‘Should we be doing this for every employee?’ or say ‘Maybe we should do these checks earlier?’
You try and think about how you can stop this from happening again but you also want to give people the benefit of the doubt I think, and you don’t want to be doing extra work for every single person in the case where majority of people are honest.
Provided you’re doing your standard checks, you’re having face-to-face interviews, you’re doing reference checking, and for some roles potentially police checks as well, I don’t think you need to treat it as though you’re trying to catch everybody out.
PT: Another one of the questions we asked respondents was, ‘Do you know if your firm has a process for verifying any checks of qualifications provided by potential or existing employers?’. Interestingly only 50 per cent of people said yes, 20 per cent of people said no, and 30 per cent of people weren’t sure. Is that something you see quite regularly?
JA: Prior to InfoTrack, I worked overseas; and like Lori, I’ve worked for a few multinationals in the past which do police checks all the time. I feel Australia is really behind the times with police checks in particular.
There’s really no excuse. It’s a very simple check. When you get to a point where you want to offer somebody the job in the last interview, which is normally conducted by myself or by GM of HR, we say to the potential candidate, ‘We would like to take you forward subject to a police check’. It’s written in their contract, and every candidate pretty much says, ‘Yeah, that’s fine’. We ask them if they want to disclose anything, and then they do it. But more and more companies I speak to don’t have this as a standard procedure, and it’s just so simple. And in Australia, really, every single company should be pushing for this.
PT: What you just mentioned is a great segue into the next question we asked which was, ‘Does your firm currently conduct police checks on potential candidates before offering employment?’ 17 per cent said they know of people that do it, 57 per cent said no, and 25 per cent said it depends on the role. That suggests that the majority of people aren’t doing police checks right now. Is that surprising to you?
JA: I’m shocked, I didn’t know the numbers were that bad. I mean, we do speak to firms and we ask them if they’re doing police checks; and if you had to ask me to guess I would have thought it was 50/50. In the multinationals, it’s just part of the process. There is a police check every single time, and they tell you in the first interview often that there’s a police check.
Even before the first interview the recruiters will often say, ‘Hey, they do police checks here’. I think that that’s something we’re missing in this market. This is a fast-moving employment market. You do have to move quickly to get good people here. I feel like we overlook the simple things which is, let’s just do a police check.
PT: What other checks can you do that can give you confidence that you’ve got the right people for your business?
JA: At InfoTrack, we’ve got a seven-day recruitment process from the time we get a CV to the time we do a ‘yes or no’, so it’s a very tight process. We never have less than two people in an interview to make sure that we’ve got some sort of witness, some sort of record to that interview, and that people can see both sides of a candidate.
We check through the CVs, we compare them to the social media – their LinkedIn profiles, for example. I find that’s where the embellishments are; they’ll give themselves fake titles in LinkedIn, but the CV should be a check. Then you do your reference checks. We do the reference checks before we get to a final interview, so it doesn’t waste anybody’s time. If you get a very compliance-written reference check, which is an employment record, we usually like to ask one extra question, which is ‘Would you rehire that person again?’
PT: Lori, what do you do at your business in this regard?
LM: We have a standard background check that we do. It involves a criminal check, university degree check, a resume check, reference checking. And then because we are a software company, we have
export controls out of the US so we have to check against a list called, the ‘Denied Parties List’ which comes out of the Department of Commerce in the US.
PT: What about your firm Mariah?
MP: It’s a little bit easier with lawyers because they do need to be admitted, and to go through the admission process they need to disclose everything. So prior to them starting, we require them to submit all their admission documentation and passport so we can identify them. Then our shared services go through a little bit more of a detailed background process. So reference checking, police checks, because they are involved in the finance, they’re involved in IT and trust accounts.
PT: How much of this is automated versus manual?
MP: Our recruitment system has just recently put police checks as automation. But right now that is a manual process, which is I mean it’s easy enough – we type in the new employees’ details and then they manage it from there. So automatic emails get sent to them. We get notified when the police check is returned, so it’s manual but it’s really just typing in the candidate’s name, first name, surname and email address, so it’s pretty basic.
PT: John, how long does a police check take to come back?
JA: If there’s nothing found you can get a response back in a few minutes. So it’s really not a laborious check.
PT: You have to get consent?
JA: That’s right, they provide the identity documents, they sign off on it. Once it’s lodged, it comes back in a couple of minutes straight away if there’s no match on the name and the date of birth within the national police records. What worries some candidates is if it does loosely match the name, or address, or date of birth, it could take a day to come back.
We say to people, ‘We’re doing a police check. Is there anything you wish to disclose?’ It’s a very honest moment with a candidate, and a very valuable moment with a candidate, and they usually say, ‘No’. You do the police check, and they often ask us, ‘Can I have a look at the results?’ And the results are always there [is] nothing found more often than not.
PT: We also asked respondents, ‘When crime occurs within a firm, where do you believe the biggest impact is?’ 57.4 per cent of people said the biggest impact is on reputation, the next was revenue, culture, employee morale and then productivity. John, what are your thoughts on that?
JA: I think now, especially with disclosure, you know as soon as you disclose to your client base that something bad has happened, or they hear about it in an environment where social media is everywhere, it damages your brand. That sort of damage can happen overnight, it’s a real risk. With the culture, good businesses are built on great cultures. You start to damage that culture and you lose everything. You lose your innovation and you lose the ability to sell efficiently. It really does damage your business from end to end.
PT: If a crime does occur, is it a matter of going back to the recruitment process and identify where things went wrong?
LM: Sure, if you do find out that something bad has happened, you want to make that it doesn’t happen again, so you go back and look at the steps you took and how it occurred.
Adding on to John’s point about reputation and the feeling within the company, often times if you do find somebody has been engaging in behaviour that’s unacceptable, for example, theft, their co-workers kind of had a hint and they’re very relieved when it comes out because it’s not fair. People have a great sense of fairness.
PT: Mariah, has your firm had any experiences where people have not been doing the right thing and have had to depart? Or [worse], any criminal activity?
MP: I’ve worked at places certainly where that has happened before. I think the difficulty is no one is going to initially say, ‘Yes I did that and I’m happy to depart’. So it’s quite a difficult process and often quite a lengthy investigation to actually identify who the individual is, and then from there how do you approach those conversations without pinpointing a person? So it is a very delicate process to go through. Most organisations now, I think, have a really thorough investigation process, and it’s just about going through that the right way, and hopefully you’ll get the right end result.
PT: Another question we asked was, ‘Where do you see the greatest value in pre-employment screening?’ Respondents could select more than one option – 56 per cent said the value lies in protecting the information you hold about your clients, 53 per cent said protecting firm data, 45 per cent said legal compliance, 50 per cent said company culture. John, what’s your take on that?
JA: Everybody wants to work somewhere where they get to go home at the end of the day and tell everybody about how great their work environment is. To have somebody come into a business and ruin it is absolutely unacceptable. As swiftly as you can, you need to move to repair that culture. I just feel like, if we spent those few minutes upfront doing police checks, we could spend less time on these lengthy, expensive investigation processes.
PT: The last question we asked [was,] ‘Which tools do you think are essential for prudent pre-employment screening to protect your firm?’ 90 per cent said reference checks and 61 per cent said police checks, which is surprising because only 17 per cent of businesses are doing them.
JA: Which is strange. It clearly means, I think, that people think they’re harder to do than they actually are when in fact they’re simple. Even if you don’t have a HR system that is entirely automatic, you can log into a variety of different systems online, get a form, get it filled in and get results back within a few minutes.
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