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Small Business Guide to Background Screening

David Bloom
Dec 07, 2018

Performing quality background checks can keep your business out of trouble down the road.

Background checks can be an integral part of any company’s hiring strategy. Learn what your business should consider when performing background checks.

I ran a small company for five years and know in my heart that a business is only as strong as the people it hires. For small businesses and franchises with modest teams, each hiring decision has real impact. It costs money and time to find outstanding people, and if you get it wrong, you can disrupt your team chemistry and disappoint customers. And if you get it really wrong, a bad hire will actively hurt your team, your customers and the trust you have with both.

Today, in addition to skill testing, interviews and reference checks, 80 percent of employers perform additional due diligence on candidates by running background checks. These checks, which may vary by industry, role and other factors, can give confidence that the right candidate is going into the right position. Sending a job offer should go hand in hand with building this foundation of trust.

Searching beneath the surface is key

Some background check providers promise near-instant results at dirt-cheap prices. These are tempting, and you will wonder why some companies charge more and don’t promise instant gratification. Discount providers are probably relying on national databases that have promising names, like the “national criminal database,” but have major gaps in their records. These gaps can be the size of entire states that don’t participate in the database.

Editor’s note: Looking for an employee background check service? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your business’s needs.


To avoid being penny-wise and pound-foolish, look for a provider that digs deeper into the data to verify results and that hunts for records that are not reported to the national databases. Do they confirm the results of the national database search with records from local and state courthouses? Better yet, do they conduct searches of county criminal records and look for aliases such as maiden names and nicknames? The databases are not bad when used in conjunction with other, more granular searches, but you do not want to use them by themselves.

Choosing a provider

It is hard for people not immersed in the industry to know a quality background check provider from something less. And conducting criminal background checks on prospective or current employees can feel intimidating, especially for small business owners who have their plates full. Here are a few rules of thumb that can help:

  • Quality: As I said above, be cautious when you see the word “instant.” Look for a provider that searches county records, covering many criminal records. Look for a company with more than just technology. Background screening is complicated, and having an experienced team overseeing that technology makes a powerful difference.
  • Transparency: Is the provider clear about costs? Some providers charge setup fees, and most pass through local and state processing fees. Neither is wrong, but it’s not fair for you to be surprised by all sorts of costs you did not expect.
  • Flexibility: Companies background-screen new hires for different jobs and reasons. Choose a provider that offers options beyond a one-size-fits-all criminal search. If you are hiring delivery employees, background-screen driving records. When bringing on a C-suite hire, you might verify education. You should be able to build the search that makes sense to you and your business.
  • Selfservice: Small companies generally need to move quickly and want to avoid a long sales and setup process. There are reasons to work with an expert to design your program, but for many small businesses, finding a self-service tool that allows the user to create an account and submit an order in the same session is the way to go. 
  • Compliance: Above all, your decision should focus on a background check that complies with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and is accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS). Using a service that is not compliant with the FCRA creates risk no business should accept. The right solution is compliance by design, so you can move forward with confidence and not worry about the details.                                    

Ensuring trust with your screening provider is as important as building trust with your new hires. That’s why it’s so important to choose someone with experience and credibility.


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David Bloom
David Bloom is General Manager of the Small and Medium-Sized Businesses Group at Sterling, the global leader in employment background screening solutions. David was included in Entrepreneur Magazine's Brilliant 100 and on Business Insider’s list of 100 most interesting people in the NYC tech scene. David holds a BA degree from Bates College and an MBA from Cornell University.