Question for Recruiters--should a background firm contact an applicant directly if there is information that needs to be obtained or clarified?

There is an ongoing debate in the background screening industry whether a background screening firm should ever contact an applicant directly if an a issue arises where information is needed from the applicant to conclude the background report. The question is whose professional obligation it should be to obtain or clarify additional information from an applicant, the recruiter or the background firm

This issue can come up in a number of ways.

First, if a recruiter is using a screening firm that still works by faxed orders, recruiters must understand the process can be delayed if screening firms are sent incomplete information, or supplied with forms that are illegible or incomplete. For example, screening firms often face difficulty in deciphering an applicant’s handwriting as to past employers or social security number. An eight and a three can easily look alike. Since a screening firm is not expected to read hieroglyphics or be a “mind reader,” the screening firm has to contact the recruiter to clarify the information. Some screening firms will make their best guess and if they are wrong, the report is delayed even further, proving the old adage that “no good deed goes unpunished.” Recruiters who review all applications for completeness, legibility and accuracy with the candidates before sending the applications to a screening firm will find their work is completed much faster.

However, in this situation, there are some recruiters that want the screening firm to contact the applicant clarify the missing information.

Another example is where a past employer has moved, merged, or gone out of business, and a past employment verification is not possible. If the recruiter needs that to be verified, then someone needs to contact the applicant and ask for things such as W-2’s, or names of past supervisors. Again, there are some recruiters that ask the background firm to do this, even though it is the recruiter that has most knowledge about the applicant and has direct contact.

Part of the problem is that when a background firm contacts the applicant directly, confusion can occur. First the applicant does not know the background firm, and is naturally reluctant to supply a social security number to a stranger over the phone, or send pay stubs to someone they do not know. That typically means the applicant will normally call the recruiter first anyway to find out what the situation is all about which of course delays the screening process further.

The second problem is that the background firm often has to engage in phone tag, requiring back and forth before the screening firm can connect with the applicant. On the other hand, it seems if an applicant is in hot pursuit of a job, they are more likely to be proactive in calling back the recruiter.

Of course, the screening firm then needs to track the status of the additional calls to the applicants. Recruiters presumably already have an ATS or some other system to keep tabs on the progress of each job and each finalist (since typically only a finalist is getting screened.).

The third issue is that the applicant may now belive that the background firm is somehow involved in the hiring decision. There have been applicants that have wanted to continue selling themselves to a background firm’s clerical employee, whose only mission was to obtain some missing information and know nothing about the job. Or, if the applicant somehow feels that background employee did not give them the attention they deserved, the applicant may be left with a negative impression of the potential employer or complain about the contact.

For these reasons, many background firms typically prefer not to get themselves in the middle of the relationship between the recruiter and the applicant. However, members of the screening industry do encounter on a regular basis recruiters that want to take a “hands off” approach to problems and just want the background firm to handle the applicant communication.

So, my questions to the recruiting community are:
1. Whose professional obligation should it be to obtain or clarify additional information from an applicant, the recruiter or the background firm?
2. What are the pros and cons of background firms talking directly to applicants to either obtain or clarify information?
3. Do recruiters want a background firm employee talking to your applicant to obtain or clarify information?
4. When a background firm employee talks to your applicant directly, do you feel that is an intrusion in the recruiter’s relationship, or it does not matter?
5. When some background screeners express the concern that they are being asked to do the recruiter’s job by contacting the applicant directly, is that a valid criticism or an unjustified complaint?
6. If a background firm is asked as part of is standard operating procedure to contact applicants, are background firm justified in charging more, given the additional burdens of contacting the applicant and obtaining or clarifying information?

Would appreciate insights from the recruiting community on these issues.

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