Conducting Background and Reference Checks

Nonprofits should conduct background checks on employees and volunteers, particularly if their positions involve working with children or vulnerable adults, performing financial duties, or serving in other sensitive areas.

One of the most important elements of a criminal background check is to confirm what type of record would disqualify an applicant before conducting the screen. In addition, it is important to decide what types of screenings are applicable to each position. Keep in mind that there are specific legal requirements from the Fair Credit Reporting Act involving criminal background checks performed by third party vendors.

Practical Tips for Reference Checking

One of the simplest and least expensive ways to screen an applicant is to verify statements about prior work experience, skill level and education. The depth of the reference checking procedure depends on duties the applicant would have in the organization. Organizations should consider a standard reference checklist and apply the same procedure to every serious job candidate to ensure consistency. Apply the same rules across the board to help protect the organization should a claim arise.
When contacting references provided by the applicant, consider asking the following questions:

  • Would the previous employer have any reservations recommending the applicant for the position of XYZ in your organization?
  • Why did the applicant leave his/her previous job?
  • Was the former employer was satisfied with the applicant’s performance? If possible, find out:
    • Was the applicant productive?
    • Did the applicant work well with others?
    • Was the applicant punctual?
    • Did the applicant give proper notice?
    • Would the employer rehire the applicant?
    • Were there any disciplinary or performance problems?

You can read more about reference checking in Taking the High Road, A Guide to Effective and Legal Employment Practices for Nonprofits, published by the Nonprofit Risk Management Center.

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