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Job background screening

It is imperative to take proactive measures to scrutinise clients to ensure that they are a legitimate business entity and intend to use services for legally permissible purposes.



QUALITY CHECK: Background screening in India is difficult as there are no online systems for public record searches and education and employment verification.

EVEN AS India is emerges as a major outsourcing hub for the global economy, employment background screening could play a critical role in establishing comfort levels for overseas investors and customers seeking business opportunities in India.

In a telephonic conversation with this correspondent, John Long, Chief Executive Officer and President of Nasdaq-listed Florida-based First Advantage, said employment background screening was considered an important tool in America for companies to make informed hiring decision. "Local (read Indian), professionally managed companies too have realised that they have to institute similar business practices as their American counterparts,'' he said. Though a relatively new phenomenon in India, Mr. Long felt that it would find increasing acceptance especially as the country was seeing more foreign direct investment flow with many multinational companies setting up shop.

In India recently after First Advantage acquired Hong Kong-based Quest Research, which provides comprehensive screening programmes for over 200 companies with presence in India and East Asia, Mr. Long, in a detailed e-mail response, dwelt on problems and prospects of the background screening business. The $266.5-million First Advantage has a workforce of over 2,400.

Other than First Advantage, there are U.S. Investigative Services (USIS), ChoicePoint and Kroll. In India, however, there is no serious competitor in the organised sector.

Quest Research, promoted by a group of five persons, has over 500 employees in India. Now renamed First Advantage Quest Research, it is a leading background screening specialist in Asia. The Indian operation serves the growing domestic market even as it supports the company's Asia Pacific operations as a back office.

Why is background screening so important? Mr. Long said this exercise went a long way in helping an employer to avoid misrepresentation of information by job seeker. Early detection could eliminate avoidable cost to the hiring entity later on. He said companies outsource the background screening function to agencies like First Advantage due to pressures on their staff strength and costs.

Mr. Long felt that background screening could prove difficult in most Asian countries. "In India and in most other Asian countries, we do not have online systems for public record searches and education and employment verification. Therefore, we have to rely on manual processes,'' he said. The problems could get accentuated if human resources departments did not have processes in place to reply to verification requests quickly, he added."

In Asia, the challenge lies in creating a higher level of awareness about our business and consolidating relationships with various sources of information like universities and employees,'' he pointed out.

A background screening outfit had to continuously build relationships with universities over a longer time frame to ensure timely response, he said, pointing to the enormous spadework involved in doing such a job. Mr. Long said one should go to the original source of the information that one was seeking to verify. Yet, he agreed that there could not be any standard solution for verification.

What is the guarantee that the information collection is accurate?

The issue could be addressed if one sought out proven sources of data and applied quality control measures to the collected data to monitor ongoing data quality, he said.

"Our clients recognise that we are not the sources of the data and, therefore, cannot guarantee the accuracy of information collected. They will yet use the info provided if we put in place processes to match the data to individuals,'' Mr. Long pointed out.

Before undertaking employment screening, he said, it was imperative to take proactive measures to scrutinise clients to ensure that "they are a legitimate business entity and intend to use our services for legally permissible purposes.'' Mostly, First Advantage was serving technology and financial services companies. It might expand to provide background screening service to the insurance sector, he said.

Mr. Long said First Advantage would continue the momentum that Quest had set in India through investments in technology, people and network. He expected revenue from Indian operations to scale $100 million five years hence. Quest's revenue in India is $5 million now.

K. T. JAGANNATHAN

in Chennai

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