When 36-year-old Amitabh Bhattacharya, IT head at a Delhi-based company, applied for a job at a multi-national company, also located in Delhi, he was surprised when his parents called from Kolkata to tell him that the MNC had sent someone to meet them. This was a first. In his 15 years of working in the capital, no employer had ever reached out to Bhattacharya’s hometown to cross-check his personal details.
A candidate for a sales manager’s job at an HR outsourcing company found his application being rejected after documents from his previous employer failed to stand up to scrutiny. Upon verification by a background verification agency, it was found that he had left his earlier job without serving the notice period. Also, both the resignation letter and the pay slip that he had furnished as proofs of employment were forged.
These are not stray cases. In line with global trends, companies in India have taken to going beyond plain-vanilla reference checks while vetting potential employees, especially at the mid and senior level. Today’s candidates can expect to have their education claims, credit standing, behaviour on social media websites such as Facebook and LinkedIn and police record, if any, scrutinized before being offered a new job. There have even been cases of job offers being revoked because of some discrepancy found during the checks. As per a survey by the ASSOCHAM Social Development Foundation, 3-4 per cent candidates fail their background checks.
“The trend has been triggered by MNCs. They are very conscious about who they hire. With corporate fraud and terrorism on an upswing, even Indian companies now want to carry out detailed checks on potential employees,” explains Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and senior VP, TeamLease Services and vice president, Indian Staffing Federation. While the trend is growing in all sectors, those who deal with R&D and proprietary data and products are the most scrutinized, she adds.
Besides checking the candidates’ education and employment background and conducting police verification and drug tests, the credit history of the employees is of intense interest to companies. Tarun Bangari, CEO and founder of employee verification company JantaKhoj, explains the modus operandi. “While the Credit Information Bureau (India Limited) is the prime source for an individual’s credit scores, CIBIL’s credit score is given only to the individual and not revealed to a third party. We therefore tap money-lending institutions and organisations that keep records for loan purposes, to help us with a person’s credit history records,” he says.
While the IT and BPO sectors are leading the way, the banking and insurance sectors, the hospitality industry and real estate companies too have taken to doing stringent background checks. While the banking sector chiefly looks at the credit history, the hospitality sector relies on social media. “In hospitality, it’s the person’s softer skills that we need to focus on. So we take help of social media sites and try talking to at least four or five former colleagues before hiring someone. We don’t use any agency, but have an in-house team that does background checks,” says Major Rajesh Chauhan, chief people officer, Lemon Tree Hotels. Chauhan, who worked with the Oberoi Group and Ista Hotels earlier, says detailed reference checks have become the norm in the hospitality industry.
The cost of conducting such checks depends on the kind of verification required. While a reference check (getting in touch with the people named for referrals by a job applicant) costs about `250 per person, address verification costs about `450 and a credit history check can cost upto `1,500. Infosys BPO, which adds at least 13,000 people to its human resources pool every year, spends `2000 on an average per employee on background checks. “A basic check is run on every entrant in the organization. But if an international client asks for a few checks like drug tests in particular, we do those too. Even though a social media background check is not part of the formal process, lately for leadership roles we have started going through prospective candidates’ social media profiles. But it’s not mandatory,” says Raghavendra K, vice-president and head, human resources. He further adds that the trend is good for the industry as India, as a business destination, will be seen in a positive light if the checks are made stringent.
Prithvi Shergill, chief human resource officer at HCL Technologies adds: “Some applicants falsify their resume and supporting credentials. Therefore, it becomes imperative for employers to conduct due diligence to know who they are hiring. At HCL, checks for education qualifications, experience and possible criminal records are carried out for new hires across all levels by third-party vendors. This process not only saves time and money (involved in training and hiring) but also ensures that the risk for an organisation is well managed.”