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Here’s why the background check is an ineffective hiring tool

Formerly incarcerated people rarely get the chance at tech jobs, let alone make it to the C-suite. HR experts say it's time for that to change.


Protocol | August 25, 2021




The Protocol article, "Here’s why the background check is an ineffective hiring tool​," quoted Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Cecyl Hobbs on why background checks should not be the end all be all when looking for executive talent. The article is excerpted below.

Over the last year, executive search and DEI consultant Cecyl Hobbs started to encounter an unusual problem. Some people who participated in racial justice protests were subsequently arrested, leaving a record that might show up on a background check. For what felt like the first time, companies had to ask themselves whether that kind of record should affect their future candidates' job prospects, and how their professed commitments to racial justice were going to play out in the hiring process.

The problem was so unusual because in general, there are almost no corporate executive candidates who have been formerly incarcerated or who have a criminal record — almost no one who has spent time in prison has ever made it that far (with a few exceptions, notable for their rarity). "They get filtered out far before that," Hobbs, who works at Russell Reynolds Associates, told Protocol.
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The hiring system today is structured to help HR teams find the least "offensive" and lowest-risk candidate for a job, not necessarily the person most fit for the job's responsibilities, Hobbs explained. "The risk framing comes from a belief that past behavior as documented will indicate future behavior and decision-making, but the reality is that we've got much more data through a well-designed interview recruitment assessment and referencing process that provides a better picture and deeper picture for how a person makes decisions," he said.​
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While top-tier tech companies like Facebook and Apple don't struggle for qualified candidates, small and medium-sized businesses and cybersecurity companies have long complained they can't find qualified talent. The idea that there is a labor shortage for qualified tech workers and software engineers frustrates Hobbs, who said that artificial barriers like background checks and college degree requirements prevent otherwise qualified people from obtaining available jobs that companies and government employers both need filled.

"Executive teams have to go back and do a bit of first principles around what sort of culture are we trying to build here, and what does that imply about the hiring decisions we make? Are we really opening ourselves to think fundamentally differently about hiring and teams that we're building?" Hobbs asked. "This is a subset amid a broader set of questions about what's the company of the future. That ties into talent decisions — what does it mean to be an employer of choice?"

To read the full article, click here.


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Here’s why the background check is an ineffective hiring tool