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The power of background checks in retail


By William F. Hauswirth, president of IntelliCorp

You review the resume, conduct the interview, pick the perfect candidate, and make a job offer. Now you have the person start immediately, right? Wrong. What you don’t know about a job applicant can hurt you. It’s not good business practice to hire just anyone who walks through your door. You need to know who they are, and their history. Don’t be a victim of deceit by simply looking at a resume or take someone’s word that they are honest and qualified.

If you’re a retailer new to employment screening or already have procedures to run background checks on applicants, your goal most likely is to create an environment that deters theft, acts of violence, and turnover. It’s safe to say that no business ever wants to be in a “we should have known” position if an employee commits fraud or an act of violence. Quality people are out there, but you need to find them and make sure they’re the right fit for the job.

Regardless of what you sell, employee fraud and violence is an epidemic. From the selling floor to the stock room and warehouse, retail employees should meet high standards of loyalty, performance, and credibility. In that regard, there is much more to background screening than a criminal background check. For example, does the applicant have the education, experience, or skills to do the job for which they are applying? Even if the person has a clean criminal record, does their past employer confirm the job responsibilities and skill set the applicant is claiming?

In such a value-driven industry, and depending on the nature of your retail business, you probably look for certain characteristics in potential employees. You’re a good employer -- one worth working for -- so you need high quality employees with good attributes. The quality of people you hire is important to the success of your business. That’s not unique to retail. But the retail industry is different. Background checks play a major role in your loss prevention and risk management process. That’s where having a good background screening program to check applicant histories can make all the difference between success and failure.

Get Your background screening program organized

Not every type of background check needs to be performed for all positions in a retail business. A basic background check can include a criminal history report, Social Security number/address history, education, and employment verification. The option is always available to expand a search beyond the basic screening components (most additional checks are usually determined by the job title or function). Additional searches can cover items such as credit history, motor vehicle reports, and drug testing.

Because of the varying jobs that exist in retail, it’s a good idea to determine which background checks you need to run for each position at your company. Doing so is rather simple. Start by categorizing your jobs into different levels as depicted in the sample chart:

Enter the basic background-check components required for each job level. Add additional searches to a package based on your company’s specific needs. For example, if you have positions where driving for business reasons is required, add a motor vehicle report for that specific job function; for financial positions, add a credit report. If you're screening for certain types of administrative roles, a basic background check package may suffice.

In short, a good background check consists of all the necessary screening components important to the retail job responsibilities, qualifications, or level of involvement in your store or establishment. Make sure there is a job- or business-related reason for the background checks you run and for your applicant decision-making process to offer or deny employment.

Protect what matters most

Be mindful that, as an employer, you have a legal obligation to protect your business, staff, and customers from any foreseeable act of an employee. The importance of performing due diligence and conducting background checks on new hires is imperative. You don’t want to end up in a negligent hiring or retention situation because of poor hiring practices. If something does happen, in most cases the only way to prevent a lawsuit is to show your business performed the proper due diligence and conducted a background check. Be proactive and make every attempt to eliminate high-risk applicants to help prevent something from happening in the first place and to avoid negative legal and financial consequences.

Remember, past behavior is generally a good predictor of future behavior. Background checks help you hire experienced, trustworthy employees and mitigate for many types of risks such as theft and violence. The process doesn’t need to be difficult or expensive. Sure, while the scope and method of employment screening can differ between retail businesses, the purpose remains the same -- to hire the most qualified candidates. There is no rule that says you have to hire a person from a group of applicants. If none of your candidates are right for the job, keep looking. You’ll be glad you did.

William Hauswirth is president of IntelliCorp (, a subsidiary of Verisk Analytics.

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