How to Confidently Screen Candidates from Afar

Even before COVID-19, remote jobs were on the rise. From 2005 to 2019, the number of remote employees jumped nearly 160%. Temporary work was also becoming more prevalent prior to the pandemic. In 2019, research by TrueBlue and Emsi projected that temporary work would grow faster than all other types of jobs through 2025. COVID-19 has perpetuated this increase in remote and temporary jobs. Though the American economy added a groundbreaking 4.8 million jobs in June alone, many of these positions are temporary or remote. These types of roles pose additional challenges when it comes to screening candidates, since both involve less face-to-face interaction than traditional full-time, in-person positions.

If your company is one of the many with open positions for remote or temporary roles, it might be tempting to skip a thorough screening of your talent pool. A remote employee likely won’t be someone you see on a daily basis, and a temporary hire may be replaced once the pandemic slows down. Furthermore, there’s the hassle of remote screening – drug tests and in-person paperwork have become more challenging for employers to implement and verify.

However, despite the circumstances, background checks are still an integral part of many organizations’ hiring processes. With respect to remote workers, your company is at a high risk of data breach if you elect to onboard an individual that you don’t fully trust. Furthermore, since these jobs involve minimal direct supervision, inadvertently hiring an unmotivated or unproductive individual could cause extreme challenges for your management team. With regards to seasonal jobs, a bad hire can make temporary positions even more temporary than intended, resulting in costly turnover.

Here’s how your company can perform thorough screenings even amidst a pandemic:

1. Reach Out to References

Communicating with past employers and colleagues is a great way to evaluate a candidate from home. Consider calling, emailing, or Zoom conferencing with any of a candidate’s given references to get further insight into a candidate’s character and work habits.

2. Invest in Remote Background Checks

Another great way to assess a candidate’s character is to invest in a remote background check. Your organization can sign up for a service that will provide you with a quick online screening of a candidate’s identity, criminal record, etc. Most of these services operate on a subscription basis, generally for a monthly or yearly fee.

If even after your background check, you’re still concerned about a candidate – and simply don’t have the time to do additional research yourself – consider employing a remote background investigator. These researchers will look into potential new hires from home, making sure that their identity, work history, and criminal record align with the applicant’s claims.

3. Look Into Alternative Drug Test Options

While most labs are still open for drug tests during COVID-19, some applicants may be hesitant to visit these locations for fear of virus exposure. The American Society of Addiction Medicine recommends implementing oral fluid-based testing that candidates can perform at home, preferably while being supervised via telehealth.

4. Take Advantage of I-9 Flexibility

Due to current circumstances, the Department of Homeland Security has provided temporary policy changes regarding I-9 forms. For companies that are operating completely remotely, physical presence requirements for Section 2 will be deferred until further notice.

For companies that are still operating partially in-person, other I-9 regulations have relaxed as well. Due to circumstances, employers can designate anyone – even family members or cohabitants – to review I-9 documents and sign Page 2 of the form. This eliminates the need for remote hires to travel to notaries, attorneys, or other staff to have Page 2 signed. In addition, there are plenty of electronic I-9 systems in place that allow remote hires to fill out the first section of their documents online and then schedule an appointment at an in-person location to complete their I-9 form.

5. Accept Digital Signatures When Possible

In addition to increasing I-9 flexibility, the DHS is also making signature requirements less stringent. Most forms will now be accepted with an electronically reproduced original signature. Many digital signature tools – like HelloSign and DocuSign, to name two – offer electronic signature verification and other security services to ensure the authenticity of digital signatures.

No matter the hiring climate, background screenings are an important component of the hiring process. These checks help you ensure that your team will be honest, competent, and of good character, keeping your turnover low and your company image intact. Be sure to stay up-to-date on relevant rules, as the repercussions for mistakes can be severe. For example, the U.S. government fines companies that do not comply with I-9 regulations.

If background screenings were a part of your company’s hiring process pre-pandemic, don’t despair; many of means of screening potential new hires are still possible. Thanks to new remote background check tools and increased government flexibility, you can now verify candidate character and identity from a safe distance.