Pre-Employment Screening: The Why’s and How’s!

Pre-Employment Screening: The Why’s and How’s!

Employment Advice, HR

Allan Pike, CEO of The Key Recruitment Group says, “the personnel a Company employs will ultimately become a reflection of the Company, which is why the importance of incorporating high quality recruitment and selection processes in employment practices cannot be understated”.

Qualifications, experience, personality traits and thorough interviews are important considerations when determining whether a candidate is a good fit for your organisation. However, positions that have inherent sensitivities, such as having direct access to the organisation’s finances or working with children or the elderly, might require a check that goes deeper than you might ever see on a resumé. These are called pre-employment screenings (or background checks) and they could mean the difference between a successful hire and an irreparable risk to your organisation.

Allan adds, “it would be well for employers to keep in mind that when taking on a new employee, you don’t just take on the skills of an individual, but also their idiosyncrasies, personal life experiences and behavioural characteristics”.  “Finding out as much as you are legally permitted to establish is a critically important part of the employer’s decision process, and the more you like someone the more careful you need to be”.

What can you learn from a pre-employment screening?

Where resumes and portfolios provide insight into a candidate’s work history and aptitude, pre-employment screenings provide much, much deeper insight into the candidate’s life, personal history and suitability for the job. This insight can help you identify risks associated with a candidate, ranging from misrepresenting themselves on their CV (which is legal grounds for dismissal) to having a criminal record or being legally unfit for the job.

How can you go about running pre-screening screening?

Some of the softer checks, such as social media checks and verifying professional licenses, are relatively easy to do. This information is just a click or call away since it can be verified through a phone call or a few clever internet searches. Others, however, have to go through paid or government channels, due to the highly sensitive nature of the information requested. Such sensitive information includes police clearance certificate and national sex offender registry status.

Recruitment agencies often have tools at their disposal and systems in place that allow them to verify all this information much easier and faster than you could by yourself.  They might have streamlined the process and have relationships with individuals who run these checks that allow for a smooth checking process.

Whichever route you choose to take …

Here are the most-often run pre-employment screenings:

1. Skills test

The proof truly is in the pudding. Candidates might over-inflate their abilities or tailor their listed work experience to the vacancy description, but it’s difficult to inflate anything when asked to apply the skills and experience in a practical manner. Skills tests can range from a test phone-call when applying for a receptionist job, to a complex budget analysis when applying for an accountant position. Avoid legal issues by ensuring the test is accessible and understandable to anyone who might apply, so that anyone who applies can run the skills test (regardless of the outcome).

2. Reference checks

Providing one or two references on a CV has become the expected norm. As the employer, you are fully within your rights to call the person(s) listed and enquire about the candidate’s time and employment history at their organisation. Note that previous (or even current) employers may not grant a negative reference in order to protect the candidate from unfair discrimination based on personal preference or relationship – so listen carefully to how they phrase their answers and the level of praise they grant.

3. Social media research

The golden (or dark …) age of social media has essentially elevated personal privacy into the realm of myth. For candidates hoping to present a certain image, this can be a potential nightmare. For organisations wanting to explore the candidate’s private, natural behaviour, this is an absolute dream. Open Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok, and type the candidate’s name in the blanket search field. The results will show profiles of that name, as well as posts and photos in which they were tagged – even those posted on profiles or accounts of their friends or loved ones. This grants you an overview of what the candidate choses to share and what their friends had captured during times of fun living.

4. Identity verification

Identity theft is one of those phenomena that feel abstract and unlikely – but it happens often enough that unique services exist solely to verify a person’s identity. In general, the process starts by capturing the candidate’s ID number, which is then sent to the Home Affairs Department for verification. The result includes the person’s name and surname, marital status, and date that their ID was issued. Due to the sensitive nature of the information required to run such a check, it’s best to use a reputable source rather than run the risk of further sharing a candidate’s information in an unsecure space.

5. Academic achievements and professional licenses

You can verify the candidate’s academic achievements by contacting the educational institution that issued the certificate or diploma. Your request would most likely need to be submitted via email and accompanied by the candidate’s written permission to confirm the achievements. Professional licenses, particularly medical licenses, are public record and a quick Google search containing the candidate’s name and license number should confirm their legitimacy. You can also check the candidate’s LinkedIn account to see whether they are consistent in listing their academic achievements.

6. Police clearance certificate (criminal record check)

A Police Clearance Certificate (PCC) is an official document that states whether or not any criminal convictions have been recorded against the individual in question. However, the South African Police Force will not issue a police clearance certificate to an organisation without the individual’s consent. Before starting the pre-screening process, get written consent from the candidate specifically for this check. Keep in mind that certain jobs, particularly working with children, legally require a police clearance certificate before the candidate may be appointed.

7. Sex offender status

South Africa’s national register for sex offenders is not open to the public and is kept confidential. However, the register does give employers of schools, hospitals, and daycare centres the right to check whether the candidate is fit to work with children or individuals who are mentally disabled. An email request to verify whether a candidate is on this list can be sent to the Registrar of the National Sex Offenders Register via email, accompanied by this fully-completed prescribed form.

Consider the law

South Africa has extensive legislation to ensure that candidates and employees are treated fairly without discrimination, and that their personal information is protected from anyone who doesn’t have explicit permission to access it. Whichever pre-employment screening methods you choose to use, consider the points below throughout every method. This will protect you from potential complaints or legal action from unhappy rejected candidates.

The Employment Equity Act, 55 of 1998, as amended (“EEA”) states that an employer may not discriminate against a candidate based on criminal record (among a slew of other characteristics). However, as with most of these characteristics, an exception is made when having a criminal record could inherently impact the candidate’s ability to do their job. The EEA also states that psychological testing is not allowed, unless it is done by a method that has scientifically been proven to be valid and reliable – this generally means that it has to be run by someone who is qualified to run and assess such tests.

The Protection of Personal Information Act, 4 of 2013 states that the data subject (that would be the candidate) must be informed of the pre-screening process upfront. If they refuse, the organisation would be within their rights to not proceed with the appointment process of the candidate. If the candidate does not refuse, the information gathered must be relevant and specific only for the purpose of determining the candidate’s suitability for the job.

The National Credit Act, 34 of 2005, states that no organisation may access the credit record of a consumer (that would be the candidate) unless they can certify that the job (of which the description should accompany the request) inherently requires honesty in dealing specifically with cash or finances. However, the organisation’s request must be accompanied by the candidate’s written consent before the credit bureau will even consider processing the request.

Do you need help navigating the world of recruitment? Reach out to find out how we can help you through the process – and in which industries we specialise!

We are thankful to Justine Del Monte & Associates Incorporated ( for their legal input associated with the development of this publication, including the below lists of do’s and don’ts questions.

Examples of questions an employer may ask during interviews:

In light of the restrictions placed on employers, here follows a list of questions employers may ask applicants related to the requirements of the position they have applied for. These questions may include, but are not limited to the applicant’s:

  1. Skills and qualifications;
  2. Knowledge of the company
  3. Previous employment history and responsibilities;
  4. Expected salary;
  5. Expected job functions;
  6. Ability to manage stress in the workplace;
  7. Leadership abilities;
  8. Perceived strengths;
  9. Perceived weaknesses;
  10. Reason for applying for the position;
  11. Career objectives;
  12. Ability to work in a team;
  13. Communication and interpersonal skills;
  14. Accomplishments;
  15. Interests and hobbies; and
  16. Criminal convictions, if applicable.

Examples of questions employers are advised to steer away from during interviews:

As mentioned above, questions which do not speak to the requirements of the position applied for may not be raised during interview processes. Any questions which are irrelevant to the position may be considered discriminatory and unlawful, these include:

  1. Race and/or ethnicity – is discriminatory unless it relates to the employers employment equity obligations, in which event it may be asked.
  2. Sex – unless it relates to the employers employment equity obligations, in which event it may be asked.
  3. Age – should not be relevant unless the applicant does not meet the employer’s retirement age policy.
  4. Pregnancy – the applicant’s pregnancy status or number of children is not relevant to their ability to perform their job functions, nor are their future plans surrounding same.
  5. Marital status – is not relevant for purposes of employment and employers are cautioned that questions surrounding an applicant’s marital status may fall within the ambit of harassment.
  6. Sexual orientation – is not relevant for purposes of performing job functions.
  7. Disability – is not relevant for purposes of performing job functions where physical performance is not a requirement of the job. However, in circumstances where this is the case, an employer may require an applicant to disclose any disability they may have. Additionally, persons with disabilities are regarded as falling within the classification of ‘designated group’ and their disability status may be relevant to the employer’s employment equity plan.
  8. Religion – is not relevant for purposes of performing job functions.
  9. Political opinion – is not relevant for purposes of performing job functions.
  10. Language – an applicant may be required to speak a language as an inherent requirement of their job.

 The above mentioned does not constitute a closed list of the legislative and/or regulatory provisions applicable to employers, employees and job applicants/seekers and was compiled for information and research purposes only.