At the start of 2014, Bulgarians and Romanians gained the same rights to work in the UK as other EU citizens, prompting a widespread debate about the advantages of hiring from abroad. But whatever the political arguments being discussed, it’s evident that HR managers will increasingly be expected to understand how to ensure effective cross border recruitment. Online selling and websites are making it easier to target a global rather than a local customer base and at the same time social media and fewer border restrictions are helping companies to recruit from abroad. HR managers need to know how to create a diverse workforce composed of the best candidates from across the world, which represents and understands an international market.

Of course, there are many challenges associated with hiring people who work, or have worked, abroad and checking that they are who they claim to be on their CV. What are the potential pitfalls for HR managers when it comes to recruiting from beyond the UK? Which industries are particularly at risk? And what must be done to ensure a fair, lawful and accurate cross border background screening process?

Legal and cultural challenges

There are many subtle – and not so subtle – differences between how nations approach both recruitment and personal privacy. Understanding the resulting legislative and cultural complexities is key to an effective international recruitment process. We can see how complicated this can be by considering a few closely located countries in Europe as an example.

Due to Poland’s history, freedom and privacy are of paramount cultural importance. Looking into people’s employment background, criminal records or financial history can be seen as intrusive and disrespectful and there are laws to reflect this.

However, such information is relatively easily available in the UK where people are more accustomed to being asked to provide personal details.

The situation is different again in Germany where background screening is rarely undertaken as it’s customary for job applicants to bring physical copies of qualifications and identification to interviews. Of course, these documents could be forged so we are gradually seeing an increase in checks being undertaken by German businesses.

And these examples are just in Europe. If HR managers are looking further afield, there are even greater differences in laws and culture to consider. They also need to bear in mind that it is likely to be much harder to verify background information for candidates in new countries, such as the Republic of Kosovo, as they won’t necessarily have the same national processes in place yet (such as a fully functioning Criminal Records Bureau).

At risk industries 

Our quarterly Candidate Health Check study shows that more than three in five job applications contain a lie or inaccuracy (the exact figure stood at 63 per cent last quarter). This demonstrates that it’s absolutely essential to thoroughly screen candidates at all levels and from all locations to ensure they are who they say they are and have the relevant experience and qualifications they claim to. Companies that fail to do so face the very real risk of recruiting employees who are unable to fulfil their role. In more extreme cases, they could inadvertently hire a person who plans to harm the organisation through fraud or who is not a fit person for the role and, as a result, seriously damages the hard-earned reputation of the entire business

There are however some industries that are particularly at risk if they do not carry out a suitable level of background checking on their staff. In the financial services sector, for instance, organisations are dealing with millions of pounds worth of people’s investment. Consequently, in the UK the industry has very specific rules and regulation in place to minimise the risk to the public and banks must already screen senior executives in particular roles. It is suggested in the Banking Reform Bill that checks should be carried out annually and not just on appointment in order to try to avoid more bank crises, such as that which has unfolded at the Co-operative Bank

The energy industry also faces challenges when recruiting new staff as work often takes place in very remote countries and candidates will likely have been employed on numerous, complex, short-term contracts. This means that it is particularly difficult to verify that people in this industry have the experience they need to – and yet it is absolutely vital due to the complicated and dangerous nature of the work.

Top tips for cross border background screening

Background screening international candidates is highly complex and in many cases the only option will be to outsource the process to a company with the expertise to navigate the legal, cultural, language and industry intricacies it inevitably entails. However, there are two key steps HR departments can take to mitigate risk when looking to hire from abroad.

Firstly, it’s important to have an agreed and understood cross border recruitment procedure in place that is robust, measurable and auditable so that everyone in the department is doing the right thing each and every time background screening is undertaken. The board must also be confident and have bought-in to this entire process.

Secondly, businesses must be consistent. They shouldn’t just screen senior executives as people at all levels are as capable of lying or committing fraud. Equally, foreign applicants must face the same process as those from the UK, despite the fact that it might be more time-consuming to verify all their claims. Should this not be the case, a business is open to being challenged by a rejected candidate who has been subject to a much more rigorous process due to the greater accessibility to information about them.

The most recent migration report from the Office for National Statistics shows that between September 2012 and 2013, there was a five per cent increase in the number of visas issued for the purposes of work in the UK. Cross border recruitment is rising and all the signs suggest that it will continue to do so because not only is it beneficial to have a diverse workforce, but also because some skills are more readily available overseas. As a result, HR departments must be prepared to adapt their cross border recruitment process to ensure that it is intelligent and lawful, and that they carry out the checks necessary to mitigate the potential risks of making a bad hire – however complex it may seem to check an increasingly international workforce.

Written by Steve Girdler, Managing Director EMEA at HireRight, the candidate due diligence company