Piyush Peshwani is the Co-Founder & CEO at OnGrid and eLockr, India’s leading trust platforms for background checks and verifications, serving over 1500+ organizations for their trust and accountability needs. Before co-founding OnGrid with his friend Vineet Bansal from their IIT Bombay days, Piyush was a part of the team that built and rolled out the Aadhaar platform, with close to 1.3 billion people enrolled, and millions of authentication and KYC transactions happening daily. Piyush is passionate about technology that creates a level-playing field for people to access opportunities and achieve upward mobility in society. His current project of focus is eLockr, which is a digital locker that can be used by organizations to issue digital employment credentials to ex-employees, that can be verified instantly with their electronic consent. Piyush has also advised the Government of India, World Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Direct Benefits Transfer, Financial Inclusion, and Public Healthcare, as well as India’s largest telecom player on faster customer acquisition through electronic KYC.
The first wave of the pandemic starting in March 2020 led to the evolution of practices such as remote working, gig employment, and digital nomadism. Working from holiday destinations like Goa or Manali was a fad in the last decade, but became a regular part of work style across employees, and across organizations. Even those with a conservative work culture!
The pandemic also led to employee exodus across the country and the world, often referred to as the ‘Great Attrition. With attrition at an all-time high, the obvious consequence has been the amplified hiring efforts to recruit talent.
As the recruitment landscape changed dynamically, organizations resorted to innovative strategies to hire employees. Deeply-funded startups and unicorns want to move fast and break things. This means they want to hire fast and hire in large numbers. And this is where things can go wrong!
An internet platform co-founder and CEO recently told me that whenever they have hired in large batches, the hiring ended up being wrong. Examples of wrong hires are people who are not a cultural fit, who are engaged in dual employment, or simply those who have faked their resumes or forged their past employment or education credentials. This has led to high burn, but little to no impact. And now with next funding round nowhere in sight, a mass layoff seems to be the only option to survive.
The talent acquisition team is hardly to blame. They just want to close! The management expects each recruiter to make 3 offers a week. Risk mitigation w.r.t. a wrong hire is the last thing on their mind.
A simple background verification (BGV) process, done using a digital platform, can play a key role in avoiding the wrong hires. In the long run, a mature BGV process leads not only to assembling the right team but also to higher HR and ISO compliance. For startups, this compliance could also mean meeting the due-diligence requirements before that next funding round.
Most large organizations conduct a background check on their new joiners for the same reasons of avoiding the wrong hires and ensuring HR/ISO compliance. Startups are joining the bandwagon as their new colleagues are not necessarily the ones building something revolutionary from the same garage, but are often working on the same project from a remote town.
Background verification is itself becoming fast, cost-effective, and going digital with the advent of platforms like OnGrid. Candidates can sign-up directly on a BGV platform, and upload their information, documents and consent, thereby removing the hassle for an HR or a TA manager.
A senior HR manager recently quoted “With so much hiring going on in such a short duration, and with remotely joinings, it would have been chaos without BGV! Organizations like OnGrid have accelerated the screening processes. I remember a time when background verification would take more than a month, but now we are closing all the checks in less than a week.”
Choice of Background Checks
For startups who are not aware of what BGV is, here are the most common 6 checks that are run by most organizations. While there are 40+ checks that you can choose from the product offerings of OnGrid, these 6 are the most basic, and yet, most effective. Some HR managers have started to use this term called “Know Your People (KYP)”, which is essentially these 6 checks.
- Identity Verification
Who is the candidate? The Government of India gives national IDs like Aadhaar, PAN, Voter ID, Driving Licence, Passport, etc.
An identity verification (and keeping a record of the same in a digital staff file on a platform like OnGrid) helps in creating the basic layer on top of which all verifications are done. And once you verify two IDs (say Aadhaar and PAN) and achieve triangulation, you pretty much cover compliances related to EPFO / PF registration, tax-related compliances, etc. Remember, it’s easier to forge one than to forge two IDs, and not get caught.
- Address Verification
So you want to ship a laptop to the candidate’s address? Or recover it when an employee leaves. The employee may have joined from a remote location, which may be a workation destination in Ooty. Are you little uncomfortable shipping company assets?
We recommend a permanent address verification. The permanent address can be a in a village or in a city, but that is the “place to trace”, in case any unusual scenario emerges.
Add to that, imagine the lowered risk of any conscious and untoward incident or activity by an employee when he/she knows, that YOU know, where his/her permanent home is.
- Court / Criminal Record Verification
When an employee is hired, it is inevitable that they will have access to organization assets, intellectual property, and confidential and private information. Would you be comfortable with an employee having access to customer or user data, and learning later on that he/she had an ongoing court case for IPC 420 – Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property, or an IPC 468- Forgery for purpose of cheating?
There are over 20 Crore pending and disposed court cases in India, which may be of civil or criminal nature. Court cases can have severity levels ranging from a minor traffic violation or property dispute to high severity cases such as theft or an attempt to murder. The rationale behind a court or criminal record verification is to have a proactive approach rather than firefighting reactively.
- Employment verification
Organizations may have different sets of objectives for employee screening, but the top reason that we observe across HR leaders and recruiters is accountability. A candidate with forged, exaggerated, or counterfeit employment credentials can create several risks for an organization.
The top reasons why employment verification can complement the right kind of hiring are:
- Avoid wrong hires who have indulged in resume/CV fraud
- Ensuring ISO/HR compliance
- Creating a safe and secure work environment
- Meet client needs (and contractual obligations) that require employees working on their projects to be verified
- Education Verification
We have all been through news snippets or articles where fake or unaccredited universities giving out counterfeit degree certificates to students are exposed, or rackets where doctored graduation certificates of even tier-I institutes are available for a price!
Well, only a handful of these cases are identified or even persecuted for that matter!
Education verification identifies the validity of the claimed education credentials. Background verification platforms like OnGrid does this by connecting with the university or institute.
According to recent industry research, it was identified that education verification-related discrepancies are the second highest cause of background verification failures. Of all the failure cases, education verification failure range from 7% in the IT industry to 19% in real estate.
- Professional Reference Checks
While employment verification (generally conducted via reaching out to the HR team) identifies the objective attributes such as joining date, last working date, designation, etc., a professional reference check (PRC) on top of it helps to know your employees in greater detail. This is typically done by collecting names of reference providers, who may have been reporting managers or supervisors in previous organizations, and sending them a custom questionnaire.
A PRC would tend to dive into understanding the candidate’s work ethic, conduct, strengths, weaknesses, etc. A PRC becomes all the more relevant when one is hiring for a senior position.
A more modern and upcoming approach to reference checks is doing a search on eLockr. eLockr is a platform where previous employers may have written references about their ex-employees.
While the 6 most common checks are listed above, there are other checks that are done depending on organizational needs such as global database checks, police verification via a law firm, credit history checks, drug tests, etc. The decision criteria while going for these additional checks are staff profile (white-collar versus blue-collar), industry profile (and associated risks), industry compliance requirements, role, and budgets.
One must also remember the number one rule to follow while going for background verification (BGV). It must be conducted with the consent of the individual. A verification process is not the same as a discreet detective investigation. Taking consent is easy. A platform like OnGrid would allow the candidate to register and upload their information and documents for BGV. And that’s where the consent is taken.
Involving the candidate in the process, and making it user-friendly for the candidate will remain the most critical factor for a successful digital BGV program, and avoiding wrong hires!