7 Cultural Barriers in International Background Screening

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Co-Authored by Praveen Visal 

The rate of technological advancement is increasing with time, resulting in an exponential growth in connectivity between people around the globe. While organizations look forward to expanding their geographic horizons, they often fail to comprehend the cultural challenges involved in performing background checks. There is a definite lack in instructions and regulations that govern culture-based background screening; the resultant hurdles that organizations witness while performing successful background checks are multi-fold.

An employment background check provides a comprehensive look at a new hire while giving the company the insight they require to make a hiring decision. Background screening helps validate an applicant’s credentials submitted by the individual during the hiring process. Few checks, however, are performed by organizations at regular intervals during an employee’s tenure in the organization to ascertain that the individual complies with an organization’s expectations.

Managing a successful international background screening process would require the organization or its screening provider to navigate around various cultural barriers. Let us deep dive into the most common cultural barriers witnessed across different geographies.

Based on its extensive experience in providing International Background Screening services to its global customers, Neeyamo has  developed  a ‘cultural index’ that details the different cultural barriers and its impact on various regions, measured on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being “Not a challenge” and 5 being“Highly challenging”).

International Background Screening Index

Here are seven criteria based on which the cultural index has been derived.

1. Language

Language is an integral part of any culture. The native language plays an important role while performing background screening in several countries worldwide because, in most countries, official documentation is written in the local language. Therefore, having the ability to support verification in the local language would prove to be of great assistance.

But why does language pose a significant challenge in the Asia-Pacific and Europe regions?

To put things into perspective, here’s an example. Verification in China requires the verifier to read Mandarin or Cantonese because all educational transcripts in China are made available in only one of these two languages. Failure to read or the inability to translate these documents would result in an increase in the turnaround time for completing the background screening process.

Let’s look at another example. The criminal records in Germany are maintained in the German language while in Mexico, these records are maintained in Spanish. Linguistic barriers are quite evident in several parts of the EU region which is home to over 24 official languages. The absence of having adequate multi-lingual ability to support countries where language barriers could result in delayed turn around could be a challenge. Organizations could look for screening providers with proven multi-lingual ability in order to help bridge this gap.

2. Social behavior

As per the culture index (refer the image) Social behavior was rated as 3 across countries in APAC and the Middle East as was rated as 2 across other regions. Therefore, its impact as a cultural barrier is not found to be as significant as the other factors listed.

Consider India and Philippines where officials are prone to reporting late to work which could have a profound impact on verification turnaround time. While this is one challenge, applicants from countries like China, Japan, and Korea consider background screening as a  disrespectful process. There are other challenges such as out-of-court settlements and bribes, resulting in a false trend of criminal rates.

3. Weather conditions and natural calamities

Weather conditions, on the other hand, vary from one geography to another. While most international background screening checks can be completed within a stipulated time, there are some extraneous factors that can delay the verification process. The weather in the recruiter’s area may be mild and sunny, however, the applicant’s region may be experiencing inclement weather.

For example, Earthquakes in Japan, typhoons in parts of the US East Coast, flooding in East  Africa, mudslides in Sierra Leone and avalanches in snow-capped regions of the world have noteworthy ramifications in affecting the screening process.

4. Celebration of local festivals

Local cultural events as a cultural barrier deal with the public, regional, and religion-based holidays. For instance, responses from employers, schools, colleges, and even government officials are slow during the Ramadan period in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and the Middle East countries, leading to prolonged unavailability of officials, thus delaying the screening process. The celebration of local cultural events varies from country to country; some are even city-specific. Therefore, this factor does not rate high as a cultural barrier impacting global employment screening, at large.

5.  Political Instability

With the changing socio-economic conditions in different parts of the globe, unfortunate incidents have been noticed in quite a few countries. The cultural barrier index shows Africa and Middle East regions having unrest due to political instability as a significant challenge.

In Africa, government officials or local authorities primarily focus on maintaining law and order. Verification is found to be, only of secondary importance to them. Consider Syria and Venezuela where the socio-economic conditions are worse than what was witnessed during the Great Depression of 1929. Performing verification in these geographies is backbreaking and will impact the turnaround time.

6. Regulatory policies

International Background Screening requires the transmission of personal information across regions. This requires the process to be adhering to data protection laws.

The cultural index indicates that performing verification across countries in Europe could be highly challenging due to its complex in-country regulations. For instance, breaching GDPR regulations could result in organizations being fined up to 4% of annual global turnover or €20 million, whichever is greater. Such a breach could occur if an organization processes its customers’ personal data without their consent.

Other examples could include:

  • Germany’s data privacy laws forbidding organizations to collect the candidate’s criminal records; the criminal records are handed over only to the candidate.
  • In Singapore, criminal records are maintained by the Criminal Investigation Department of the Singapore Police Force. The candidates can retrieve criminal information only if they submit their fingerprints along with the application form.

7. Technology gap

The technology gap becomes a cultural barrier when there is a lack of technological infrastructure that leads to inadequacy in candidate information. This was found to be a  significant hindrance to background verification. Consider the following instances. Certain Asian countries do not have a comprehensive database of criminal or education records. Government offices in Africa do not maintain digitized criminal/education records leading to manual retrieving of records that end up delaying the verification process.

Keeping the above cultural barriers in mind, let’s look at an additional cultural barrier one must know about.

8. Local Practices

The verification methodology for each background check could differ from country to country. For example, criminal verification in South Africa, Australia, and the United States does not follow the same process. In South Africa, the process would require the candidate’s fingerprints, while in the US, this would not be required as the data is digitized and made available into authorized sources. Whereas in Australia, one must go through the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC). Similar complexities could be evidenced for other types of verifications as well.

Overcoming the cultural barriers

Let’consider a background screening provider from a specific country who has a local partner in a different country. Here is what global enterprises can do to overcome the aforementioned cultural barriers.

  • Organizations should maintain a good communication channel with their verification providers. The verification provider can provide regular updates on either the local cultural events or the weather conditions in a specific geography, pre-empting possible delays in verification. If otherwise, the issue will come back hard on the recruiter or the shared service person with respect to onboarding candidates because the business might have a pushing need to get the candidate onboard.
  • Staying aware of the changing laws and regulations is important because the laws of one region might ask for three different requirements for verification while the laws of another region may ask for the fourth requirement.

So, what do you do if business stakeholders are not willing to wait for the completion of a candidate’s verification process, due to a pressing business need? Look at another scenario. An organization defines a global package that consists of employment, education and criminal check. Now, certain geographies will not allow criminal checks due to specific in-country regulations. While one must be aware of this limitation, what would be the alternative? Will the background check be dropped?

The most feasible method is to pick an alternate background check rather than canceling the entire screening process. If criminal verification takes time, an adverse media search coupled with validating applicant details against a global sanctioned list could be done.

Another way of overcoming these cultural barriers would be to join special interest groups such as the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA) or subscribe to newsletters from the verification partners. This will help the organization gain knowledge, guide and establish controls through-out its verification process, in order to mitigate risks and challenges that arise due to various cultural barriers.

As a rundown, here are the four steps one can take to overcome the cultural barriers in international background screening:

STEP 1 – Employ a good communication channel with the verification partner by providing regular updates on the verification process and keep abreast of the changing laws and regulations.

STEP 2 – Identify alternative channels of verification as and when required.

STEP 3 – Understand shortfalls/limitations that occur while performing background screening across different geographies.

STEP 4 – Apply for subscription or membership of special interest groups to gain knowledge and enhance the screening process.

Shakil Gour, the Head of Global Background Screening at Neeyamo, has offered a detailed explanation of understanding the cultural barriers in international background screening in an on-demand webinar. You can watch that here. Further, if you would like to speak to our international background screening experts on a one-on-one basis, get in touch with us.

Are you interested to learn how Neeyamo leveraged its strong global presence and powerful proprietary Verification Management System to help its clients? Click here.

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