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Trends to help benchmark your 2020 background screening program

For most businesses, 2020 has been a year unlike any other. Yet, as the world slowly returns to a new normal, companies around the world are ramping up their background screening programs to hire new employees and re-engage workers who were furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here, we’re sharing exclusive insights from our 2020 Trends Report to help organizations see where background screening was headed before the global health crisis, because sometimes a look back can help you understand the best way to move forward. You can use these industry benchmarks to uncover potential strengths and weaknesses in your current program performance and optimize your screening strategy, results and spend in the second half of 2020.

Overarching trends

To produce our 2020 Trend Report, we surveyed First Advantage customers and cross-referenced the responses with aggregate data from our 71 million 2019 global searches to identify what’s driving the background screening industry today. Here are a few interesting trends we’re seeing:

  • Employers are performing a more comprehensive background check. “Searches per case” are on the rise, up 18 percent. This means companies are increasing the number and complexity of searches they perform on candidates.
  • Global screening continues to climb. Background screening on the whole is up in every region throughout the globe, but the U.S. and India saw the largest growth by volume. Screening volume growth is especially high in the Transportation vertical (27 percent), followed by Retail (24 percent) and Healthcare (15 percent).
  • Social media screening is becoming more prevalent. 4 percent of survey respondents said they had enabled it in 2019 and an additional 2 percent said they plan to enable it in 2020. Social media is an integral part of many candidates’ lives, and as such, it should be carefully vetted with the help of an experienced screening provider.

Criminal background checks

A big part of most background checks is determining if the candidate has a criminal record history. A key metric related to criminal records is the reportable record rate—the percentage of cases in which a criminal record is reported. Here are a few trends we’re seeing in criminal records:

  • Criminal records are often listed under “developed” names. Last year, 10.6% of all Criminal Reportable Records were found solely as a result of developed names and addresses—information the candidate did not provide on his or her application.
  • Some industries have higher rates of reportable criminal records. Transportation tops the list with a 20 percent rate of reportable criminal records, followed by Agriculture, Transportation Services and Staffing. The lowest rates are seen in Education, with a 1.87 rate, followed by Insurance, Non Profit and Healthcare.

See a list of the top reportable criminal record offenses and other related details here.


Verifications are the employment and education history verification elements of background screening that help employers determine if a candidate is qualified to fill a position. The key metric here is the “discrepancy rate.” A discrepancy occurs when the information being independently verified is inconsistent with what the candidate provided to the company for the background screening report. Sometimes a discrepancy is minor, like when the month of graduation is off, and sometimes a discrepancy is major, like when someone claims a degree they don’t actually have. Both major and minor discrepancies factor in to the overall discrepancy rate.

  • While the Education industry experienced the lowest rate of reportable criminal records, it had the highest verification discrepancy rate—27.66 percent.
  • Conversely, while the Transportation industry had the highest rate of reportable criminal records, it had the lowest verification discrepancy rate—8.99 percent. However, this could be impacted by the low amount of education verifications ordered for this industry.

A 2019 survey reveals that 85 percent of recruiters say that they believe that candidates tend to exaggerate their skills and competencies on their resumes.1 The takeaway is this: always verify education and employment and keep an eye your discrepancy rates. Click here to see all verification trends included in the report.

Drug screening

Marijuana continues to top the list of positive drug test results, at 80 percent. Likewise, West Coast U.S. states where marijuana has been legalized such as California, Nevada, Washington and Oregon are among the states with the highest drug test positivity rates. How are changing state and local laws impacting this? Here are the trends we’re seeing:

  • Employers are possibly growing more tolerant of marijuana use. Whether it’s due to the increase in state laws legalizing its use, (including laws which may prohibit employers from making adverse employment decisions based upon a positive test for cannabis) high positivity rates shrinking their candidate pools or other reasons, the percentage of respondents who said that marijuana positivity can disqualify candidates dropped by 12 percentage points since our last survey, from 77 percent to 65 percent.
  • Industry-based positivity rates show only small variations. Retail reports the highest drug test positivity rate at more than 6 percent, while Healthcare reports the lowest positivity rate at just over 3 percent. All other industries hover between a 3 percent and 4 percent positivity rate.

Top trends from this year’s report will be shared at a webinar planned for Jun 25, 2020 at 1 p.m. ET. The webinar, “Top 10 Background Screening Trends: Tales from the Trenches”, will be hosted by members of the First Advantage Six Sigma Black Belt team who developed the report and will incorporate content from the State of the Industry, U.S. Insights and Global Insights sections of the report. Those interested in attending the webinar can register at

Now it’s your turn. How do these numbers measure against your program’s performance? Take a quick look and if your background screening program needs adjusting as you prepare for the second half of 2020, give us a call. At First Advantage, we’re here to help. To access the complete 2020 Trend Report, click here.




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