Should I Give a Recruiting Firm my Social Security Number?

Q. I know companies ask for social security numbers for background checks when they are preparing to make an offer, or after they make an offer contingent on that check. I find that hard enough to deal with when we are all being told to protect such personal information. I have now been asked by a recruiting firm to provide my social security number so they can do a background check before they even agree to present me as part of their candidate slate. Why is this considered reasonable?

A. People have an emotional reaction to being asked for personal, identifying information whether it’s for an email address from a retail clerk, a phone number from someone you don’t want to hear from, or the numbers we are told to guard for fear of identity theft – our social security numbers. As hacking and encryption become part of everyone’s online lives, reviewing who gets what information about you, and for what purpose is vital to your security.

Many recruiters, being led by those focused on lawyers and investment professionals, ask for social security numbers to add value early in the search process by conducting background checks. These checks will include reports on the veracity of your transcripts, data on your credit report, credentialing, licensure, certificates of good standing, and a criminal background check. They do this, and companies want them to, so that they ensure anyone they present as a potential candidate has already been vetted; there will not be any issues in hiring if an offer is made. This minimizes the risk the company and the search firm would face as they invest time and energy to find the right people for the right roles. As they lower their risk, potential candidates feel like their risk has increased.

As much reassurance as any organization can provide, each time confidential information is divulged, there are risks. Each pair of eyes and hands increases the odds that something will go wrong.
If these are the new rules, and you want access to the opportunities of a recruiting firm who asks for your social security number, know who and what is involved.
Who is asking? Is the firm reputable and held in high regard in their industry? Do any of the anonymous company review sites such as Glassdoor have anything to say about the firm, the process or how closely confidential information is held – electronic or not? Who are they outsourcing the process to? Most firms will not do these checks on their own, and asking a second level security question demonstrates the level of concern you have about private and confidential information, especially as this practice is not yet fully common in recruiting.
If you are asked to sign a release authorizing investigation and verification of your background, read it as you would any legal document; carefully. Ask questions about any historic issues of liability that may have arisen from collecting this data, or any negative impact on a candidate through lost or exposed data.
-Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner, Keystone Partners

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