“It was almost like applying for a US visa,” recalls a 48-year-old Bengaluru-based professional who has been working in the fashion-and-retail space for more than two decades.
She is describing a disillusioning three-week ordeal—a convoluted background verification (BGV) process—while being hired by one of the Big Four consulting firms (Deloitte, EY, PwC, and KPMG) last October.
The process of filling up the form was a complicated one, she says. Besides asking her to furnish multiple documents, it required her to provide intricate, but unclear details such as her previous association with the firm.
Companies design the BGV process to verify the accuracy of information provided by job applicants or employees on their resumes or job applications.
In the case of the person mentioned above, a third-party firm specialising in checking candidates’ precedents conducted the BGV. She was getting hired as a third-party employee for consulting on retail projects.
“I was taken aback by the extent of checks on a third-party employee,” she quips. And despite her work experience, she felt like “being hired at the most-junior level”.
The BGV firm called all her four previous managers to verify her work style.
But she was getting impatient. The company needed her to start work on a recently closed deal with a retailer. She kept insisting on accelerating her onboarding process. But she missed that boat.
“It’s funny how they were fine about losing business but not fast-track the process,” she says in half-jest, adding that “my degree had my percentage and division, but they could not move past without my mark sheet”. She completed her post-graduation in 1997 from the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), New Delhi. She declined to be named as she didn’t want to be seen publicly commenting on her employer.
Many people, like her, have faced the lengthy and intensive process of employment background verification in recent times and are often uncertain about whether this is a one-time check or if they will be subject to continuous scrutiny. They also lack clarity about whether they will be required to undergo further investigations in the future.
But why are corporates suddenly upping the ante on background checks?
Part of the answer lies in a word that ignited debates, polarised opinions, and raised thorny legal questions in 2022: moonlighting. Ask employees, and they’ll say this means people taking up side gigs to work on more than one job at a time. But the companies have more to add. Their explanation counts for employees engaging in covert activities such as forgery and impersonation.
As a result, the scope and scale of corporate surveillance are rising. Until recently, most corporations did a few basic checks and reference calls after giving an offer letter to an employee.