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To Check or Not To Check?

Killers, alcohol, marijuana, and the South Pole?

We know, you'd rather play with a bag o' glass than listen to a podcast about background checks, huh? Bet you'd change your mind if you knew the guest had worked at NASA and did a stint in the South Pole though, right? In this episode, the boys join Kim Jones, professor at UC Irvine, and dig into the seedy underbelly of the business of background checks and point a big finger at the HR folks who major in laziness instead of getting to the heart of each human being who seek employment.


Kim (1s):

You have companies who potentially decline employment to someone with a marijuana conviction, but you will allow drunk drivers to continue to not just work at your company, but still park on your company property.

INTRO (13s):

Hide your kids! Lock the doors! You're listening to HR’s most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheeseman are here to punch the recruiting industry, right where it hurts! Complete with breaking news, brash opinion and loads of snark, buckle up boys and girls, it's time for the Chad and Cheese podcast.

Joel (40s):

Every guest should be Jones so he could open every show. Like that.

Chad (44s):

I wish.

Joel (44s):

What's up Chad?

Chad (45s):

Hey dude, it's another day. And we're going talk about something that generally I find boring, but this is a pretty hot, this is pretty hot topic. Actually, we have Kim Jones, If you don't know Super Kim, you will know Talent Acquisition Superhero. She's actually Senior Director at Enterprise Talent, Strategy Instructor at University of California, Irvine, Chief Executive Officer Kelton Legend. She was, this is some pretty cool stuff. Director of Talent Acquisition at NASA.

Joel (1m 22s):


Chad (1m 23s):

Yeah, so right out of the gate, give us a little bit more about you, Kim, give us a little Twitter bio about you. And then I will, I want to dump into the background check for NASA. Go ahead.

Kim (1m 36s):

I thank you, first of all, for allowing me to be here with you guys today. So I will say my career is representative of the inner nerd that I have, and I found a way to marry that inner nerD through HR and talent acquisition. And so I've been really fortunate to work in very technical environments. I learned a lot from engineers and it actually helped me be a much better HR leader because of what I learned from engineers and how they solve problems. So NASA jet propulsion laboratory, Northrop, Grumman, GE Aviation, Raytheon, and Honda. I started my career at Nationwide Insurance Company in Columbus, where I'm originally from.

Kim (2m 15s):

So I am very appreciative of my life and career journey.

Chad (2m 20s):

So when we actually got engaged on Facebook and I've been looking for a reason to bring you on the show like that just engaged in the conversation was around something that was, was somewhat boring and background checks. Although background checks, I mean they impact individuals on a daily basis. In most cases, they, they negatively impact you. You were at Raytheon, GE Aviation, Northrup Grumman, NASA for goodness sakes. So you you've gone through a few background checks. How was it for you starting back in the day? It just became kind of like normal to you, but can you talk about, and then how you started to see differences and how they impacted you versus others.

Kim (3m 4s):

Yeah. So I'll give you a little bit of a personal story and then just kind of professionally. So I have a very common name. Kimberly Denise Jones. William Tincup will tell you he and I had this conversation. I share my name with a rapper, Little Kim. We have this exact name, Kimberly Denise Jones.

Joel (3m 25s):


Kim (3m 25s):

So with almost every company that I've gone to work for, my background check was always complicated by the fact that I have a very common name and it was not uncommon for things to be reported on my background check that were not mine. And so it would typically take another, a few additional days to clear out negative or just erroneous things that weren't a true.

Joel (3m 49s):

Little Kim's done jail time, right?

Kim (3m 51s):

She has. And so when you understand the nature of trying to understand who a person is so that, you know, whether or not that it's safe or if that person can be trusted in your organization. And so then when I put on my HR hat, it is exactly that. Organizations have a responsibility to make sure they are doing their due diligence to say, is this person who they say they are? And can they be trusted to work here around coworkers, around clients with company assets. Where this becomes the evil twin, is when companies intentionally create policies to exclude or misinterpret, intentionally misinterpret information to exclude and now you are impacting people who tend to be in protected classes.

Kim (4m 46s):

And so when I talk about talent acquisition, it is as much art as it is science this area of background checks really requires a good talent acquisition or HR professionals to understand both the art and science of background checks.

Joel (5m 2s):

Do you have an example of the intentional screening out or using, I guess, background checks as a weapon to exclude people?

Kim (5m 9s):

Sure. So, perfect example here in the state of California a few years ago, there was a law passed called ban the box. And I've been in the boxes related to the fact that on an, in a traditional sense, the employment application, have you been convicted of a crime? And when that question is asked at the initial stage of the application, then candidates were automatically being rejected. This tended to impact communities of color because communities of color are more likely, because of systemic racism to encounter law enforcement, to be arrested, to be hailed, to be, you know, wrongly convicted because they don't necessarily have access to the best representation.

Kim (5m 54s):

And so now I'm standing outside a store, someone doesn't like the way I look, police show up, I'm arrested for disorderly conduct. I apply for a position. And now this question of, have you been convicted of a crime?

Joel (6m 8s):

Was it a crime or felony?

Kim (6m 9s):

Every organization may ask the question differently. Crime is a very general, general statement. Let me give you an example.

Joel (6m 17s):

A speeding ticket.

Kim (6m 18s):

A speeding ticket is a crime, we're all criminals. Every single one of us are criminals. So when you think about, yeah, like I said, just disproportionately the answer to that question. What California did was that question can't be asked at the initial application, you can solicit that question post offer, because now good organizations say post offer - preemployment. I will now make a decision about your employment, not your candidacy, because I don't ask that question until after and now I will utilize a consumer report to better understand what that crime is and what that crime precludes you from, either performing the job or just in general being employed at this particular company.

Chad (7m 5s):

So Kim, it's interesting because I know, and to answer Joel's question, I actually was working with an organization to help them in their whole hiring process. And one of the things that they had as a standard, and this is an organization that, that is manufacturing dry wall. Okay. And they asked about felonies. And my question was, why is this even necessary? Are you afraid that they're going to steal dry wall? I mean, what's the purpose behind this, right? What do you, what are you expecting this individual to do coming in at, you know, less than $20 an hour?

Chad (7m 46s):

And why are you asking this question? Are we not, are we not being bold enough as talent acquisition to go up the ladder and say, okay guys, why are we asking this question? And then also pushing back and challenging them on, this is not necessary.

Kim (8m 2s):

So you have to have a good talent acquisition, professional who is educated, I will say wise enough to know when to ask those questions. Lots of organizations do it because it's always been done without really understanding the purpose. So specifically, when you think about crimes that are felonies, felony, assault, rape, murder, theft. So if I am looking to bring someone into my organization who will be among coworkers, who may be interfacing with clients either because they come into our establishment or we're sending them out to somewhere. Am I automatically saying yes, because it's a felony or am I simply evaluating what that felony was, how related it might be to the job and how long ago it was, and does this person actually then have multiple felonies that I might need to consider that indicates to me, this is probably a rule breaker who may not do well here?

Kim (8m 58s):

So it shouldn't just simply be, do you have a felony? There are other things that should be evaluated so that, you know why, what you're saying yes or no to, and you're ready to assume whatever level of liability or responsibility may come with, employing someone who may have a felony. For example, someone who was a convicted child molester probably shouldn't be a security officer. Someone who's been convicted of embezzlement probably shouldn't be your CFO. And so there's a degree of responsibility that you have as an employer to know why you're saying yes or no, and how much risk you may be creating or risk that you could potentially mitigate.

Kim (9m 42s):

And this is why I talk about, is it one or multiple and the recency of what that offense is.

Chad (9m 48s):

Also a fairness factor here, right? Because Illinois just expunged like 5,000 individuals of felony crime convictions because of marijuana. And now in Illinois, that's fine. Right? And they don't have a felony in Illinois, but in the state next to them, it's a crime.

Kim (10m 8s):


Chad (10m 9s):

I agree. We have to have talent acquisition professionals who have the understanding, they want to go deeper, but they also have to have the backbone to make sure these decisions are challenged to ensure that these decisions are being made for the betterment of not just the company, but the community itself. And I think that's one of the biggest issues that we have in this nation is that we're focused more on what we're doing for corporate A instead of the community that actually feeds that corporation.

Kim (10m 41s):

Absolutely. So, you know, here in California, marijuana is legal, but there are still thousands, if not millions of people who, like you said, either, you know, have some type of conviction or possibly even still, serving time. And here's one of the things I always share and I'm honestly, I'm somewhat biased about this. I don't drink alcohol. I just, I never had. But when I tell you the number for...

Joel (11m 4s):

I drink enough for the three of us. Don't worry.

Kim (11m 8s):

The number of times that I have had to review a background check for somebody who had a DUI, but because alcohol is legal, we tend to be somewhat forgiving of if you have one DUI. And I'm like, I have seen alcohol be much more destructive than marijuana on any combination of days. But because marijuana is still considered an illegal substance and it's criminalized, you have companies who potentially decline employment to someone with a marijuana conviction, but you will allow drunk drivers to continue to not just work at your company, but still park on your company property.

Joel (11m 47s):

So I'm going to play maybe not devil's advocate, but try to try to set an opposing viewpoint here. HRS role in many cases is risk management.

Kim (11m 57s):

I agree with that.

Joel (11m 58s):

Keep us out, keep us out of court if you will. So, you know, Chad's example of, we're hanging dry wall and you know, why would I exclude a felon for that? One part of it is that HR has probably enough candidates that they can bypass someone and have someone fill that job.

Chad (12m 17s):

They did.

Joel (12m 18s):

And, where were you where you typically have a little bit more leniency on backgrounds is in things where there's really high demand for folks. And maybe the dry wall was an exception, but, no one wants to be the person that hires the one candidate that ends up taking a Hacksaw, you know, to the entire workforce.

Kim (12m 38s):


Joel (12m 38s):

They're going to be sued out, you know, sued out of business by the folks that were there that said, okay, you hired someone and you knew they had a felony. And then they ended up killing some of us. What, I mean, I know these are extreme cases, but no HR person wants to be in that position. They are risk averse. And to me, like, it sounds really good to talk about, we should look at the person and we should case by case basis, but in the real world, the person making that decision does not want to be the one that hires that one person that fucks everything up. Am I wrong about that?

Chad (13m 12s):

That's the hiring manager. That's not HR.

Joel (13m 15s):

This, if the company is embroiled in a PR nightmare and in court for years fighting this stuff, they're going to go to HR.

Kim (13m 25s):

Yeah. So Chad me answer your question. And I recognize, I worked for really large organizations with various established HR departments. Hiring managers were never permitted to see the background checks because we knew that their opinion may somewhat be swayed if it's someone that they really wanted to hire. And we want it also to ensure a level of consistency, but I want to respond to what Joel said. So, first of all, I would tell you, I appreciate the education that I've had, but nothing prepared me for how humble you have to be knowing that you stand in judgment of whether or not someone will get hired. I have taken that very seriously when I worked for Raytheon in particular, especially for the polar services program, 20,000 people apply for 1400 jobs.

Kim (14m 10s):

It was normal that in a hiring season, I'd have 100 background checks that came back with some type of discrepancy that I had to consider. A lot of which were criminal offenses, lewd and lascivious act against a child under the age of 14, where a guy did prison time, was paroled, violated his parole and had to go back and finish his prison time. And the question, have you been convicted of a crime? He said, no. And when I spoke with him, he said, he didn't remember going to prison. I would remember if I raped a child and went to prison. I would remember that. And the fact that he answered no. So this risk, that we are adverse or risk mitigation, you have to take that very seriously.

Kim (14m 55s):

One of the situations I shared with Chad is a gentleman that I actually worked with at the South Pole, who, you know, years later killed his wife.

Joel (15m 6s):

Did you say the South pole?

Kim (15m 8s):

The South Pole. When I worked for Ratheon.

Joel (15m 10s):

Like literally the South Pole?

Kim (15m 12s):

I completed a six week deployment to Antarctica and I worked there enough to go to the South Pole for three days.

Nexxt PROMO (15m 24s):

We'll get back to the interview in a minute. But first we have a question for Andy Katz, COO of Nexxt. So for those companies that are out there today, who are kind of hesitant, because they're afraid of texting, what do you have to say to them? Get with the program, people are texting these days? You know, I will say that I'm in a different generation, a different point in my career that I agree I would be hesitant, but there are obviously millions of millions of people that are in that demographic that want to receive them. So it's again, know your audience and be able to deliver a message to your audience that way they want to receive it. For more information, go to

Nexxt PROMO (16m 4s):

Remember that's Nexxt with the double X, not the triple X

Kim (16m 16s):

And so the science lab manager, like I said, some years later killed his wife because he was in a relationship with a new person. She was coming to see him and he did not want the girlfriend to know about his wife. And he killed her. The wife's family sued the previous employer saying that they would have never met. And so there was this allegation of negligent hiring because he had a previous conviction for a pretty serious felony. And what they found was he had transferred from one contractor to this new organization that was a contractor.

Kim (16m 57s):

They didn't do a background check, and if they had the offense that he had been convicted of would have precluded him from employment.

Chad (17m 4s):

And you worked with this dude at one time?

Kim (17m 7s):

I sat next to him during a recruiting event. And then I met with him while I was at South Pole, because he had some questions about what we were doing with the hiring process to hire technicians. I think he managed the science lab. So I will honestly tell you, I was creeped out after the story surfaced. And I'm like, I remember sitting next to Al Baker with his, you know, silver gray hair, braided it back in a ponytail. The fact that you, you killed your wife and wrapped her body in a tarp because you didn't want her to know about your new girlfriend. And then also knowing that he had a previous felony conviction. And if a background check had been performed, that scenario would have been avoided.

Chad (17m 49s):

So this type of story is exactly what Joel is talking about. That this happens. And, this is grotesque. It is gruesome. It is incredibly horrible, but that then sets a precedent for high levels of risk mitigation and impacts directly impacts back to my story, individuals who can't manufacture dry wall in an area where they can't find people to, for these positions. They can't find people, but they don't want people with felonies. So there's this overreaction that happens that everybody could perspectively be, you know, a serial Antarctica killer.

Chad (18m 33s):

So how do we manage that?

Kim (18m 36s):

It's rooted in good decision-making and good policy. So this can't just be a knee jerk reaction organizations. Your C-suite has to have trust in your HR leadership team to create policies that support responsible hiring and employment. It's not a clinical, if one plus one, two, you need a solid infrastructure around how do we collect information and how do we evaluate it? And that process for evaluation has to be done with a great degree of common sense and some wisdom. So to your point, if I need to hire people to hang dry wall, do I automatically reject every person with a felony?

Kim (19m 18s):

Or do you rely on having a really good HR person who understands how to evaluate, how to have conversations with people? I will tell you to a certain extent, this spirit of discernment, you know, when somebody is lying to you about whether or not they're truly remorseful. I've had had every version of a story. I've had a guy tell me who had been convicted of domestic violence. You know, I won't fight anybody at work cause I only fight my wife.

Chad (19m 48s):

Oh my God.

Kim (19m 49s):

So it is this balance of good policy and good HR professionals. If you don't have both, you are typically, you may be an organization who does not manage this well, but you have to have good policy and good HR leaders. The combination of the two is critical.

Joel (20m 7s):

And it sounds like you're talking a lot about nuance, like being able to look at it from a human perspective and be able to make the right choice based on the nuances of a case by case, is that what I'm hearing?

Kim (20m 18s):

There's a great deal of humanity. And again, I have been humbled by the fact that I have had to read background checks. A lady who came home and found her husband in bed with the neighbor and she pistol whipped both of them. But somehow when the police showed up, they still felt like she was the aggressor and she had a felony assault on her record.

Joel (20m 38s):

So, so one of my questions in terms of like the vendor side, so having nuance, you're better at nuance. The more information you have and the more correct information that you have. So when, when people are choosing a background check provider and most of our listeners have done that at some point, I know that from my experience in the industry, there are certain things that are pretty, pretty much layups, right? National database, I don't know who they think they are, but there's a lot of the industry that is just, just weird, right? Like certain counties are not digital and you have to actually go down to the courthouse and find the right piece of paper.

Joel (21m 20s):

So, so my question is if we have to be more human and more human means more nuance and more nuance means having the right information than what should people be looking at in regards to, getting a vendor and making sure that they're making those nuance decisions that they're making the right ones, because the information is the best. What kind of questions should they ask and what kind of, you know, belts and suspenders should they be wearing when they're making a background check vendor decision?

Kim (21m 49s):

Yeah. So it starts with your RFP and your RFP should be written in support of your established policies and then laws. I mean, federal state and local laws regarding employment law, background check, and then policies that you have in place. That should all be embedded directly in your RFP and so when you look at vendors, you do want to look at vendors who are utilizing, you know, current technology. You know, you can check degrees through typically a clearing house. Most large counties do have electronic database that you're checking against, but if you get a candidate from a remote County in Minnesota and it's the middle of winter and you have to send a process server to actually collect that information, okay.

Kim (22m 31s):

Now somebody actually has to go pull a docket and then, you know, make available a report. So making sure that the vendor has the right systems and infrastructure in place, but they also have the ability to conduct those second and third levels of screening. Let me give you an idea. When you, a County search versus a federal clerk of courts, office search, and I have a name like Joseph Walker that returns a result. Do I have Joseph Robert Walker? Cause because now I need to make sure I'm screening for a little full name, not just the first and last name.

Kim (23m 11s):

I'm also now looking at the social security number and the date of birth. And if you understand how social security numbers are issued in lots across the country, the same way, the same way zip codes work. And you know, that certain, certain social security numbers are issued at certain times of a calendar year or from year to year, you have to have a background check vendor that really understands how that works so they're not giving you an erroneous is flag that something might be wrong. Or when you have a flag, they are working cooperatively with you to say, yes, this is this person, or no, it isn't. This was a false flag and we will go ahead and clear it.

Chad (23m 51s):

It sounds like this is so nuanced, especially with, with risk and it could be the person, it could be the tool and here's the hard conversation, because you know, AI is going to be interwoven into many of these things from a scale standpoint. Would you ever trust AI to be able to run through and actually provide kind of like a risk mitigation score card to your organization?

Kim (24m 23s):

No, I don't think it's that clinical. I recall being at a conference a couple years ago and people saying blockchain was going to revolutionize, you know, how we manage, you know, how we manage background checks. Yeah. I dwill tell you with my current employer every week, we are looking at background checks and there's usually at least two of us together, possibly sometimes three, depending on what it is. And there is a degree of, I will say some ambiguity, but some subjectivity on whether or not you say yes or no to something. And none of that is as absolute as one plus one equals two.

Kim (25m 6s):

I will also say we've seen enough instances where you can program me in your own biases into AI. And so I would much rather just know that we have a process in place where there's never a single person making a decision. If it's something that has to be evaluated, but you are always screening towards established policy. And also in certain cases, looking back at previous background checks that might've been been similar so that you are making your best attempt to be consistent in how you evaluate information that's reported.

Chad (25m 37s):

So blockchain, not the answer?

Kim (25m 44s):


Joel (25m 44s):

I want to piggyback a little bit on, on what Chad, what Chad sort of alluded to is that technology is really coming into monitoring people, whether it be employees or even candidates, right? Like we talk almost weekly, it seems like about facial recognition, you know, being outlawed or someone suing a company or a government because of facial recognition. And we've even had someone on the show I'm blanking on the name. Maybe Chad will remember it, but what this company does is they go back into your social media, you know, years of tweets or whatever it might be, and try to find evidence of, you know, racism or criminal activity or immoral, whatever that it's pretty subjective in some cases.

Joel (26m 29s):

And like thousands of pages that are delivered to employers about what someone did on social media. So it seems like we're going beyond even have they been convicted? Are they who they say they are? And we're getting into really, I think, dangerous territory. One, I'm curious about your opinions on, you know, companies that are doing that. And number two, if you, if you agree that that's a dangerous place to go, what should we do? Does government need to get more involved with, what we can look into in the past of people? Or is it totally fair game to look at all your activity, whether you've been convicted or not.

Chad (27m 4s):

And that company was Fama F-A-M-A.

Joel (27m 9s):

Fama. Yep.

Kim (27m 9s):

So I don't think it's a dangerous place to go again. It has to be utilized with a degree of responsibility. And so I had heard someone say, you know, alcohol makes you more who you are, social media does the same thing. And so when I think about people who are law enforcement, high ranking, you know, C suite level people, is there something about their social media profile for things that they are doing both personally and professionally, that really give you a better sense of who that person is and whether or not you are creating some risk for your organization based on the position they hold.

Kim (27m 55s):

Now, does this apply to the average drywall, customer service rep, person? Absolutely, absolutely not. People should be allowed to live their lives. They're not typically in roles that are going to influence or impact the company to that degree. But if you're talking about people who are being trusted with safety and leadership, who are, who really are in a position to influence and decide, I do believe that there are instances where in a really documented way, are there things about how you, how the decisions you've made and things about how you live your life that have the potential? Let me go back to January 6th.

Kim (28m 34s):

And the number of people whose lies they reported through social media were completely telling of what was planned before everybody showed up in Washington, DC and the number of employers and coworkers who dropped dime on their coworkers to say, Billy has always been this, go check his social media page. So again, like every other aspect of background checks, if social media will be utilized, it has to be utilized in a very responsible way.

Chad (29m 8s):

So having Parlor up in running, especially from a background check and kind of like a behavioral standpoint, probably not a bad thing for the FBI and for people they are hiring.

Kim (29m 18s):

A gold mine. We had a student, when I was in Indianapolis, a computer science student in his boastfulness said, you know, I'm so good at what I do. Go check out my social media, not, this was before Facebook check out my personal webpage. So he includes the link. And so of course, we go take a look at it. And on his page, he had a picture from the Special Olympics. The caption read, even if you win, you're still retarded.

Chad (29m 53s):


Kim (29m 54s):

We didn't go looking for it. He boasted about it, as let me show you how much more qualified I am than other candidates, look at this page that I've built. And, here you go. And you know, Ratheon is a company, before diversity became sexy for everybody to talk about Ratheon had always been a promoter of diversity. And so when we saw that we knew this was not a person who would align well with established values. If you thought that that was appropriate and something for you to boast about.

Joel (30m 30s):

Kim Jones, everybody, can we thank you for your time? We know you're a busy person. For those who want to know more about you, where would you send them?

Kim (30m 41s):

They can find me at They can also find me on LinkedIn at Kimberly Jones, Talent Acquisition Queen Superhero, and over on Twitter @KimtheJ.

Joel (30m 53s):

And if you're at the South Pole, you know, Kim already. So it's all good. Chad, we out.

Chad (31m 1s):

We out.

OUTRO (31m 24s):

I'm Rory from Scotland, the country, which brought you electricity! Thank you for listening to podcasts with Chad and Cheese. Brilliant! They talk about recruiting. They talk about technology, but most of all, they talk about nothing. Nada Niente. Anyhoo, be sure to subscribe today on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. We out.


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