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      5 min read
      Max Armbruster
      Max Armbruster
      CEO Talkpush

      Background Checks Don't Have to be Awkward - Bob Mather from Pre-Employ

      Ready to level up your recruitment?
      Let’s jump on a call and explore how Talkpush can help your team.

      Episode 42 full coverBob Mather, CEO at goes into the ins and outs of the background screening industry, from the awkwardness, to parsing social media profiles, and a new shift that will let background checks be a less uncomfortable part of the process — with candidates readily including them as part of their resume. This shift would not only make hiring faster, but save businesses about 9 billion a year in background checks.


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      Don't feel like listening? You can read the entire transcript right here. 👇


      Max: Hello. Welcome back to the recruitment hackers podcast. I'm your host Max Armbruster. And today on the show, I'm delighted to welcome Bob Mather, who is a private investigator, as well as the founder and CEO of one of the leading. Background checking company, Pre-Employ, Bob, welcome to the show. 


      Bob: Hey Max, how's it going?


      Max: Going strong going strong. We in the introduction introduced you as a private investigator. Is this how you stumbled into the world of technology? With long rain coats and you know, stalking people in their private lives. 

      Bob: Wow. You have really just painted quite a picture.

      No, but close. Even though at one time, I didn't have a rank though. I did have one of those coats. It was probably 20 years ago. I started out my career specializing in embezzlement for retailers. So I would be the guy in the company that they would hire when they were missing $10,000, $20,000, whatever.


      And then  I would bring in a forensic team or a surveillance team and would try to put the pieces of the puzzle together and find out who was embezzling. And then I would also help. Yeah. I would help with the prosecutions. If there were criminal charges, advise them my opinion on what they should do and how they should do it.


      And then also work with civil restitution recovery. 


      Max: Wow. That's great. This is the great foundation, right? Because you have seen the crimes committed and with your own eyes, so you can really empathize with your customers. 


      Bob: Yeah, well, yeah, I've done thousands of interrogations for the specific embezzlement type cases. I also work with employers when it comes to workplace investigations and always have whether it be discrimination of sexual harassment other types of things, my team and I will come in and put the pieces together and show what really has happened with all of the emotion out of it.


      But when I first started doing this was in the early nineties and background checks really weren't a thing then, and back in the nineties and you know, there wasn't even an internet. Really, the internet had just started. We had Netscape. Right. We had this world of background checks that was done, when we did do a background check, it was very expensive and it was done by paper.


      And you might call the local sheriff or even try to get you could walk into a courthouse. You couldn't, there was no technology then. And hiring. If you wanted to hire someone you needed a background check on them. It could take a month. it just was the way it was, had been done forever, but with technology and I was an early adopter in technology, you know we started doing background checks.


      What happened was I was doing embezzlement investigations. And in one region of the United States, I caught, I investigated, prosecuted, and put a person in jail that was stealing thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars. About a year or so later, another company called me and said, hey, We're losing thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars.

      And I said, well, okay, I can schedule to be down there. I'll start the investigation, but can you send me your employee list? Let's see who's working there now. I'd like to see. And there was on the employee list they sent, there was the same guy.


      And I said, well, you know, If they only would have known, you know 400 miles away, he just got out of jail.


      Max: you know, all the great embezzlement guys that should be working for you.


      Bob: Yeah, no, no. When you work that type of work, the only embezzlement guys and girls, I know are the unlucky ones or the ones that are not that smart. The good ones I've never met. 


      Max: I was just thinking, yeah maybe there's a limit, right? If you embezzle $500, you never get caught.


      If you're inbezzlel, half a million, obviously you're the venture you'll get caught pretty soon. Maybe there's a sweet spot there. I don't know. 


      Bob: I think it's like playing blackjack or gambling. If you quit, you might get away with it. But the longer you play, the odds are against you. 

      Max: Okay, great.


      Well I suppose yeah, millions of dollars are being saved now by the retail sector because of providers such as yourself.  Have you been able to quantify that you know, for the industry or how do you put a number on it for your customers at the beginning of those discussions?


      I suppose now it's not so much.  I suspect someone is taking money from you, it's more, standardized, right? 


      Bob: It's more standardized now. It's for safety, is really the big concern right now. Safety of customers, safety of other employees. And as the industry progressed in the early 2000s, I mean, basically it was this.


      If the company. Whether it was a hospital or a retailer down the street did background checks and you didn't, you only were really sure of one thing. The people that were afraid to get their background checked were not applying at the guy who does the background checks. They were coming to you.


      And we actually would see that. So when we would get a new client. We would do background checks on all the employees and to do that, they would have to sign a form. Well, we would get people that would just leave. Like they wouldn't come to work. It was over. And then once we looked into it further, we could see that they had, you know, quite a background and then they would go to the next company that didn't do background checks.


      And, and today it's 90%, 96% of employers in most industries do background checks. 


      Max: I was thinking about that. 


      So for those 4%, that's that don't do, you know, maybe they have a wonderful opportunity, right? Because then they really have to pick up the litter. They can choose between anybody who has a criminal record, they can choose between them and they can take the best ones, the ones that truly want to reform their lives and, you know, start fresh, the ones that quit like a blackjack.


      Bob: Yeah. Or the ones that had a type of crime that really doesn't have anything to do with the position. So in the world of finance, for example obviously embezzlement would be a very big concern. It would be a killer of any opportunity, but not necessarily let's say a bar fight or where you got drunk driving.


      Right. So You know, the industry has changed and it's still changing,  Now there's not only a demand.  When we first started out  in the 2000s and 2010s, there wasn't the emphasis on speed as there is now, or talent acquisition leaders now are driven by the need to hire and to hire at scale.


      You know, we've got a starting class. We need to have X number of people. Hundreds of people are coming in and I need these done now. And for a lot of organizations that can be scary because the person who's ordering and overseeing the selection of what company to use is in such a hurry. And it gets bonuses and it gets financial payments for getting people through the system.

      They don't necessarily care about the quality like it used to be. It's a strange relationship. 


      Max: It's commoditized and it's looked as as a necessary, a mandatory step, as opposed to something, a selection that you make purposefully, just like you said, like someone, you should also select a vendor very carefully.

      And of course, nobody is very as educated on the art of selecting. A background checking company as they are on the art of selecting a candidates. And I suppose every vendor will propose the most thorough checks at the most competitive price. And I don't,  I've never personally gone through the tendering process of selecting between different vendors within your position.


      Bob: So many hidden, there's so many hidden secrets in it. You know what most talent acquisition and HR leaders, or procurement leaders don't realize is that we can draft a background check based on what you demand from us. You want it super cheap. Don't worry. We can do it. It's like walking into an ice cream store.


      And if you said to the person behind the ice cream  store,  I want an ice cream sundae, but I only want to pay $3. But I need it big and they're like, okay, well, they're probably going to select the ingredients that makes you happy, but it's not really the best. So there's things that background check companies do that the type of tools they use to find where a person has lived.

      So in the States we use a social security number, and a social security number is put into a database and the database then says, look, Max has lived in seven places around the world in the past seven years. And so we would send investigators or do our, have our technology going to the courthouses. In those seven geographic areas.


      Well, if your employer is demanding fast, they don't care. It's fast. They want fast. We can choose between one and probably 35 different social security number, locators, or address locators, including some that bring back, it will probably show that you lived in two places. Right. The quality of what a background check company does in the hiring process is actually negotiable.

      And it's demandable and you can put together service level agreements and demands that look, we need the best. We want to protect our employees.  What is the price going to be? Or most people just say, I want a background check. I want an ice cream sundae. It's the same thing. It's a commodity. Right? Give me one. 


      Max: There's some of this background checking that is still being done in house. And then I guess increasingly it has been, I don't know, is it increasingly done? In-house are increasingly being outsourced?


      Bob: It's going more outsourced now. But you know what it is,  what a lot of recruiters do do, it's now starting to be outsourced. Is and most, and a lot of recruiters and a lot of  talent acquisition won't admit this probably let's see what next time you get some of your next guest, ask them if they've ever looked at Facebook or a social media profile for one of their applicants. Most of them secretly do. It's not part of the background check.


      Max: Oh, of course you have to. I mean if you're a hiring manager, that's what you would do. I would imagine. Yeah,


      Bob: But think about that. Is that part of the background check? 


      Max: No, it's just, you know, curiosity. Yeah. 


      Bob: That's part of the background check. It's part of the interview process that no one knows is going on. In the background check industry it's actually becoming a formal part where with technology, we go through your profile and look for keywords or phrases that may, that gives it brings back a score that says this person may not meet your profile. Based on 17 times using this word,  which is deemed offensive to most people.


      Right. Now there's a big argument if that's right or wrong, but that's really what's that, like you said, of course it's happening now. It's just now coming forward and becoming more I don't know, just more efficient.


      Max: Yeah. It's unfortunate that it's seen through the prism of basically the background check as a veto power to say no to a particular person, if they use a particular type of language as opposed to being a sourcing engine where you would match the tone of the people in your company with the tone of the people outside your company and find some commonalities and culture and attitudes. 


      Bob: That's where it's going. I think I have one of my divisions, my background check it's called it's pretty simple. It's my background check. Because if you think about it, Max, what we do in the world is crazy.


      Talent acquisition goes out there and we pay a ton of money to put ads. To put out things saying, please come to work for us. So you have an ad that says, hey, I'm looking for someone like Bob, and I see your ad. And I'm like, hey, I might like working for you Max. And we start to do this relationship dance.

      You say, hey, here's my benefits. Here's what I'll pay. Here's the working environment. I say, look, here's my resume. Here's what I've done. I say, Max, I really like what I see. And you say, hey Bob, I really like what I see. We should form a business relationship and we should spend 40 hours a week together for a common goal.


      Let's do this. I'd be like, all right, let's do this. And then you say, Hey, stop. I want you to go pee in a cup so I can search your urine for drugs. And I need your name, your date of birth and your social security number. So I can search your background. It's a crazy world. It's like, I'll be like, Ooh,  max, wait a minute.


      Max: I just thought we were friends.


      Bob: Yeah. I was excited. Think what's happening and what we're doing with my background check. And I think over the next five or six years, you're going to see a flip in. What we're going to do is lead the charge to make a background check mine. And it's part of my resume.


      I'll show you a copy of my degree. I'll give you the name of my employers and I'll show you my background check. You can verify it, but let's get this done at the beginning. This is who I am. And you know, I had a DUI or I got in a bar fight, but this is who I am. You want to talk about it now?


      Max: Yeah, the first baby step was let's move our resumes to LinkedIn, which everybody did 20 years ago.


      Still, you know, 90% of the welders is not on LinkedIn, but of course, for me, it's more valuable to look at a profile, which is publicly available with, you know, references where, you know, I mean, I'm sure you can lie on LinkedIn, but it seems like you would lie a little bit more on the resume, right?


      Just you have a little bit more artistic expression? I like freedom.


      Bob: I can tell you stories, Max. Trust me. 


      Max: Okay. We'll get there. They're bobs. But the point is, yeah, the baby step is  more validated content through third parties. And of course rather than making it awkward for you as an employer to ask for my urine sample, if you need to have access to it, why would I refuse it.


      I mean, I suppose some people would, by the way, if anybody feels they've got something to add to my company at Talkpush, but they don't want to take a urine test. They're welcome to join Talkpush, we don't check for that.


      Bob: What about background checks, Max? Do you do them?


      Max: We do not.


      But I'm not so proud of that. I suppose background checks do have a place even for a tech startup. 


      Bob: Yeah.  you have to go with what, how you feel, what's right for your company. 


      Max: I mean in our case, it's you know, we try to mimic what you just described, where it's a transactional approach to 40 hours a week and just , build trust on that and on outputs rather than background. But yeah. You seem like, I do think that there's some pushback. I mean, it is the world's plugging into not red state blue state, but you know, privacy, non privacy maniacs whereas some people will just, even though they have nothing to hide, they just refuse on principle to take part in some of these investigations?


      Bob: We don't see a lot of people who refuse to take part in investigations, but in the States we see a lot of legislation that is being pushed forward to do things like delete somebody's criminal record, once they're done and to  reduce access for an employer.


      But look if you've applied for a job, you probably need the job, and there's a compelling reason for you to comply with what the new employer is going to say. But you know, background checks to me, background checks should be part of the discussion, not a speed bump to recruiting. not something where you say, stop, I need to go dig into your background.


      And then you come back after we've spent all that time getting to know each other. Now I come back and say, oh, sorry that you know, this probably isn't going to be a fit because of this or that. It should be at the beginning of the process. You know, you wouldn't, interview me if I didn't put in an application.

      Right. If I just, if I walked up and said, hey, I'd like here, CFO job. You're like, all right, can I see something like, ah, no. No, we'll talk about it later. Let's why don't you waste your time and interview me? And then later I'll tell you about my experience, once we get into it. 


      Max: So , you're an advocate of putting as much of that at the front of the funnel.


      Bob: I think somebody, yeah I think it's my background. I think it's my background check. I own it. And  I should share it with who I want when I want it to do it. And by the way, that's probably going to save you. It's going to save businesses about 9 billion a year in background checks, and it's going to speed up hiring.


      Max: That's the size of the industry.


      Bob: Yeah, roughly it goes back and forth. No one knows for sure. 


      Max: Yeah, it's big. We know it's big. It's probably bigger than the recruitment software industry.


      Bob: And that's big too though, but yeah, in a different way. Yeah. A different SaaS model. 


      Max: Yeah. Great. Well let's go into the horror stories.


      Bob: What do you want to know that I can talk about. 


      Max: Well, we don't have to give names, but I, what do I want to know? I don't know what I want to know.  What's gonna keep me up at night?


      No, normally I ask the guests on the show to talk about a hiring mistake that they made. And it has nothing to, I mean, the stuff that's come out has generally not been tied back to background checking, but rather with, I mean, indirectly with, I didn't really check their qualification or I picked a friend instead of picking somebody who is right for the job, things like that. And well, I'm sure as you’re a decade, plus, as an entrepreneur, you've made hiring mistakes too.


      Bob: I have, I've definitely made hiring mistakes. My biggest hiring mistakes have been salespeople that have sold me that they can sell and they can't. What happened? You sold me. I'm like, yeah, you are easy. If I go, well, I can, you at least call Max wants and see if he wants to do business?

      I've heard he doesn't do background checks. 


      Max: That's universal.  We've all made those hiring mistakes. 

      Bob: What I see from my clients is first of all, 99% of the people in the world are great people, you know, and their background and a background check mistake they've made in the past,  really has nothing to do with who they are now or who they're going to be.


      But there also are the career criminals and the really, really, really bad people. If you do a Google search right now, you'll see a Florida babysitter that was on several nanny websites, who was a child molester and was a teacher, another one that was a teacher for two year olds. And I think maybe five-year-olds.


      These are people that are predators, that have to go to a place that doesn't do a background check. The end. You can't, if you are a predator and in this case, a sexual predator, you can't have access to children for a place that does a background check. 


      If you are a career criminal from embezzlement, you can't get access to cash, unless it's a place that doesn't do background checks.


      If you are a prescription drug stealer, we see this actually a lot. They'll find a place where they have access to elderly for home care purposes, and that they will do horrible things to elderly people besides stealing their prescriptions or part of their prescriptions.

      Max: Of course, all of this makes sense, but there's also a sense of futility about it because you know that 80- 90% of crimes and theft and you know, misdemeanors and all those actions committed are unrecorded. And that there's no trace left behind. 


      Bob: Correct. Right. Yeah.


      Max: I mean, that's my estimate.


      Bob: Great. Thanks Max, now I'm depressed.


      No, you know, but for business reasons, there's also that if you don't do it, you're going to have tremendous lawsuits when something bad does happen that you could have prevened. Yeah. So there's not only that, you know, a lot of business, people don't necessarily care if they sleep good at night, they don't care.


      It's what's the bottom line and you can save a lot of money if you don't do background checks, or if you do cheap background checks, but the litigation that can come and the damage to your reputation and your company's reputation can be significant. 


      Max: Well, of course, 9 billion in revenue didn't come out of nowhere. Obviously people can see the ROI. 


      Bob: Yeah, and it's also can be used as a preventative. So, like I said, the bad people move on and you know, you can sleep a little better at night. 


      Max: Okay. So. It doesn't make you a bad person to use these background checks.  It just makes sure that you don't end up with the leftovers, the people who self-select out of those companies, that'll be more vigilant.


      So look at what your peers do and at least try to align, unless you have made a conscious decision to attract a certain breed of  dangerous characters. Is the message from Bob. And where can people get a hold of you and connect with the Well, you can find me on LinkedIn or my profile is accurate.


      And it's Bob,  M A T H E R. Or you can get a hold of me at any of my companies, pre or my So you can also find me on Twitter at @BobMather. 


      Max: And then me as an individual I can create my background check 

      Bob: Yeah. 


      Max: Oh, great. So I can decide how much I want to share and decide my medical history or this history or that's and the other.


      Bob: Yeah, well we don't delve into medical history, but we do into you know, the background check, the verification part.


      Have you ever applied for a job that you had a background check done? 


      Max: I don't know. 


      Bob: It's an unnerving process. I'm telling you. It's unnerving.  It's weird. It's like this secret investigation and people sit there and go, what are they going to find? Are they going to call my mom?


      Like, what if they call my mom? Oh my God. My mom knows stuff that I did, like calm down. Because we deal with applicants who call us and they're like, what are you? You know, I did this in high school. You 15 years ago, like, no, we're not going to report anything like that.


      Yeah, it's a scary process for applicants. 


      Max: So with my background check is it possible for an employer to direct, a candidate to my background check and say, just share with us what you're comfortable with sharing with us. We'll take care of the rest. 


      Bob: Yeah, it is.


      Max:  It's more of an opt-in process


      Bob: Depending on what country you're in. What state you're in in the States, what jurisdiction, if it's legal or not. To require that as an applicant, but basically yes. And that's my end goal. My end goal in five or six years, as the majority of people will want to know what's in their background check and really want to make sure it's accurate, you know, to make sure that somebody didn't put the wrong criminal record when my identity was stolen three years ago.


      What if someone did a crime with that name? You know, we find people, we have helped people all the time that have arrest records. That they said that's not me. 

      Max: That it takes forever to get that wiped off. Right. 


      Bob: You can't, it's almost impossible because there is a criminal record with your name, your date of birth, your driver's license. They stole your identity. You stopped your credit cards. That was smart. Good job. But then they walked around with a whole new identity and can do almost what they want. It's crazy. 


      Max: Well, if that doesn't keep you up at night.


      All right. Thanks a lot, Bob. Thanks for scaring the bejesus out of us. 

      No, thank you for setting up a nice direction for the industry where people  can have control  over their identity and all the best to


      Bob: Thanks Max. It's great meeting you and I hope to meet many of your listeners.


      Max: That was Bob Mather from Pre-Employ, reminding us that a background screening is not strictly about who you want to employ proactively, but it’s also a way to define who you are as an employer with regards to your competitive landscape. If every one of your competitors is screening for a particular type of criminal record, but you're aren't, you’re most likely to end up with a talent pool filled with criminals. So look at your competitors and calibrate yourself accordingly. Hope you enjoyed the conversation with Bob and that you'll be back for more. Remember to subscribe to the Recruitment Hackers podcast.

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