The Internet and the continuing expansion of digital record keeping are two factors impacting the length of time for background searches on candidates. When financial, criminal, and complaint records were generally paper copies that were kept in filing cabinets; a person’s long-term history generally became inaccessible after a period of time. As technology has become commonplace in record keeping, allowing for quick searches and permanency of records and history, a candidate’s early background becomes a much more important factor to consider.
An illustration of this change might be helpful. For a candidate seeking the superintendency in late 90’s, the candidate would have likely attended college in late 70’s or early 80’s. The public records (news paper articles, courts records, employment records) were most likely paper records that could be accessed but only through a very detailed, knowledgeable, and generally confidential process. For candidates seeking the superintendency today, they would have likely attended college in 90’s or early 00’s. Those same records are probably digital and easily accessible though either secure electronic searches or, in many cases, through public Internet searches.
For a candidate in the late nineties or early 2000’s a record of an unfortunate DUI during college probably would have been inaccessible to the general public, but for a candidate now those types of records during their college years are probably accessible on the Internet.
This level of public access to people’s personal history over the span of their adult lives means that background searches need to consider a much longer period of time and also some additional areas for consideration such as complaint histories in previous positions.
While this is a consideration for boards during searches, it is also a consideration for candidates. A candidate has to approach a job search in today’s environment under the assumption that anything done in the past will become public knowledge in the search process. They must be willing to take this risk and be prepared for the consequences of public disclosure. This trend also raises significant issues moving forward, particularly in regards to mistakes individual have made and learned from. Most of us have done something in the past that we are embarrassed of, have learned from, and have changed our behavior to never repeat that mistake. How willing we are as a society to recognize this learning process and forgive a previous mistake becomes a critical question if that mistake is going to factor into a decision years later about a potential job change.