I have had a varied career. I’ve been an editor in technical publishing, a PR rep, have written marketing copy. I’ve worked directly with authors and inside staff. I’ve spent years as a full-time employee and have turned to staffing firms a few times when jobs were tight.

Lofty Expectations

Last year, I applied through a staffing firm for a copy editing position at a Fortune 500 financial firm. It was a great location and I was excited at the possibility for a new experience. My interviews went well and I felt pretty good that I’d get the position, even if it was a limited duration.

Then came time for the background check, and I was dismayed at what I was being asked to provide for this short-term copy editing gig. The most complicated and baffling request was for 10 years’ worth of tax returns. Ten years? Who keeps such documentation for that long? Most people I know toss their forms once they reach the IRS audit threshold.

The next request wasn’t such a big deal, but they still sent me scrambling. I was required to submit to a drug screen. That request was problematic because I had to go to a specific lab that was not at all convenient to get to, and had to do so in a very short period of time. I understand the need to speed on those types of tests, but I still had to make a mad dash and jump through hoops to get there in time.

As for the tax returns, I never was able to come up with them for all 10 years, but after much stress, I was able to work with the recruiter to get that requirement reduced.

Happily, I got the assignment. But when I spoke with the other editorial staff, it turned out none of them was required to do any of what I had to do. No drug tests, no long history of finances. Why the sudden difference, I wondered. Perhaps the company simply revised its requirements and that was the new way forward for candidates for these roles.

Mixed Signals

No, that wasn’t it at all. Come to find out, both my recruiter and the client company’s staff handling my job requisition were new to this client. The client company staffer wasn’t familiar with the department in question, so applied the broadest expectation. Newly assigned to this client, the recruiter also didn’t realize there would be different requirements for different roles, so there were no raised eyebrows. I don’t blame them — I got the job, after all — and I’m sure they have learned by now that not all positions should be subject to the more strenuous screening.

But there’s something here for others to learn from as well. Presumably, the client pays in the end for the background screens you put temps through. If not, your staffing firm certainly does. Either way, don’t you want to make sure you’re requiring — and paying for — the appropriate level of testing for a given job? A driver’s finances wouldn’t matter as much as a tax accountant’s, for example, but a drug and alcohol screen is surely warranted for that driver.

So work with your recruiters to ensure they have some level of understanding of what may or may not be appropriate and worth the cost. And work with your clients to ensure they are open to any such questions.

Unfortunately, the client lost funding for my position and I am no longer there. That’s too bad, because I was really enjoying the work. But I am hopeful I’ll find another position soon.