In today’s episode, we have Rob Jones from Sterling, and we’re busting myths about background screening in Latin America. Rob is the head of LatAm for Sterling, bringing 20 years of experience in the screening industry and expertise in managing programs and working in South America, particularly in Brazil.

Conversation highlights:

  • The myths surrounding background screening in Latin America, such as it being expensive, time-consuming, and unreliable.
  • Importance of understanding the specific requirements and challenges of each country within the region.
  • The potential of Latin America as a talent base, with pockets of excellence in various countries.

The conversation touches on the need for localized expertise and compliance with local laws, as well as the ongoing digitization of records and the potential for candidate-based screening products. While continuous monitoring is gaining traction globally, it is still in its infancy in Latin America.

Listening Time: 21 minutes

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Robert Jones
Head of Latin America Sterling

Rob joined Sterling in January 2023 through Sterling’s acquisition of Socrates Ltd., where Rob was the founder and executive director. Before founding Socrates, which became the biggest independent background screening company in Latin America, he served in CSO and CCO roles for two Fortune 500 multinational organizations. Rob began his career with the British government and served both domestically and internationally in a variety of diplomatic, investigative, and analytical roles. At Sterling, Rob brings his 20+ years of extensive knowledge of the global screening industry and focuses on delivering against a strategy to drive strong growth across Latin America. Rob holds a Bachelor of Science degree with Honors from University College London, has spent significant time living and working overseas, and is now based in Oxford, England.


Busting Myths About Background Screening In Latin America With Rob Jones of Sterling

William Tincup: [00:00:00] This is William Tincup and you are listening to the Recruiting Daily podcast today of Rob on From Sterling. And our topic today is Busting myths about background screening in Latin America. Haven’t talked about this, um, and I’ve traveled all over Central and South America, so this is gonna be a lot of fun.

Rob, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and Sterling?

Rob Jones: Sure. Um, thanks William. Okay, so I’m Rob Jones. I am very recently, [00:01:00] uh, been appointed. The, uh, head of, uh, latam for Sterling previously was, um, the executive director of Socrates Limited, which is a recent acquisition of Sterling. Um, I’ve been effectively working in the screening industry for around about 20 years, um, and have.

Um, quite a lot of experience of both managing programs and living and working in South America, most particularly in Brazil. Oh, nice.

William Tincup: So Socrates Limited. What, what, what was the, I mean, obviously it was acquired. What, what was, uh, what was its

Rob Jones: offering? Yeah. So, um, until the a acquisition, Socrates was proud to be the largest independent screening company in, uh, Latin America.

Three. Oh, cool. Three operations centers, one in Mexico, one in Columbia, and the largest operation center in Rio De Jane, Brazil.

William Tincup: So you could cover [00:02:00] Central America with Mexico, Columbia, with the rest of Spanish speaking Latin America. And in Brazil, uh, the Portuguese.

Rob Jones: If effectively, so yeah, it was That’s fine.

Good. Three regional

William Tincup: offices. Well, and, and what, at least my understanding, this is historic, so you can kind of correct me on this, but the Brazilian market equals. The totality of the rest of, of Central and South America. Well, maybe not Mexico, but South America. So it’s like you, you can have offices in, uh, Argentina or Chile or, or, or wherever, Bolivia or whatever.

But really, if you capture the Brazilian marker, you’ve, you’ve, you’ve captured south, you’ve got, you’ve captured South America. Is that ish? True?

Rob Jones: Yeah. That’s, Fair, fair enough to state that, you know, obviously Brazil by whatever measure you want to, um, applies the, in the top 10 economies in the world. Right.

It’s definitely the largest population center in, uh, south America. [00:03:00] And, um, yeah. So economically it’s. The powerhouse in, in the region along with Mexico. Right. And if you, if you, if you’re successful in Mexico and Brazil, obviously the rest of the country’s while important economically, they, you know, the, the totality of the rest doesn’t add up to right.

Either Mexico or. Brazil.

William Tincup: Yeah. And it’s, it’s, I love Brazil. Uh, obviously, uh, the Brazilian football, but also just the country south. They’re, they’re super warm, super approachable people. It’s just a, it’s fascinating place if, if you haven’t traveled South America, it’s just all of South America found it to be very warm and, and comforting.

Um, however, We are dealing with myths and busting some of those myths. So if, if, and especially in today’s world, um, because of Covid and everything else, um, we’re hiring people from all over the world. We might not have looked at Latin America as a talent base, [00:04:00] maybe because we couldn’t screen or thought we couldn’t screen.

I’ve, I’ve, I’ve had people tell me that before, historically, like especially around creative tech talent or technical talent. Mm-hmm. So, What’s, what’s, what’s been your kind of the, the myths that you’ve kind of, as you’ve built the company and as you’re now forwarding the, the, the stuff for Sterling, what’s been some of the myths that you’ve seen about, you know, all of, of Latin America?

Rob Jones: Yeah, so that’s a great question and we could probably spend a couple of days discussing that. So I think, I mean, there were some general. Principles, which don’t really just apply to Latin America, they apply to international screening generally. Right, right. The first, first off the top of my head, being that, you know, it’s, it’s much more expensive.

It’s much more time consuming. It’s illegal. Um, you can’t rely on the quality [00:05:00] of the data. Mm-hmm. Um, the data requirements are completely different than they are for domestic screening, which, which obviously is to a greater or less extent true. Um, but I think the, the important thing to state is that, you know, we’re, we’re talking about individual nations, right?

So there’s 33 countries in Latin America, 12 in South America, and. You can’t be general. You have to be specific to the requirements that might exist in each of those countries and examine what is and isn’t possible in each of those countries on a country by country basis. Um, screening. The screening market in Latin America is probably 10, maybe even 20 years behind the US screening market, right?

So there are still companies that don’t really understand [00:06:00] what is involved, um, and what is and isn’t possible. And it’s very important, I think, to look at what’s what, what is the purpose? Of the screening and why is it being done? Um, and to look at it in the context of the in-country environment, right?

Um, so I guess it’s not really busting a myth so much as, you know, being, being informed and understanding the. The local market. I mean, obviously the two main countries, as we’ve already discussed, the Brazil and Mexico, but there’s also myriad of others and different challenges and different issues that exist in each of those locations.

William Tincup: You know, that’s the, the, the three things that, uh, you mentioned more, but the three things I’ve gotten feedback on, expensive, time consuming, and the relying on the data I’ve got, I’ve gotten that from multiple people through the years and basically throw their hands up and say, it’s just not worth it.[00:07:00]

And, and you know, maybe historically I could kind of see that, but with a talent, global talent market, it’s like there’s pockets of excellence in all of those countries. Like, there’s just some great, I mean, I’ve, I’ve got, I know some folks that are great creative agencies in Chile and um, and Santiago and in buis areas and Argentina, um, and Columbia.

There’s a creative team, a creative kind, you know, it’s like there’s these pockets everywhere. Not just, I mean just Brazil and Mexico, but all of Central and South America there, there’s these pockets of excellence and talent that, you know, we just need to AA find. So that’s, that’s a sourcing thing. Good.

We find them, once we found them, then, then kind of getting over ourselves and saying it’s worth it to actually screen them. And then I think that, that, that applies then for you, it’s like, okay, what’s possible? And if we find, okay, we found somebody, let’s just do an individual. We found someone [00:08:00] in Rio de Janeiro and we wanna hire them.

They’re a Java developer. Mm-hmm. You know? Mm-hmm. We, we, we found them. We like ’em. We now, you know, we’ve, maybe we’ve interviewed ’em going back and forth there, like ’em and all that stuff. Kind of the matches there. What’s the, what’s the process look like?

Rob Jones: All right, so fir, first of all, I echo your comment.

I mean, it’s not just, there are pockets of talent. There’s, you know, there’s talent everywhere, right? In, right. We. We, uh, we, the region is lucky enough to be broadly speaking in the time zone, same time zone as North America, and there are extremely well qualified individuals, um, who have graduated from prestigious local institutions that have great qualifications and great work experience.

Um, so I mean, I would, I would encourage anyone that’s looking for talent to look to Latin America to fulfill those needs. So to specifically address your [00:09:00] scenario where you have a Java developer living in Rio de Janeiro. Um, so let’s, let’s look at it in a, in a straightforward, uh, context. You obviously want to check that individual’s education and employment qualifications, um, which is entirely possible and entirely acceptable and entirely normal.

You would probably also wish to validate that there are no, um, reasons why that person would not be a suitable fit for your company. And it’s also reasonable, um, with a number of caveats to perform, um, a criminal check on that individual. Uh, perhaps that person is gonna have, uh, access to sensitive.

Financial data of customers or other employees. So you may also wish to consider running, uh, a credit inquiry on that individual [00:10:00] and perhaps not. Not first and foremost, but first and definitely foremost, you would probably wish to validate the identity of the individual before you even started the background screening process, um, in the first instance.

William Tincup: So one of the things that I think I’ve gotten myths wise through the years around all, all of Latin America is it’s, it’s, if you’re going to screen, if you’re gonna go through that process and it’s, it might not be digital. By again, like you said, you know, we’re, it could be a couple years behind in terms of the process, et cetera.

Uh, and maybe the speed isn’t as fast as maybe what you’re accustomed to. So first of all, let’s, let’s, let’s deal with that. What have you found with, you know, both, with all your work, with, with Socrates and your work with Sterling? What do, what do, what do people, what do people talk about when they think about, you know, digital and also speed?

Rob Jones: Right. [00:11:00] So, um, There is no, uh, such thing as the, the work number, for example, right? In Brazil. So the, the thought of performing an instant employment validation or an instant education validation doesn’t, doesn’t exist, right? But, By the same token, uh, employers becoming increasingly sophisticated, increasingly able and willing to provide, um, employment verifications.

Um, although it, it is important to have the facility to contact those employers in local language because, Most people in Brazil don’t speak English. They only speak Portuguese. Right. And the same for, uh, an education verification in Brazil, there’s a new program which actually a government requirement that universities start issuing, uh, digital diplomats, which Cool.

Which can [00:12:00] be validated online. Right, right. And immediately. But of course, you know, that’s not something that’s being applied. Retrospectively, so we have the same conversation in 10 years time, education verification will be a lot more straightforward than it is right now, but for the most part, you know, one is required to contact the educational institution.

Um, and I’d also recommend on that note that. The legitimacy of the education institution is validated at the same time. Um, obviously that’s a, a problem everywhere in the world with, um, diploma mills and so on and so forth, right? Issue for

William Tincup: Brazil. So, so one of the things is you, you mentioned, uh, localization.

Mm-hmm. Uh, so what happens in Bolivia, uh, might be different than Peru, might be different than Argentina, might be different than Columbia, et cetera. So this is also a reason to work with, uh, a company like Sterling that already has a presence, that has a kinda, [00:13:00] an understanding, maybe even boots on the ground that understands how things work.

I know I’m, I’m using countries, but it might even be more specific to the regions, uh, within those countries in terms of how things actually get done. Is that about correct? That’s

Rob Jones: absolutely perfectly stated. The, for example, the, the requirements, the data input requirements to obtain a criminal check in Brazil are completely different than they are in uh Mexico, than they are in Columbia, than they are in Argentina, so on and so forth.

So, There is no one stop shop, one, one ID requirement that would allow you to run a criminal check in each and every one of those countries. And I think to your point, it’s really important to be using a provider. Uh, That understands the local environment, understands what is and [00:14:00] isn’t possible, understands the data requirements.

Cuz the last thing a candidate wants or a prospective employer wants is for a screening company to come back to them five or six times for additional materials. Which is one of the reasons why we have this myth that it takes ages to run these checks in in our countries. Um, and. And also an enterprise, and perhaps this is most important, that’s familiar with, um, the local laws and is compliant not just with those local laws, but also other laws that might apply, um, including, you know, gdpr, if it’s a screener or, uh, the relevant laws that might exist in other countries around the

William Tincup: world.

Have you, have you been asked through the years, have you been asked, been asked, uh, the easiest versus the hardest in terms of, uh, all of Latin America in,

Rob Jones: in terms of which country is the easiest? Yeah. Yeah. Um, well, I think each and every one of them [00:15:00] has their, um, has their advantages and their right negative advantages.

I mean, for example, in Columbia, um, a criminal check is something that is. Is, I won’t say it’s easy to obtain, but by accessing the three main sources of records, um, which were all available online, it’s possible to do a, a, a very comprehensive criminal check quite quickly. Um, and in some other countries, um, for example, uh, Argentina, not so much, right.

And, and in, in Brazil, um, public records are. Public criminal records are public, but to perform a nationwide criminal search and result, you’d need to research literally more than a thousand individual sources because the court records aren’t consolidated.

William Tincup: That’s, uh, fascinating. You know, uh, as [00:16:00] you were mentioning, the, uh, the screening site is there either now or in the future, a product that’s de that’s designed for candidates.

Um, in terms of, you know, they’ve already been screened, you know, like they’ve already got, you know, here’s my criminal background credit, you know, here I’ve already got my little suitcase of screens and I can then apply to jobs and things like that. Is it, am I just, am I just dreaming about something like that?

Well, I think,

Rob Jones: I think there’s a lot of people dreaming about that, not just on a global basis. Right. Um, you know, the, the thought that a, a candidate or an invi an individual either through, you know, blockchain or through another method, could have validated credentials and validated certificates. I think it’s, it’s the future for screening, not just in Latin, but globally, whether or not.

Is at the forefront, or whether it’s a laggard is another, another discussion for another day. The, the, the, the two, [00:17:00] the two problems that that doesn’t solve however, are the problem of. The records that change, right? Right. So it works well for, for education. It works well for previous employment, but it doesn’t work so well for, um, criminal, other types of adverse findings for credit, et cetera, et cetera.

So I still think, I, I think there will always be a need for, um, local expertise, local knowledge, and a, and a screener that has the coverage for the part of the world in which the check is being performed.

William Tincup: One of the things I saw at at HR Tech this last uh, year. With a lot of the folks in, in the kind of the screening industry, it was more of a movement to kind of an, uh, a r r, uh, a recurring product for monitoring, uh, you know, post.

So we’ve talked about. Pre-app apply, or even during the, uh, pre-employment, uh, phase, getting to [00:18:00] know that candidate, et cetera, and understanding risk associated with candidates, et cetera. But I, I’ve seen a movement with, and you’ve probably seen the same movement with screening, uh, companies going further into the organization and putting up products that are, that are more geared towards employees to kind of keep track of, of any of these changes Again, Just kind of managing risk.

Uh, do you see that, uh, first of all, do you see the world kinda the same way? And, and the second part of that is have you, have you been asked about that as it relates to, uh, to Latin America?

Rob Jones: Yeah. So I think on a general basis, absolutely right. You, you, you rightly identify this as about managing risk. And if you.

Wish to manage risk effectively, you have to consider, you know, your employee population or your supply population as something that is not static, right? So it’s all very well having a, a gating requirement. So, you know, you don’t get in unless [00:19:00] you’ve passed the background check. But then there were all sorts of elements that could affect somebody, somebody’s, or a, a company’s suitability to continually provide service.

Um, in the Latin context, I think this is very much in its infant infancy, although the way that some of the tools that Sterling is lucky enough to have its disposal kind of lends itself to continuous monitoring because, you know, if one is to examine tens of thousands of public records once, that’s great, but one can do it.

Periodically, um, perhaps there’s an added value to that process. Um, so I, I do think it’s coming, but, but again, per our previous discussion, I don’t think that Latam is gonna be at the forefront of continuous monitoring in the right, in the, in

William Tincup: the near future. Well, and the more we digitize everything, [00:20:00] uh, Latin America in included, uh, the more we can, the more we can do, uh, things like that.

So, we’ll obviously start now as you, as you talked about degrees and, and, uh, and kind of, we’ll, we’ll start that now, but we’ll retroactively go back and digitize, uh, databases that were, you know, previously, uh, there, and it’ll make it easier. So the future. Is bright. And I think that’s one of the things that, the reason for the podcast today was kind of just to talk about Latin America and as a talent base, as a talent pool, um, uh, for talent.

And you know, again, if you work with a company like Sterling, you, you can make screening work in Latin America. Rob, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been wonderful.

Rob Jones: Thank you, William. I appreciate the time to talk to you today.

William Tincup: Absolutely [00:21:00]

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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