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As I will be 61 in a few months, though I haven’t completely eliminated it and put it into the “deal killer” category just yet, more and more the thought of traveling to Timbuktu or some other God forsaken locale, living in a small efficiency apartment, and commuting, via air, back and forth on weekends has become less and less attractive to me.  I’ve done this for years, and though I’m compensated quite well, and though to some this kind of arrangement might sound super cool, believe me when I tell you that it gets quite old.  Now, I live in the Clear Lake area of the Houston, Texas metroplex, a mile or so from the Johnson “Houston, we have a problem” Space Center…25 miles or so from Galveston…30 or so from downtown Houston…and just a couple of miles from Kemah, Clear Lake, and the bay.  I’ve lived all over the United States and traveled overseas to more than a few foreign countries, and Houston is one of my least favorite spots on the planet.  Where I live is a real nice area, but if I lived even ten miles closer to Houston proper, I wouldn’t be able to stand it.  The only upside is that it is Houston, and in many respects, Houston, in one way or the other, is the center of the industries that my career has been based on.  So, only needing a few more years before my husband and I retire and not absolutely crazy about continuing to travel, as of late, I’ve decided to look more into working here in Houston than in going away.  Though even as I type that last sentence, the thought of commuting to downtown or the west side makes me a tad nauseous just thinking about it.  Aside from LA and maybe Atlanta, Houston has the worst traffic I’ve ever seen.

 

Anyway, every time I take a contract, sooner or later, I have to sign a release form that allows the company I’m working for to check my background.  I have yet to fail a background check.  The investigations I’ve been subjected to were generally limited to a credit check and any criminal background I might have; on occasion, they might check up on my educational creds, and always my references.  Aside from the background check, since at least the late 1980s, you can throw in a drug screen as well.  Each background check I’ve been subjected to was at the behest of the firm that was hiring me, and successfully “passing” it has always absolutely been a condition of employment.     

Some of the company’s that I’ve worked for are truly heavy weights in their field.  For example, I’ve worked for three of the six supermajor petrochemical company’s, I’ve worked for two of the top five process engineering firms in the world, and the largest industrial gas company in North and South America…just to name a few.  The list of prime EPC contractors I’ve worked for would include three of the top five in the United States, and one in the top five, world-wide.  Each of these company’s had a very comprehensive vetting process…I passed all of their investigations…every time.

Last Thursday morning, I was contacted by a recruiter about any interest I might have for a position that was actually ideal for me; we talked for quite a while.  The firm the recruiter was working with, and of whom I would work for, was located on the South side of Houston, roughly a 30 minute commute, and the company, though not a major player, was very well known to me, having a reputation for “doing things right.”  The salary, at [DELETED 06-08-11], was a bit low, at least for me, but had an attached 18% performance bonus.  So, coupled with being local, being home each night, Texas having no State income tax, and not having to travel, I was quite interested…and told the recruiter so.  They indicated they would be sending additional information, via e-mail, for me to read it.  There would be a questionnaire to fill out; I should do so, and return it ASAP.  They would then get the ball rolling. 

So far, so good…this is pretty much the standard process I go through every time I go to work.  So, almost immediately, I get a short e-mail.  It said:

Hi Susan –

Please complete this questionnaire as I will need to submit it to my client with your resume for review.

The questionnaire was composed of 14 questions.  Again, pretty standard…questions such as experience doing this, experience doing that, what software I know, will I travel, will I relocate, recent salary history, etc…nothing out of the ordinary.  I read them, and decided to wait until the weekend to respond, knowing full well nothing was going to happen until the following Monday anyhow…just the way it is.

Then, later in the day, mid afternoon, I receive another e-mail from the recruiter.  It was almost identical to the first, except it said this, emphasis mine:

Hi, Susan – 

I will be able to present your resume to my client after the criminal background check is completed. Please complete this questionnaire as I will need to submit it to my client with your resume for review.

Well, this kinda sorta got my attention, but only a little bit.  This was the first time, in 35 years that a recruiter had informed me that I would not even be presented to the firm they were working with until after I had passed a, in their words, “…criminal background check…”  There was an MS Word attachment, but I didn’t even bother to open it…the decision was to complete all of this and send it back bright and early Monday morning…yesterday.

Now, I’m one of those weird people who actually reads the fine print…it’s saved my butt more than once by taking the time to do that.  So, yesterday morning, I pulled up the second e-mail and opened the attachment.  At first glance I saw that the release was fairly short, but then I actually read it.  Most of it was, again, pretty standard, but then I came to this:

I hereby authorize (the name of the recruiting firm) and its designated agents and representatives to conduct a comprehensive public records/research report to be generated for employment purposes. I understand that the scope of the public records/research report may include, but is not limited to, the following areas:

Verification of social security number; current and previous residences; employment history including all personnel files; education – including transcripts and degree verifications; references – business and/or personal; credit history and reports; criminal history records from any criminal justice agency in any or all federal, state, county jurisdictions; birth records; motor vehicle records to include traffic citations and registration; and any other public records or to conduct interviews with third parties relative to my character, general reputation, personal characteristics or mode of living.

I further authorize any individual, school/university, company, firm, corporation, or public agency (including the Social Security Administration and law enforcement agencies) to divulge any and all information, verbal or written, pertaining to me to (the name of the recruiting firm) or its agents.

I further authorize the complete release of any records or data pertaining to me which the individual, school/ university, company, firm, corporation, or public agency may have, to include information or data received from other sources.

Perhaps some of you have been presented with such a document before, but I had not.  Perhaps some of you do not see the huge invasion of privacy that this document presents, should I have signed it.  This document would have essentially given both the staffing firm, and any of their agents, the right to tear into every aspect of my life…and that was unacceptable.  Though I don’t like it, I can live with a credit check, criminal background check, reference check, drug screen, and education and Social Security number verification; that is generally all the releases are pointed at…but much of the information this release was requesting was simply, as far as I was concerned, none of this recruiter’s damn business, nor the firm they were representing.  America is not George Orwellian yet…I don’t think.

I’m an old liberal hippy.  I balked for years at taking a drug test when the Reagan administration pushed every company in America to perform one on their employees in the 1980s.  And, it was only when virtually every company in America, or at least the ones who I would have been interested in working for, finally did require a drug screen that I finally started submitting to them.  The same went for the criminal background and credit checks…it was either submit to them, or not work.  So, regardless of how much I might not like it, there really was no choice.

But, this release form was simply too much.  I live as stealth as I possibly can, but am under no illusions that if someone was diligent enough, one’s past can be uncovered if enough effort is put into it.  The truth is, I don’t believe that hardly any company is going to spend the time taking that much effort to find out just who the hell the person they are hiring really is.  But, one never knows.

[DELETED 06-08-11]

Nonetheless, I was not about to sign the release form allowing this recruiting firm to have the ability, in the event that some recruiting firm or company did decide to actually take the time and effort…to dissect my life.  There is no doubt that one day, there will be a single database that will have every single bit of information about every single person on the entire planet; I’m not a futurist, but one day that is just how it will be.  I know that some, maybe even many, will disagree but we are nowhere near that right now…close in some respects, but very, very far in others.  It’s still just not that difficult to bury one’s past pretty deep if one just has the patience, time, and intellect to do so.  Not so deep, however, that should someone have enough time, enough money, and enough motivation to do so, that they might not be able to dig it up if given the resources…almost no one has that inclination.  Either way, I, for one, am not going to give anyone any more information about myself that I absolutely have to, and am certainly not going to sign over every right I might have that will allow them to try to obtain it…before they will even talk to me.

Yesterday, I replied to the recruiter, with no explanation whatsoever, that, after reflecting further upon our discussion last Thursday, I was no longer interested in the position. 

And, that was that.

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