Improving the Candidate Experience with Centralized Employment Screening

The practice of verifying candidate information during hiring emerged in the 1990s with the dawn of the digital age and has since expanded rapidly in response to significant global events such as GDPR and COVID-19. While countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom have historically led these practices, the varied cultural makeup of Europe has made the region slower to adopt pre-employment checks for criminal history, educational verification, or online activity. Even as more regulated industries began to carry out screenings in Europe, the separation between data providers for various checks made it a relatively slow process for employers and a disjointed experience for their candidates.

With a background in staffing and hiring, Harm Voogt set out to pioneer this emerging category – and improve upon it – by founding Validata in 2009. “Harm thought there should be a much better solution for checking things like education or work experience. At that time a lot of companies did it by hand manually, and there was a huge opportunity to automate,” said Validata COO and CTO, Bart Bijkerk.

The Amsterdam-based startup was looking for a resource-efficient way to get into market quickly, while being open and flexible to the many data providers they would inevitably need to integrate with. Validata chose to leverage low-code development to build their core software offering, which today enables over 1,300 organizations offer a seamless employment screening process.

Defining an Emerging Category with Emerging Technology

In 2009, Validata quickly began investigating how to bring their software to market with Bart Bijkerk taking the lead. His recruitment industry experience focused heavily on IT, and he also had close proximity to IT projects as a business collaborator throughout his career.

“Previously I was working for a company where we needed a new software system so we enlisted a partner to help us. We started with a good foundation – sharing all the functional designs and set up – and they went off and started working in a more traditional waterfall way. They came back after a year with something that was not what we had put on paper,” he recalled.

This all-too-common experience prompted Bijkerk to look at both traditional and new development methods to create Validata’s core software offering. “I was open to looking at options for open-source or low-code. Low-code was a very new thing in the software development market at the time,” said Bijkerk. “But this new company in Rotterdam, Mendix, told us that they could build something for us in two to three months, and the more traditional software development companies quoted us at six to twelve months, so we decided to give low-code a try and see if we could make it happen.”

The speed to market and collaborative nature of low-code ultimately made Mendix the right foundation for Validata, and both organizations had a unique opportunity to grow up together. As Mendix evolved from building applications to an enterprise software development platform, Validata iterated on their core software offering and landed their first major client in 2010 – a large financial services institution – reinforcing the criticality of what they’d set out to do.

After an initial rebuild of their original Mendix application, Validata continued using the same solution for another three years. “In 2014 we decided that we had gathered enough new knowledge about the market and the development to rebuild again, and that was the first time we gave our software system a name – it was called Core Next Gen. We built it with Finaps, a Mendix partner, and for the first time we also brought in some in-house developers on our side,” said Bijkerk. “There were a lot of new possibilities with that system when compared to the first two.”

“In 2018 we were thinking about how the next couple of years were going to look – what did we want to do, and how did we want to grow,” he continued. Bijkerk and the team remained true to their core mission to speed the turnaround time for screenings even further, and in 2019 began working on their current flagship solution – Valluga.

Emphasizing Collaboration Drives Innovation

Based on Bijkerk’s own experiences around collaborative software development, the Validata team was committed to keeping their IT group, business stakeholders, and end-users connected as they developed Valluga.

“We’re always looking for process optimization and to deliver the best candidate and client experience,” said Bijkerk. “For us, it’s really important to have all of the stakeholders close to us within the software development process, because their feedback is critical to take the application and our services to the next level. We have several processes which enable us to get feedback fast, and if it’s relevant, prioritize it for development within Valluga.”

Dennis Bemer has been a Mendix Developer at Validata since 2022, having worked with the low-code platform for several years prior developing solutions like an e-bike comparison tool to an automotive insurance management platform.

“I started my career as an end-user which helped me to understand the challenges of my business colleagues. After working on many projects, I decided to become an IT consultant,” said Bemer. “I had a feeling I could do more as a developer so I took some courses on Oracle SQL, but early on I saw some limitations there. I also learned about APEX for a few years and was brought to a workshop to see the differences between APEX and Mendix. I was very interested, and when an opportunity presented itself to become a Mendix developer, I took it.”

For Bemer, getting as close as possible to the application end-users – whether that be Validata’s customers, their candidates, or Validata’s own support team – is critical for short-term improvements, as well as building for the future.

“When we start a project or a feature I always talk with the stakeholders or the person who created the user story because I want to avoid making any assumptions. I will ask them about any problems or challenges they see in the application, but also I want to talk to them about what the application should look like two years from now,” he said. “I want to get them to dream about the perfect application, and then we can create the best user stories to help them achieve that. That’s really my passion – to help my colleagues, and make it a fun experience to use the application.”

The foundation of Mendix development is built for collaboration, as participants can go from user stories to solution feedback all in one place.

Lisanne Vermeulen started working at Validata in 2018 directly supporting customers during the sales process, and now works as an Implementation Specialist to provide seamless onboarding for new customers. “We have a support team who is the first line of contact for our candidates and our clients,” said Vermeulen. “The support team has access to the Sprintr feedback tool in Mendix, so they can submit anything that needs to be fixed quickly and the development team can pick it up the same day.”

“We also allow our sales team to do this and incorporate feedback that they might hear during quarterly evaluations with clients, and the development team can prioritize this based on whether it is relevant for all of our users and how long it might take to complete,” she added.

The feedback loop continues into the development of those features, as the development team can share working prototypes quickly and ensure that they’re meeting the user’s expectations before they reach production. “My job changed a lot when I started with Mendix because it gave me the opportunity to listen to the users and then provide them with a sample or prototype of the functionality they want,” said Bemer. “With Mendix I have the tools not just to talk, but to show them how great an application is.”

Streamlined Screening for Candidates and Employers

“Historically [screening] is a shattered and slow process,” said Vermeulen. “The hiring manager is calling references, HR is doing other things, compliance is going in to check registers for sanction lists. There are a lot of people involved, and those groups work on their own timetables, so when these processes aren’t all in one place it can take a while to complete one candidate’s screening.”

To mitigate this, Validata brings together a range of pre-employment checks such as ID verification, education, work experience, social media presence, or criminal history, in the Valluga application. Development of Valluga started in August of 2019 and was completed one year later. The new solution is used by over 3,000 client users today and incorporates several high-value improvements around accessibility and automation.

Improving User Accessibility

“From a candidate perspective, what we heard the most was the wish for a mobile-first application,” said Vermeulen. “Then also an improved candidate experience, as Core Next Gen required completion of all the individual checks before they could start being processed. In terms of time, it could delay the process because the candidate was still waiting on approval from a reference for instance.”

Valluga offers a native mobile experience for employers and candidates, with new views into the status of screening and fewer dependencies throughout the process.

Increasing Automation through Integration

Validata leverages several out-of-the-box and custom integrations to speed processes in Valluga, including multi-factor authentication, digital document signatures, and integrated email templates.

In 2021, Validata also delivered a second application, the Connector App, which standardizes a connection between Valluga and HR systems of record such as Workday, Greenhouse, or AFAS. “It’s important to integrate with an applicant tracking system or HR system, and this was something our clients had an increasing demand for,” said Bijkerk. “From a security point of view, it was more interesting for us to set up a Connector App which can then be connected to Valluga. Now that connection can be made more easily rather than being a custom implementation for every customer.”

The Validata support team is another key user group within Valluga that Bemer looks to empower with new features and functionality.  “In Valluga we have a lot of integrations to help finish tasks faster. For example, we have a criminal background check which historically would be done with some manual cross-checks by support,” said Bemer. “Now, with an API integration, the app will automatically receive and check that data so that support doesn’t have to manually open things.”

Configurable to Customer Needs

Screening is often the first touch for a person with their new employer, so making the experience feel native to the company is of high importance.

“As our screening process is basically part of the onboarding process some of our clients want the application to have their branding. They can choose to have their own look and feel and we can customize it to match that,” said Vermeulen. “They might also want the email communication from the application to the candidates to be in their tone of voice or use their terminology.”

Employers can also include custom integrity statements to ensure that the candidates are aligned with the company’s values and culture in these early stages. 

An End-to-End Experience

Today, the process of using Valluga is centralized and streamlined for each user group. Employers start by submitting their candidate’s name, email, and phone number, and the candidate is invited by email to activate their account and log in.

The candidate can start their screening right away and input the necessary information for each check, which is then automatically routed by Valluga to the various systems and partners who house that check data. During the process, employers can check the status of the screening at any time in the application. Once the screening is complete, a PDF report is automatically generated and sent to the employer and candidate.

On their user’s reaction to the new application, Vermeulen said, “They noticed it was faster to get their screening specifications and easier to check the status of them. Hearing that was quite nice, and we’ve heard the same from our candidates who can leave feedback after they complete a screening. In terms of turnaround time, it was just a lot quicker and the quality of the screenings went up as well because of the efficiency we created.”

Constant Iteration and Business Expansion

Validata supports organizations ranging from 10 to 10,000 people, with some employers conducting up to 4,000 screenings each year. This introduces a wide range of industry, regulatory, and user needs which the team feels well-equipped to meet as they continue growing.

With an organizational culture focused on working together and the right technology partner in Mendix, Validata has been successful in responding quickly to new user demands and closing the collaboration gap between business and IT.

“There are several features that we are developing at the moment which will help make the customer journey quicker and easier,” said Bemer. “We’re introducing single sign-on or active directory, and that will make it easier for people to log in to the application. We’re also working on new integrations which will further reduce manual work related to any checks.”

“I also see a high potential for integrating with WhatsApp Business,” added Bijkerk. “I think in the future more candidates will submit information through WhatsApp, so we are looking into the possibilities to see how we can use WhatsApp to gather inputs from the candidate more easily.”

For Validata, having a development platform that keeps up with their own ambitions is a requirement for continuous innovation. “Mendix has been useful for the last 12 years, and they will continue to be for the coming years, because Mendix is rapidly developing their own platform, too. Every time they bring something new to production it provides us with a lot of new possibilities,” said Bijkerk.

For Bijkerk, the organization’s continued growth and innovation is just as much driven by technology as it is by people. “For Validata, it’s really important to make sure we use all the technology available in the market which allows us to have the best employment screening process,” he said. 

“Our ambition is to become a European market leader with a strong focus on the northwest of Europe,” said Bijkerk, “And to make that happen, it’s important for us to listen to clients every day, every week, every month, every year because they are our best feedback provider, next to all the candidates who are submitting their screening.”