Magazine

Seven Steps to Better Hiring

The Interview and Background Checks

By James W. Bassett

The best way to handle employee theft problems, says James W. Bassett, is to identify dishonest job applicants before they are hired. In a two-part article, he outlines a seven-step approach to how thorough applicant screening prevents personnel headaches and increases profits. - Editor

A thorough employment application and a comprehensive "honesty test" (see Part 1, Steps 1-3 in January PT) will wash out many undesirable applicants without any significant investment of your time. Now, it's time to interview those who remain.

Step 4: Interview the Applicant
Begin the interview by briefly introducing yourself and your company. Candidly point out the negatives as well as the positives of the job he is seeking. Ask if he is still interested after hearing the negatives. If you don't, he is liable to quit soon after he starts.
The applicant's previous job history is extremely important. Talk about each of his jobs in the past five years. Insist on specific explanations for leaving; "quit", "found a better job", "moved" and "too far to drive" are too vague. If his application reveals gaps between jobs of a month or more, ask him what he was doing.
Try this approach: Have his completed application in hand. Ask about his previous jobs in reverse order, beginning with the most recent. Question him as if he had written nothing in the work history section.
Interviewer: "Please tell me about your most recent job."
Tim: "Well, I didn't list it. I worked there only three weeks."
Interviewer: "Where?"
Tim: "Always Open Parking."
Interviewer: "Why did you leave?"
Tim: "They said I was coming to work late."
Interviewer: "How often were you coming to work late?"
Tim: "Only about once or twice a week."
Interviewer: "Before Always Open, where did you work?"
Tim: "The one I put on my application."
Interviewer:"Which one was that?"
Tim: "Uh, Sir Parks-A-Lot, I think."
Interviewer: "When did you work there?"
Tim: "Same dates I put on there."
Interviewer: "And those dates were ...?"
Tim: "I can't remember right now exact dates!"
Interviewer: "You filled out this application 10 minutes ago."
Tim: "I don't recall! You're trying to intimidate me!! If you don't want to hire me, just say so."
Interviewer: "Tim, I'm just asking you about where you worked. No need to get upset."
Tim: "I'm not getting upset!!! I know when someone's messing me over!"
Interviewer: "OK, Tim. Give me a chance to check your references. Thanks for coming in today."
Tim could benefit from Honest Abe's advice, namely: "Tell the truth, and you won't have to remember so much." The interviewer politely ended the interview, realizing that Tim was a job-hopper who couldn't keep his many jobs straight.

Step 5: Conduct a Do-It-Yourself Credit Check
With the applicant's consent, conduct an Internet search under "free credit report." Print two copies of the applicant's credit report - one for him and one for you. Comparing his starting pay with his debts and reasonable living expenses will tell whether he can afford to work for you. Employees whose obligations always exceed their income have a perpetual shortfall to make up. Some will try to cover that by stealing your money.

Step 6: Two Easy Ways to Conduct Criminal Record Checks
Tell the applicant that he can expedite the hiring process if he will stop by the nearest police station and obtain a copy of his criminal record and driving record, if needed. Offer to reimburse him for the costs when he brings them back to you. Few applicants who have criminal convictions will return. They will seek employment elsewhere instead.
Some states have put their criminal and driving records online. Applicants' criminal records can be accessed free, in minutes. If you have free access to applicants' criminal and driving records, move this up to Step 2, just after the applicant completes his employment application. (See Part 1, Steps 1-3: Job Applications and "Honesty Tests.")
Note, however, that experts say such checks fail to identify at least 30 percent of applicants with criminal records. But such checks can reveal the scofflaw. That's defined as someone who ignores or disregards the law. Scofflaws are poor risks for productive long-term employment. If they haven't followed society's rules, they are a poor risk to follow yours.
By law, employers can be found liable if they failed to make "reasonable attempts" to check the backgrounds of employees who later injure customers or co-workers during work hours. This is called "performing due diligence." Failure to do this invites a lawsuit for "negligent hiring." If the injured party wins in court, it could cost you a bundle.
Contrary to popular belief, criminal record checks alone will not insulate your company from negligent hiring lawsuits. You also must document the other steps in your hiring process. These include interview notes, information from references, test results and credit checks.

Step 7: Reference Checks Are Invaluable
Many companies' personnel offices will provide only minimal information about former employees, such as start and end dates of employment and positions held. If this is all they give you, record this information on a reference check form and file it. This step will prove you made "reasonable attempts" to verify the applicant's work record.
Call the applicant's previous supervisors. They know their former subordinates well. They also feel obligated to help former employees who did a good job for them. So most supervisors can be coaxed into giving a reference. Be patient and listen carefully.
Note that answers on a thorough employment application might provide productive references in sections other than the Personal Reference section. Here are some common questions found on applications that often yield useful references:
"Do you have any friends, relatives or acquaintances who work for our company?" Current employees who know the applicant can be very helpful.
"How did you find us?" or "How did you hear about this job?" If the applicant answers "referral," "former employee," "current employee," or even "employment agency," you get another potential reference source.
And do call the people the applicant names directly as personal references. Some frustrated checkers will tell you that personal references will say nothing but good things about the applicant. Not so! Asking the personal reference the kinds of questions you would ask a work reference can produce interesting results.
Reference Checker: "Mr. Smith, Jane Clipper listed you as a personal reference on her application to work here at ParkNShop. Can I ask you a little about her?"
Mr. Smith: "Sure, she's a good worker. I've known her and her sister Beth since they were babies."
Checker: "I don't have her application in front of me at the moment. Where's she working now?"
Mr. Smith: "Nowhere since they laid her off from that other place."
Checker: "Where was that?"
Mr. Smith: "Gentry Club. She was a dancer."
Checker: "Why'd they lay her off?"
Mr. Smith: "Said she was smoking the natural herb during breaks. But it was on her own time."
Checker: "Is she on probation or parole for anything now?"
Mr. Smith: "No, she finished that last year."
Checker: "What was the charge?"
Mr. Smith: "You'd better ask her that. But she's a good girl. Good worker."
Checker: "Thank you for your time, Mr. Smith."

In Closing
Establish a specific applicant screening procedure, starting with a comprehensive employment application and a pre-employment honesty test, followed by thorough interviewing and reference checking.
Hiring undesirables will cost you money and make your life miserable. Hiring the best will make your life easier and profits greater.

James W. Bassett, President of the Cincinnati-based James W. Bassett Co., is a small-business consultant on hiring and employee theft. He can be contacted at (513) 421-9604 or www.TheftStopper.com.

Article Abstract from March, 2006




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