It’s a brave new world in the realm of hiring. Just like everything else, Human Relations has become computerized, digitalized, and ultimately, impersonalized.
Don’t get me wrong: instant access to information via the Internet, and computer records in general, is a wonderful thing. Not only are we able to find facts about a prospect that were never available before without a time-consuming hassle, the information available is tremendous. Criminal records, employment records, school records, health records, military records, financial records—they’re all out there to review, so long as we have the prospective employee’s permission and no laws are violated.
Yet all the records I just listed are two-dimensional, and if you’ve read this blog in the past, you know how leery I am of two-dimensional facts. Which is why it’s highly recommended that any background investigation include a thorough and legal interview of an employee’s references. And that it be done by experts who know how, like Hire Authority (www.hireauth.com; 508-230-5901).
That’s not to say records don’t tell a story; they do, and in a big way. It’s just that two-dimensional facts only tell the surface story. By way of example, let’s say you’re looking at a promising prospect for a position that involves access to client financial accounts. Your company has always required a solid credit history for such employees, so you have your background investigation firm pull a credit report. It turns out the prospect has a low credit score. Maybe you don’t go any further, but maybe you do, only to discover that her credit was always terrific until a recent episode of identity theft, which hasn’t been resolved quite yet.
The reverse is also true. Your prospect looks fantastic on paper, and she’s even furnished some letters of reference that glow with praise. You’re about to green-light her, but think better of it and send those letters along with her list of references over to your background investigation firm. They pick up the phone, or maybe even visit the references in person, and interview them thoroughly. After asking all the right questions, it turns out that one of those glowing letters came from the prospect’s cousin, who worked for the same company, but knows nothing about her duties and how well she did. Another reference tells you that she was a hard worker (just as it said in the letter), but that her job description wasn’t what she claimed (that was neglected in the letter). In other words, a few well-put questions can make all the difference.
So what information should a reference check be aimed at? Start with dates of employment, job title, pay rate and duties. These are standard, and they’ll never get beyond two-dimensional no matter how hard you try. It’s the other questions you should be asking that are trickier, questions like attendance, work habits and ability to get along with co-employees. Personality traits are never easy to talk about, whether you’re the investigator or former employer, but they’re necessary. And they can produce some vital information when asked in the right manner and context.
That’s where a hired expert in background investigations is so important. It’s not unusual for a former employer, or even a former co-worker, to balk at giving out more than the bare minimum two-dimensional stuff. Their attorney and their insurer have cautioned them that they can expose themselves to legal action if they give out an opinion or an errant piece of information that nixes the prospect’s hire. A professional investigator knows how to break down barriers, by reminding the reference that the employee wants him to talk about her—otherwise, she wouldn’t have listed him—and that as long as the reference gives information they honestly believe is true, they won’t get in any trouble.
Aside from being experienced in interviewing references productively, an expert will do one more thing to protect your HR department: document. A top-notch background investigation firm like Hire Authority (www.hireauth.com; 508-230-5901) knows how to document everything that is said, and verify not only that the reference actually said it, but meant to say it. This way, a decision based in part on what the prospect’s references said will stand up if she ever decides she’s been treated unfairly or illegally.
So in conclusion, always flesh out the paper facts whenever you can, including references. And do it with confidence by partnering up with a reputable, experienced background investigation firm like Hire Authority.
The foregoing should not be construed as legal advice. Employers should always consult their own legal counsel for advice on labor and employment matters.
Author: Michael Cormier