Hiring Mistake 9

No Employment Application, Reference or Background checks

The issues under this mistake go back, like so many others, to the panic that accompanies so many hiring attempts. When you hire in a hurry, you tend to cut corners and feel that anything that slows the process down is going to be detrimental to success.

A moment's thought will make clear that the exact opposite is in fact true, but people don't think that way in the heat of battle. They tend to feel that anything that slows down their hiring decisions will mean that they lose the candidate. People who don't confront their employees about their behaviors also tend to be people who really don't want to check references and find bad news and then have to tell the candidates that they have rejected them because of what people have said about them.

The first issue here revolves around lack of organization and is an easy one to fix. Very few small companies require applicants to fill in an employment application, but there is no reason not to do this and several reasons why it is an important initiative that protects you in the process.

If you require a candidate to complete and sign a job application then you can include some statements on a job application that would be grounds for termination should you find them subsequently to be untrue. Suppose, for instance, that you hire somebody and then find out subsequently that they have been convicted of a crime. If you have a job application on which they have to state whether they have ever been convicted of a crime, then you have immediate grounds to terminate them if it ever comes to light that they lied on the job application.

In the case of references, it never ceases to amaze me that people simply fail to check them. I have heard quite sophisticated business owners say that it is a waste of time because “they're bound to be okay anyway so why bother checking them?”. This raises several interesting points that are worth considering.

Reference checking is a pretty specialized activity, and that has a number of tips and tricks associated with it. Years ago the professional reference checker that I retained unearthed the information that the person I was about to hire had suffered a nervous breakdown because they were unable to handle the pressures of their position in a previous company.

He got this information by asking the people named as reference providers to give him the names of some of the people with whom the candidate worked. He then called those people, who were not the friends that the candidate had chosen to give but people who might have a different opinion or, in this case, more information.
One of the things that is a fundamental of my business belief is that business owners should outsource any activity that is not part of their core ability. This obviously includes something like reference checking which is only done once in a blue moon anyway. There are professionals out there who do this every day and who have become, as a result, very good at what they do. It is not expensive to retain these people, and they will do a far better job than you ever can.

The other, more subtle reason why it is important to outsource the reference check is that they will be more impartial than you ever would be. I remember when I was hiring a direct report and I found somebody I really liked and wanted to work with. I called their references as a matter of form and started to hear some things that could have been negatives. 

Because I had already “fallen in love” with the candidate, I didn't pursue those lines of inquiry and found out much later what I could have discovered up front. This was after hiring the person and becoming dissatisfied with their performance, and if I had gone deeper into the reference checking, I could have saved myself a good deal of time and effort. Had I retained a  professional who had no ax to grind and who went ruthlessly all the way through the process, I would have saved myself the grief of a significant hiring mistake.

The final piece here is background checks. The reasons why people do not do background checks generally tend to be that they don't see the need, don't know how to do it, and don't want to slow down the process. The need is really self-evident. Anybody who works for you represents you and has the ability to do you harm. You really need to know more about these people before you allow them into your culture.

It is easy to set up background checks, and if you have an employment application that clearly states that anything contained in the application that is untrue will be grounds for termination, then you can hire people subject to the background check. If you find that the background check unearths something that they have lied about on application then it is grounds to terminate them, and this creates a comfort factor that will allow you to have them start for the results of the background check are available. 
The final point about background checks is that it is a bit like mandatory drug testing. If you tell your candidates that you have mandatory drug testing then if they are drug users they will probably steer clear of you and save you the trouble of having to test them at all. Similarly, if you make it clear that you are going to run a background check then if somebody does have a skeleton in their closet may not pursue their application with you.

The Four Critical Steps to Hiring

  • Establish the Profile

    Make sure that you know what talent you are trying to hire. Start from scratch and take time to define the job rather than rushing and simply rehiring the person that you are replacing.    

    The Time Edge



  • Develop the Process

    Successful hiring depends on having real choices. Write advertisements that will attract a large pool of candidates and have a process so that heavy response levels don’t stretch your resources    .

    The Time Edge

  • Grade Candidates

    You can’t afford to rush the selection process. You need to have an effective screening process and evaluate candidate skills carefully in relation to the job profile you established.

    Edge Business Essentials

  • Evaluate and Execute

    It is essential to have a robust interviewing process. You need to have candidates interviewed thoroughly and then check references and do background checks.

    The Alternative Board