Using Online Referencing Tools and Background Checks to Optimize Employee Selection – Part 1

Part 1

By Lester Rosen, ESR President

Identifying applicants that are the right fit and have the right knowledge, skill, and abilities to do the job is a perennial challenge for employers. In pre-industrial society, the problem was generally solved by either hiring someone that the employer knew, basing the hiring decision upon a personal recommendation, or using an apprenticeship type program that gave an employer a great deal of insight into who they were hiring.

While these approaches are still in use today, it is no longer possible to match millions of applicants and jobs based upon the employer having a pre-existing relationship with applicants. Additional approaches such as using the internet to find good candidates have developed.  Since every time an employer hires a stranger, it is somewhat of a “leap of faith,” employers need tools to make good decisions. Employers are seeking ways to determine who the person really is and what the person has done in the past, as predictors of how they will perform. Although past is not always prolog, past performance says a great deal about how a person may be expected to perform in the future. Employers also want a means to “look under the hood” at applicants rather than just accepting them at face value.

Every hire represents a significant investment and – simultaneously– a significant risk. A bad hire can result in a legal and financial nightmare. Bad hires cost an employer a great deal in terms of time wasted recruiting, hiring and training, and searching for a replacement, not to mention the job not being done. A bad hiring decision can also lead to litigation for negligent hiring, if the new employee turns out to be unfit, dishonest, or dangerous, and someone is harmed. To add insult to injury, when the bad hire is eventually terminated, employers need to deal with the possibility of a wrongful termination lawsuit even if the firing is entirely justified.

In order to evaluate the various hiring tools, it is essential to understand that the hiring process occurs on a time line. Each step of the continuum carries its own set of legal implications. Matching your hiring tools to the proper stage of the time line is key to sorting out the best applicants AND to helping prevent a bad hire. The available tools of the hiring process can roughly be divided in seven stages as follows:

  • 1. Sourcing stage: This is the process of gathering potential applicants through a variety of means that can include inbound applications from job boards, websites, newspapers, or outbound efforts, such as recruiters seeking passive candidates;
  • 2. Preliminary screening stage: In order to narrow down the applicant pool, there is a preliminary screening primarily based upon the applicants’ self-stated qualifications, conveyed by the resumes or applications or newer tools such as video websites;
  • 3. Assessment stage: This stage can include the interviewing process to further narrow down the field of candidates, as well as numerous other assessment tools, ranging from objective testing to references from past employers or supervisors, or various other testing methods;
  • 4. Decision process stage: Here, the employer has narrowed the pool to one, two, or three finalists and is moving toward a conditional job offer based upon an internal decision-making process;
  • 5. Background checking stage: At this point, either a conditional job offer has been made or is contemplated, and the employer needs to exercise due diligence, typically through a background screening firm, to determine if there is any reason NOT to hire the candidate. The emphasis of a background screening firm at this point is a factual verification of details such as job title and dates;
  • 6. The post offer/pre-hire stage: This is where an employer is able for the first time, if they so choose, to address such areas as pre-employment physicals;
  • 7. The post hire/on boarding stage: This is where an employer, for example, can complete the form I-9 process.

These seven stages illustrate a clear demarcation between efforts pointed at deciding who to hire, and efforts directed at deciding who NOT to hire. This is where evaluation of the pros and cons of the hiring tools comes into play.

Background checks, for instance, are of little assistance in stages 1 through 5. That is because a traditional background check is only performed on finalists, where, by definition, an employer has already made a tentative decision to either hire or place that person in the group of finalists. Background checks are used to decide who NOT to hire.

Are there other tools available besides background checks for sorting through the pool of applicants? Yes. One of the most interesting new tools is for online automated reference checks and assessments.

An example is the offering of Checkster, a company founded by a veteran in the talent management sector. Job candidates select references, such as former supervisions and co-workers, who then get an assessment request emailed to them. It’s self-service. Eliminated are the time spent making phone calls and waiting for and tracking responses. The references simply fill out an email questionnaire. The questionnaire itself is a scientifically designed assessment instrument that gives a fresh look at the applicant and contains a number of state-of-the-art validation tools. The results are communicated back to a recruiter or hiring manager in a graphical and intuitive report. Although there are others competing in the same space, Checkster clearly has thought through and designed the process from both the assessment and talent management point of view.

The end result of using such a tool is that the reference can quickly respond to an email, and time is not wasted on playing phone tag or managing follow-ups. The employer obtains a candid assessment because the person giving the reference is advised that the actual scores are confidential. Through Checkster’s processes, the email evaluations provide a scientific assessment of what is “under the candidate’s hood” – thus increasing the employer’s odds of making a job offer to the best candidate.

However, the question has arisen from some hiring managers: “Can services like Checkster replace the type of employment verifications performed by background firms?”

Read more in Part 2.

For more information about background checks and employment verifications, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at