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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 http://www.ESRcheck.com.

Source: http://www.recruitingtrends.com/optimizing-employee-selection-by-using-online-referencing-tools-and-background-checks

SHRM Surveys Reveal 3 Out Of 4 Businesses Conduct Reference Background Checks and Criminal Background Checks

By Thomas Ahearn, ESR Staff Writer

A series of recent surveys from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reveals that when it comes to reference background checks and criminal background checks, approximately three out of four U.S. businesses perform these two types of background checks as part of their pre-employment screening programs.

According to surveys conducted in November and December of 2009 and comprised from a sample of over 400 randomly selected Human Resources professionals from SHRM’s membership, 76 percent of organizations conducted reference background checks for all job candidates, while 73 percent of organizations conducted criminal background checks for all job candidates by reviewing consumer reports of candidates.

Surprisingly, despite recent controversy surrounding the use of credit background checks in pre-employment screening, the survey found that only 13 percent of organizations performed credit background checks on all candidates, while 40 percent did not conduct any credit background checks and 47 percent performed them on selected job candidates.

As for which job categories that organizations chose to conduct background checks on, the survey revealed candidates for positions with fiduciary and financial responsibility (handling cash, banking, and accounting) led in both credit background checks (91 percent) and criminal background checks (78 percent), while 76% of job candidates who would have access to confidential employee information had reference background checks conducted that included verifying information provided by the job applicant or communicating with people regarding the job applicant such as former co-workers.

In general, organizations responding to the surveys from SHRM indicated that the following policies and procedures were in place for conducting reference, credit, and/or criminal background checks on job candidates as of 2009:

  • 95% had notified candidates that any false or intentionally misleading information provided in the application process was grounds for retracting job offers;
  • 91% had policies that no criminal background checks were conducted without signed consent from the candidates;
  • 89% had policies that only designated personnel would have access to reference, credit, and/or criminal background check information;
  • 79% had written policies for employees to follow regarding conducting reference background checks; and
  •  78% had standardized questions for the person conducting the reference background check on behalf of the organization, and written policies for employees to follow regarding conducting criminal background checks.

When asked if the number of reference, credit, and/or criminal background checks that their organizations conducted on job applicants increased, decreased, or remained the same as a result of the economic downturn, approximately three out of four respondents replied that the number had remained the same for reference background checks (74 percent), criminal background checks (73 percent), and credit background checks (71 percent). 

For more information on how employers can conduct an effective background check program, contact Employment Screening Resources (ESR).



Increased need for employer due diligence

By Les Rosen, Employment Screening Resources

2010 Trends in Screening Trend Nine: Increased need for employer due diligence

Another impact of the recession is the likelihood of applicant fraud.  Fraudulent educational claims, or worthless diplomas from degree mills, are already familiar problem for employers, recruiters and HR professionals.  However, resume fraud took on an added urgency in 2009 with the advent of services that would actually create fake employment references from fake companies.  The service apparently even included a phone number that an employer could call in order to reach a service that in fact would verify the fake employment.  Although statistic are not yet available, anecdotally it appears that some job applicants have been willing to resort to these extreme and dishonest measures to gain an advantage in the job market. 

In the long run, worthless diplomas bought over the internet or scams to create manufactured past employment will probably be unsuccessful for the most part, provided that employers exercise some due diligence.  For fake education, a competent background firm will typically verify first if a school is legitimate.  If the school does not appear on accepted lists of accredited institution, then a screening firm can review lists of known diploma mills and scams.  Screening firms will also verify if the accreditation agency is for real, since fake schools have resorted to creating fake accreditation agencies.

In addition, pulling of a fake job reference is getting much more difficult.  A good background firm will not simply call the name and number provided by the applicant.  Professional screeners will typically independently establish if the past employer even existed, and locate a phone number independently of whatever number an applicant puts on their resume.  Employment Screening Resources, for example, goes through an extensive procedure to verify that each past employer is legitimate and does not accept the applicant provided phone number.

The bottom-line for employers in 2010 is taking extra caution to ensure you are hiring bona fide employees.

(Employment Screening Resources (ESR), a leading national online employment screening background firm, is releasing the ESR Third Annual Top Ten Trends in the Pre-Employment Background Screening Industry  for 2010. This is the Ninth of the ten trends ESR will be tracking in 2010.)

fake references and employment screening background checks

From the mailbox:  What are the risks for an applicant in providing a fake reference.  I even hear there are web sites that will give you a fake reference that look real and they even create a web site for the fake company.  In a tough job market, why not? 

Response from  ESR:  The old saying that honesty is the best policy is more then just good advice for a job seeker, it can mean the difference between getting a great job or having your career  get permanently smirched. 

First, the chance of even pulling of a fake reference is getting much more difficult.  Statistics show that most employers routinely contact past employers either themselves or through a background firm.  A good background firm will typically independently establish if the past employer even existed, and locate a phone number independently of whatever number an applicant puts on their resume.  A screening firm may not simply call the name and number provided by the applicant. Employment Screening Resources, for example, goes through an extensive procedure to verify that each past employer is legitimate and does not accept the applicant provided phone number.

Even if the fake reference somehow survives the vetting process, it is hard to keep and live a lie, especially when you never know when the truth may come out.  For example, a supervisor or co-worker may meet someone in your industry that somehow spills the beans. Furthermore, if a person gets a position they cannot actually perform due to a fake reference, it is just a matter of time before they get a negative performance appraisal. 

In addition, co-workers that suspect a fraud have also been known to do their own digging. Furthermore, most employers have employment applications that clearly state that if a person has lied during the application process, it is grounds for termination no matter when discovered.  There is now statistical evidence suggesting that if a person is dishonest in the way they get the job, they the will likely be dishonest once in the job. Once a fabrication is discovered, the resulting termination and the inability to use the most recent employment on your resume can leave a big unexplained employment gap and impact future job searches.

Certainly, applicants have the right to put their best foot forwards, and to cast themselves in the best possible light. But when the resumes goes beyond mere puffing into lies, fiction and fabrication, the long lasting damage to your career,  the emotional energy required to live a lie and the damage to your personal integrity  is just not worth it.

Calling unlisted former employers for employment reference

From the ESR mailbox: I have heard that it is against the law to check any reference other than those provided by the applicant. For example, if an applicant had a job that was not listed on the resume or application, can a background firm or employer still contact that person?

Answer: We are not aware of any legal prohibition against contacting “unlisted” individuals to perform reference checks as part of the employment process. The consent that is given to employers or screening firms to verify past employment or qualifications is not limited to just those individuals an applicant chooses to list or reveal

However, the unlisted” person should only be contacted if the person has knowledge relevant to employment and should only be asked job related questions. Questions for example, about legal off-duty conduct would not be proper. Furthermore, any questions should certainly be non-discriminatory and not an invasion of personal privacy. Typically, a background firm is asked to contact listed employers. There are circumstances however where the person in charge of hiring decides to go a deeper because they are hiring for an important position. The hiring manager hiring may contact the listed references, and then ask who else has they can call that has knowledge about the applicant. This is known as a developed reference. The purpose is to develop the names of other individuals who know the applicant and to get a candid assessment from someone who perhaps has not been “prepared” to give a reference. The topic of unlisted employment may also come up if there are unexplained gaps in employment, and the employer wants to dig deeper. Unlisted jobs may also appear on automated employment verification databases.

One important caveat-”a background firm will typically not contact a current employer without specific permission in order to avoid causing any problems on the current job if the new job doe not work out.

Employers with questions about background checks are free to send them to Jared Callahan at jcallahan@ESRcheck.com . For more information generally, see www.ESRcheck.com

ESR is closed for the holidays on November 26 and 27. Happy Thanksgiving.

Ambiguous References and the Fine Art of a Polite Negative References

Who says there is no humor in the hiring process?  Employers, Human Resources professionals and Recruiters   may enjoy the book, “Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous Recommendations (LIAR),” by Robert Thornton, available on Amazon.  The book gives a whole new meaning to the term “damned with faint praise.”  It answers the age old question of how to give a truthful recommendation without getting sued!

Here are  just a few examples from this very clever book:

“Her ability is deceiving” (She lies, cheats and steals)

“No salary would be too much for him.” (He is not worth anything)

“It was a pleasure working with her the short time I did.”  (Thankfully it was not longer)

“I am pleased to say that this candidate is a former colleague of mine” (I can’t tell you how happy I am that she left our firm)

“He’s a man of many convictions.” (He’s got a record a mile long). 

“She gives every appearance of being a reliable, conscientious employee”  (But appearances can be deceiving)

Any employers, recruiters or HR or Security Professionals that want to share their own favorite way of  giving ambiguous references, please send them to Jared Callahan at ESR by  e-mail at jcallahan@esrcheck.com

Background Checks and Electronic References

In the never ending efforts by employers to identify candidates that are a good fit and qualified, a new internet tool has been developed to allow employers to utilize email to accelerate the process of obtaining references and assessments from past supervisors and others that know the applicant. The best example is www.Checkster.com

Questions have arisen as to how such a tool is related to the background screening process that employers utilize in order to exercise due diligence.  In fact, the two processes, although related in some ways, are entirely separate workflows that occur at different times in the hiring process and for different reasons.

Internet based references can be utilized by an employer to whittle down the field of candidates and to help an employer decide whom to hire.  Background checks occur after an employer has made a tentative decision, and needs to determine whether there is any reason NOT to hire an applicant.

When past employment checks are done as part of the background check process, the purpose is to verify that the employer actually exists and to independently verify the core details of employment, such as job title and dates.  In other words, there is a large difference between obtaining references before a hiring decsion is made, which are a qualitative measure of an applicant’s fit and abilities, and factual verification of an applicant’s employment history, which is a critical due diligence task.  Both processes can be useful in the quest to select the best candidates to hire and to avoid bad choices.  However, electronic references cannot be considered due diligence, given that they are so easily faked and depends entirely upon the applciant giving good data in the first place.

Past employment verifications and defamation

A Tale of Two References-One Makes You Liable for Damages and the Other Does Not

In a 2008 federal appeals case, two past medical employers gave past employment information for the same anesthesiologist. After the anesthesiologist, Dr. Robert Berry, moved on to yet another hospital, he botched a routine 15 minute procedure, leaving a patient in a permanent vegetative state due to Berry’s own addiction to drugs.

The new hospital and its insurance company settled with the victim and in turn sued the previous two medical organizations for misrepresentations in the past employment information given to the new hospital. The allegation was based upon misrepresentations since the new hospital claimed it hired Berry because the defendants did not give accurate information by withholding information about misconduct and drug use. Continue reading