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Conducting Effective Pre-Employment Screenings

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Any reputable body shop owner knows it pays to do repairs completely and correctly the first time. If a painter does a sloppy, rushed job, for example, it can result in a costly comeback that many owners would deem unacceptable

Taking that knowledge into consideration, Jim Webber, a respected veteran human resources professional, can’t fathom why some shop owners are lazy when it comes to one key responsibility that should be done during the hiring process: pre-employment screenings. 

“Most employers do the interview, they talk to the person, maybe they verify [employment]  dates, but they don’t really look at the veracity of what [applicants] told them,” notes Webber. “They take it on trust, because they think they’re good judges of character. … Big mistake. 

“If the person’s going to be having access to confidential information, or money, or resources, things they could easily steal or embezzle … you want to find out: Have they had troubles with trust? With theft?” 

Yes, neglecting to do employee screening can have severe consequences for shop owners, including leaving them, at least briefly, with an employee who harms their business. As Webber notes, if a job seeker isn’t honest during the application process, they’re not likely to be any more upstanding if hired. Making that oversight all the more egregious is the fact that conducting employee screenings is easier than ever, in many respects.

Still, many shop operators continue to make oversights with regard to conducting pre-employment screenings. Webber, who has a background as an employment law attorney, explains how such errors can be avoided. 

 

Plan in Advance

Webber says it’s worth formulating a game plan before conducting an employee screening to determine what information you truly need. Is it necessary to clarify an applicant’s past job titles, for example, or their past compensation? 

“If it’s an entry-level trainee, it may just be verifying dates of employment, to [see] that they’re stable, that they haven’t been jumping from job to job quickly,” Webber notes. “For a manager, you’re going to want to get more information; How did they deal with their people? What were their people skills?” 

Webber also suggests getting written releases from applicants that grants you permission to reach out to their former employers. That can quell the fears of the applicant’s former bosses, prompting them to share key insight with you. 

 

Keep Questions Work Related

In today’s era of political correctness, it’s as imperative as ever to keep pre-employment screening questions relevant and above board. When speaking with an applicant’s former employer, don’t ask about their religion, for example. In fact, don’t even hint at such questions, Webber says. 

“You want to focus on their ability to do the job, the ability to be effective—you know, if there have been unexcused absences, things like that,” Webber notes. “That’s the caution I give to people.” 

 

Word Questions Carefully

Keep in mind that job applicants’ former employers may have several factors that leave them largely uncooperative. First and foremost, they might fear saying something that’s unprofessional or even illegal. But Webber says it never hurts to ask craftily worded questions such as, “Would you hire this person again?” 

And, he adds, “What I’ve had luck with is … saying, ‘Speaking to you as a person, if you were working someplace else and you found out this person was applying, would you want to work with them again?’” 

 

Listen Closely

Webber has, on rare occasions, heard former employers speak surprisingly highly of job seekers who had underwhelmed during the interview process, with comments like, “I wish they hadn’t left here.” 

“Things like that can make you realize that they were somebody you were about to miss, because they weren’t an interview superstar,” Webber says. 

 

Use the Web with Caution

Google searching an applicant’s name to see what sort of information shows up is largely fair game these days, as long as the person conducting the employee screening is trained on such HR activities, Webber says. The key is to leave any impermissible information out of the background report. 

“The Internet is a valuable place to get information,” Webber says, “as long as the person gathering it is somebody who is not going to grab onto those things like … civil activism.” 

 

Don’t Over Analyze Social Media

Similarly, there is value in searching an applicant’s Facebook and Twitter pages, Webber says—as long as what’s researched is work-related information. 

“The problem is, I know a lot of HR people will look at that because they want to find out what kind of person are they,” Webber says. “‘Are they going to fit in here?,’ and all that. No. Because then … you start getting into the judgmental things that have nothing to do with the job.” 

It’s more important to pay attention to details like the frequency of an applicant’s social media posts, and if they have a habit of making personal posts during their work hours—a prime red flag and possible sign of a worker who has a hard time staying on task.

 

Allow Applicants to Respond 

If a former employer disputes an applicant’s claim regarding facts such as dates of employment, it’s worth giving the job seeker a chance to respond, Webber says. After all, on rare occasions, a so-called fabrication was little more than a typo, or a clerical error. 

“If I do get a negative background check, I’ll give the applicant a chance to respond,” Webber says. “I think it’s good to give them a chance, especially if it was somebody that you were otherwise interested in hiring.”

 

Time to Get Some Help? 

While HR professional Jim Webber suggests that all shops do background checks, he says they don’t always need to be performed in house. Webber provides his thoughts on when to use a third-party researcher.

I think background checks can be done internally if you have the manpower and skill to do it. I think it’s perfectly fine to have somebody internally perform them. 

I would say consider an outside person to perform the background check if you’re hiring a high-profile leader type. Or, if you simply do not have the people power to conduct it, then I could see getting somebody from the outside to do the background check.

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