Trust But Verify In Hiring

During dealings with the Soviet Union, former President Ronald Reagan coined the term, “Trust, but verify.” It is not too difficult to decipher the meaning of this phrase and apply the concept to your company’s human resources best practices.

A large part of an organization’s human resources function involves the onboarding of new personnel. Would it be surprising to know that in many cases the determination to hire someone happens within five minutes of meeting them? What happens when a charming applicant gives all the right answers? Besides having a successful interview, one very important part of the recruitment process is background and reference checking. Reference checking is vital to verify a candidate’s background and can be an important step in insuring positive turnover rates. The cost of a bad hire is often overlooked but it can negatively impact your company’s bottom line by wasting valuable time and resources. Combined with proper interviewing techniques, reference checking can help you to verify that a candidate’s abilities are a match to the skills that are needed to successfully perform in a specific position in your organization.

Reference checking involves personally contacting former employers (with the candidate’s approval). Advise the former employer whom you are contacting of your purpose for the call or email. Be sure to identify yourself and your company and inform them that you are seriously considering the candidate for employment, and that you would like to ask a few questions in relation to the candidate’s experience and qualifications. It is also a good idea to give a brief description of the role you are considering the candidate as the person you are contacting may be able to use that information to provide specific feedback relating to the role.

Here are a few questions you may consider asking:

  • What were the job functions of the position the candidate held with your company?
  • Based on the job duties we are offering this candidate, do you personally believe that this candidate can successfully perform this job?
  • What management style did this candidate best respond to?
  • Did the candidate excel in a team environment, or work better alone?
  • Was the candidate dependable? Attendance record? Punctuality?
  • What areas do you think the candidate can improve on?
  • What are the candidate’s three strongest work qualities?
  • Would you re-hire the candidate? Why or why not?

Taking these simple steps to verify a candidate’s good character and qualifications can make a huge difference in your decision about whether or not to ultimately hire him or her. Though we all like to trust that each candidate’s self-proclaimed qualifications and achievements are accurate, it is always a wise idea to verify information, as ultimately this candidate will be involved in essential functions of your business when they become an employee. By staying well prepared and keeping in mind common interview mistakes, as well as having all the information you can gather during a reference check, you will be able to rest assured knowing you are making the right hiring decision for your organization.

About the Author: Michele O’Donnell leads MMC’s team of HR consultants. Her experience spans the broad scope of labor law, regulatory compliance and HR best practices, drawn from her rich experience as director of HR for several firms throughout her career.

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