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Saturday, February 21, 2009

To Recruit Well, Confirm Everything

I've just finished a three-day recruiting swing through D.C., Atlanta, and Ft. Lauderdale. This week reminded me that we don't recruit like a lot of other companies. Both the Regional Manager with whom I was pared and some of the candidates weren't prepared for our focus on fact-checking as a fundamental recruiting discipline. Here's the how and why of our process.


Facts are Important

Fact checking in recruiting is so fundamental to the process and yet its often not done properly, if at all. HR practitioners often defer to the on-line criminal background check rather than vetting the candidate's resume or application face-to-face. In Christian business hiring managers often think the best of candidate and accept the facts presented by them at face value. I've even had Christian hiring managers and even HR practitioners express concern to me that we were unfairly questioning a candidate's integrity by questioning their resume or application.

Depending on whose article you read, approximately 35 - 50% of applicants lie on their resume. From eight years of working in Christian business I can assure you that our applicants track that number. Christian organizations can't simply assume that dishonest people won't apply here; that only the other 50% will want to work in our organizations. Rather, we have to be diligent as HR professionals and hiring managers to make sure that only the other 50% get in the door. In organizations such as ours the damage to the brand done by one dishonest person can be significant.

The Trouble with the Traditional Approach

Typical recruiting starts with a resume and ends with reference checking. In between there's an interview. The problem with that approach is that all the information coming to you comes from the candidate. It is possible to completely fabricate a resume, give "personal" references, have a fabulously engaging and totally false interview, and get hired. Criminal background checks help screen such people if there's been a conviction. But if the candidate's never gotten on the wrong side of the law, or if they don't give you all their past addresses (since background checks are done by jurisdiction) even that won't surface the problem.

Collecting Information

Resumes can be made to say, or cover, anything. I personally like to have all candidates complete a standard application as well as submit a resume. We also have a strict policy in HR that we never accept an incomplete application. This forces all candidates' information onto a standardized template and discloses all the information needed for fact checking. I also like to have this on-line as an indicator of the individual's ability to navigate simple web applications.

Part of the information we collect are the names of past supervisors. This is important, since personal references tell you nothing you don't expect to hear; nobody lists a personal reference who'll say bad things about them. Past supervisors can both confirm that the person worked at the job listed and often aren't trained (like HR departments) not to talk to you when you call for a reference.

For those candidates whose application and resume indicate the required experience and qualifications, we also like to issue a questionnaire specific to each job to probe deeper into the individuals qualifications. Listing that you've programmed in a certain language is a lot easier than writing a simple narrative paragraph about how you do some task in that language.

Confirming Everything

Once I have this information and move to an interview I have the candidate start at their education and then account for their work history. Typically resumes and even applications will say something like:

Zondervan Publishing Editorial Assistant 2005 - 2007

Barnes and Noble Assistant Store Mgr 2003 - 2005

What few interviewers do, which is critical, is to ask for the months to go with the dates and why they left their job. "What month were you hired at B&N? What month did you leave? Why did you leave?" These simple questions often surface gaps in employment. Just as significantly, watching the candidate's body language, eye movement, and perspiration during this questioning often tell you all you need to know.

Assuming you had a good interview, the next step should be reference checking with former supervisors. If your application provides a release to check references, remember that you're not limited to the references given by the candidate. You can call the supervisors listed or even, if you know the company, call someone you know who works there. The point is you can't confirm the facts a candidate gives you with references provided by the candidate.

Finally, a drug test and criminal background check are important. Remember that background checks are done jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction. Make sure that the complete employment history you collected, and the jurisdictions the applicant lists on the criminal background check, agree. If you know all the communities in which they worked and check for convictions in all of them you're risk of a bad hire is reduced.

And in the end, that's what good HR does; mitigates the risk of hiring the wrong person while helping the hiring manager find the best person available at the time of the job opening. Bad hires are still possible because anything involving people is an inexact science. Good process, however, leads to good results more time than not and keeps the wrong people out of your organization.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Do you ever worry that you might be missing out on a good employee because they aren't able to give you the contact info for past supervisors. This must be a huge problem for someone with a 20 or 30 year work history.