In my March post, Combating Employee Turnover Before You Hire, I briefly touched on the importance of completing reference checks and background screenings as part of the hiring process.
While there are some strong opinions and controversy about this employment practice, I believe past behavior can predict future behavior. That’s not to say I am an advocate for blanket background checking. I do, however, find value in smart reference checking and targeted screening. I know what you are thinking, but hear me out.
Conversations with current or former coworkers and supervisors can be truly valuable — if they are conducted in a thoughtful manner. What am I talking about? A couple of things:
1. Conduct references in-house, preferably by someone who has a vested interest in the candidate, such as the hiring manager. Take into consideration what makes an employee flourish and succeed in your business, and develop questions that will help identify culture and environment fit, as well as experience and skill set.
2. Ask some questions that are out of the ordinary. Turn the tables, and ask a former supervisor what you, as a manager, can do to help make this potential new hire successful. Was there anything, in particular, the worker needed to do their job? Any important factors in the work environment for the person to be most effective? What unique abilities did they bring to the table? What would their co-workers say about them? Or note that we often learn much more from our mistakes than our triumphs, and ask them to recall an example or two of mistakes the worker made and whether any lessons were learned. Taking a different approach may glean answers that surprise you — and information you probably would not have gotten had you asked “standard” reference questions.
Stay away from social media — that’s not really reference checking. To me, that’s just voyeurism, and it can lead to potentially “dangerous” information, such as their age, sexual orientation, marital/dependent status, etc.
Now for background screening. There are myriad laws and protections for the consumer, in this case the candidate/employee. The EEOC, DFEH, FINRA and FCRA all have something to say about rights and privacy when it comes to running background checks. California limits checking criminal records to a seven-year period — and for convictions only, which eliminates arrests, dismissals and expunged records. Additionally, California has a “Ban the Box” law, which prohibits public agencies from asking about an applicant’s criminal record on a hiring application — usually represented by a check box. San Francisco’s “Fair Chance Ordinance” expanded the prohibition to private-sector employers in 2014.
Don’t let this scare you away! Bad hiring decisions can be much too costly. Develop a policy clarifying what jobs within your organization merit background checks and what type of screening is needed for those specific jobs. For instance, you may want a credit check for a CFO, treasurer or controller. For a driver, you would want a DMV report with a drug test; for a teacher or high-school counselor, you might want to include an inquiry on sex-offender registries. There are many other types of reports you can run, including criminal court records, Social Security number traces, education verification for degrees and certificates, and even fingerprinting.
How do you navigate all this? Find an expert: Choose a firm that specializes in background screening, such as SecuriCheck LLC in San Mateo, Calif. They will help you maneuver all the compliance matters, as well as have access to the appropriate authorization forms and disclosures.
If you’d like to discuss how to check references and conduct background screenings in more meaningful ways, contact us.