A few years ago, I interviewed a prospective employee who was just right for the job. His resume demonstrated the kinds of skills needed, his communication was easy but focused, and he clearly wanted to do the job that was open. In the end, I offered him the job. I told him that we would do a background and reference check. He signed the necessary paperwork, and we negotiated a start date.
About a week before he began work, we received his background and reference check data. It confirmed what this new employee had indicated in his resume and application. There was also a comment by a former supervisor highly recommending the employee, along with a note that this employee liked close supervision. That one comment made this new employee’s entrance into the organization so much smoother. He was entering an organization that prides itself on independence and had I not known this employee needed a bit more attention, we could have lost valuable ramp-up time. This employee remains a valuable colleague.
A few months later, another candidate applied for a job. She, too, had a resume that indicated the right educational background and skill set. She also proceeded smoothly along the interview process. However, when her background check was returned, it indicated that she did not have the college degree that she said she did. When asked about the discrepancy, she did not have a good answer, which became a major factor in our decision not to hire her.
In both of these examples, the benefits of learning more about your employee’s history are clear. Employers today are using different tools and techniques to better ensure hiring the best employees. Today, employers can choose to do background checks (where an applicant’s driver’s license, job history, education or criminal records can be verified) or conduct job testing/assessment or in-depth reference checks. Any one of these tools can help employers make a good hiring decision; however, each comes with some cautions for use.
Points to consider
Background checks are used to review an employee’s history, such as criminal, education or job experience, or an employee’s driving records. The rate of a “hit”—meaning that some criminal record exists—is about 30 percent. Resume experts suggest that about 75 percent of all resumes have some sort of fabrication in them. Given these percentages, background checks let you know more about a potential employee. Many criminal acts don’t preclude an employee from being a great employee, but it is good to know these issues up front and manage them with the employee. And, there are some jobs where knowing about these activities (such as a DUI for an employee who will be driving for your organization or the background of someone who is working with children) is critical, so employers can factor this information into their hiring decision.
If employers decide that including background checks as part of their hiring practices is a good idea, there are three things to consider:
1) Background checks are invasive. You are checking out someone’s history. For some nonprofits, a background check can feel uncomfortable. While good human resources practice supports background checks, if they don’t fit with your organizational values, it might not be a good practice for your organization to start. However, many national nonprofits are now requiring background screens on their employees and volunteers.
2) If you use a third party to do the checking, prospective employees must authorize the background check under a federal law called the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. 1681).
3) Make sure that what you are checking for is job related. For example, doing a credit check makes sense for someone who is handling money, but maybe not for someone running a program.
Other screening tools
Pre-selection testing is another tool to determine an employee’s fit for the job. These tests can provide objective and standardized measures of aptitude, abilities and personality. Hundreds of different tests will let you know where an employee needs skills development or if they will fit well with your work group. When deciding whether an assessment tool could be helpful for your organization and job opening, make sure the test measures the skills or behaviors needed to do the job. Determine whether the tool complies with the guidelines of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC’s Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (1978) and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Finally, reference checks are a great way to find out about an employee’s likelihood of success on the job. This is a process where an employer contacts a former supervisor to ask questions about an employee’s performance. A human resources axiom says that past performance is the best predictor of future performance. Asking a former manager how the employee fared under certain circumstances, such as conflict resolution or problem solving, can help the new employer watch for areas to develop and help the new employee succeed. Often, employers worry that they will get in trouble for reporting on a former employee. However, as long as the former employer is truthful and factual, courts have supported employers sharing this kind of information. And, of course, the nonprofit community is small enough that this type of sharing occurs informally.
In some nonprofit sectors, especially those agencies that provide direct service to a vulnerable population, the cost of hiring can be three times the starting salary of a new employee. Therefore, it makes sense to use pre-employment tools carefully to find the next gem of an employee—one who loves the mission and can do a great job.
by Deborah Dale Brackney, vice president of the Mountain States Employers Council (MSEC), Inc., a resource for employers in employment law, human resources consulting, training and surveys (www.msec.org)