Is This Person For Real?

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The anxiety of hiring a new employee can sometimes be overwhelming. Questions crowd your head… Is this person for real? Is it possible that someone this qualified wants to work for me? Will he show up for work? Will her personality fit with my current staff? Will he set a good example for other employees? Or will she lead a mutiny? Yikes!

Don’t fret, there are several ways to ensure you’re making a good business decision with your new hires.

First, conduct a well-thought-out interview. Interviewing skills are like painting on a canvas. Some people are very talented at conducting interviews. Most people, however, are “doodlers” rather than artists. Here are some basic tips to help you become more of an artist:

  1. Know what you’re looking for. Have a job description or a performance profile that includes the qualities/attributes and skills you want this person to possess.
  2. Be prepared. Review all applications and resumés prior to interviewing. If something sparks your interest on an application or resumé, highlight it—then be sure to ask about it during the interview. For example, if there’s no job history during a certain time period, ask the applicant about it.
  3. Be consistent and be legal. Ask the same set of base questions to all applicants. Federal law regulates the types of questions that can be asked during an interview. You should avoid questions based on race, sex, age, color, national origin, disability, or religion. It helps to have questions written down in advance and to take notes. If you need help in making a final decision, these notes will make it easier to compare “apples to apples.”
  4. Don’t be afraid to go down a different path. If interviewees say something that sparks your interest, ask them to go into more detail. By doing this, oftentimes you learn much more about the person you’re potentially hiring.
  5. Set goals—ensure your timeline is not too long. When do you want your new employee to start? Begin interviewing for the position based on the date you set. Communicate the date to the candidates and hold yourself to it. There’s nothing worse than procrastinating in making a decision, only to find that the applicant you’ve finally decided on has found another job because you “doodled” too long.

6. Don’t settle. Although it’s important to fill an empty position, if your candidate pool is not what you expected, don’t choose the “lesser of two evils.” Keep looking.

After following these steps, if you’re still asking yourself whether you have the right candidate, perhaps it’s time to look at performing a background check.

Background basics

Why do a background check anyway? It is estimated that 25–40 percent of all applicants lie, mislead, or exaggerate facts on their resumé. Not only will a background check validate the accuracy of an applicant’s resumé, it can provide other benefits as well:

  1. Reduce your exposure to possible immoral practices and/or theft.
  2. Limit your exposure to potential negligent-hiring lawsuits.
  3. Increase the comfort level and morale of employees by reducing the potential for workplace violence.
  4. Potentially lower your insurance premiums. That’s right—some insurance companies will give discounts to employers that conduct background checks and/or drug screenings.
  5. Raise the level of quality in your applicants. People who have something to hide may not even apply.

Background checks are more commonplace than ever. However, this alternative brings to the foreground a different set of questions. Do I complete the background check myself? Do I hire a third party to complete it? If so, how do I choose a vendor?

Today, there is no common database that employers can access to verify an employee’s identity or background. However, there are multiple resources to suit a variety of budgets and expectations.

One very affordable option is choosing an online vendor. Online services with unlimited access are easy to find for less than $50. Unfortunately, with so many online background services to choose from, finding the one that provides the most accurate information for the price can be challenging.

The level of service received from online vendors is varied as well. Most provide only the tools and resources to do the looking yourself. For instance, if you want to do a statewide criminal check, they will point you in the direction of the state’s website or office, but you’ll be responsible for obtaining the information from the state agency, and paying any fees associated with the inquiry.

Look for money-back guarantees—if the company’s service is good, they’ll back it up. To ensure you’re making a good choice, you should research the company itself, using resources such as the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.com).

A company that specializes in background checks and provides personalized service may better suit your needs. Although at first this option may seem more expensive, services can be packaged based on your specific needs and can save you a lot of time. Typically, these companies will provide turnaround time and cost reports to ensure your ongoing satisfaction and return on investment. Information and services included:

  • Online administration.
  • Social Security Number validation.
  • Address verification.
  • Criminal history through county, state, and federal resources; this typically includes government registries.
  • Credit history reports.
  • Military record verification.
  • Employment history verification, usually including dates of employment, job title, salary (when available), reason for leaving, and rehire eligibility.
  • Personal and professional references.
  • Workers’ compensation claim(s) history.
  • Degree and professional license verification.
  • Department of Motor Vehicle records search.
  • Drug/substance abuse screening.
  • Job fit/skills assessment.

The following chart outlines four companies that offer specialized service. Please note that the fees listed below are subject to change, and may not include fees levied by governmental agencies for certain searches.

Fair Credit Reporting Act

The benefits for choosing one of these companies are that they typically guarantee the accuracy of their services as well as provide legal guidance. Third-party background screening companies are considered to be “consumer reporting agencies” under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), and the reports they prepare are defined as “consumer reports.” They are required to follow specific federal regulations, and you will be required to assist them.

It is your responsibility as an employer to gather the appropriate forms and deliver adverse decisions to applicants. Background check services will typically provide you with the proper required forms to use. Ultimately, however, employers who use these reports are subject to the FCRA compliance requirements, as is the background check service they’re using.

The following are required by the Federal Trade Commission and FCRA:

  1. You will need to disclose to the applicant that a report will be requested and obtain written authorization from the person being investigated. The authorization form must be separate from any other form (it must be separate from the application).
  2. Be prepared to provide a copy of all information to the individual being investigated. This will be necessary if there is a discrepancy between the information provided by the individual and the research you receive. California requires that you ask up front whether the person being investigated would like a copy.
  3. If you choose to terminate or not hire an individual based on the findings of the background report, you must provide an “adverse action notice.” Again, the background check service should be able to assist you with this process. There are several steps that need to be followed:
    • As part of the notice, provide the name, address, and toll-free telephone number of the consumer reporting agency that furnished the report.
    • There must be a statement that indicates the agency did not make the decision to take the adverse action—this decision is purely that of your business.
    • A statement that indicates the consumer’s right to obtain a free copy of the report directly from the reporting agency.
  4. You must provide notice of the consumer’s right to dispute the accuracy or completeness of the report. A “reasonable” amount of time must be afforded to the person so they may make corrections or updates to the report—again, check your state’s requirements on the amount of time you need to allow. You also must provide consumers with a summary of their rights under FCRA. The Federal Trade Commission has prepared a standard document that can be found at www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/fcrasummary.pdf.
  5. Only after all of these steps are completed can you choose to make an “adverse action” based on the report you receive.

For further information on what employers need to know, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website: www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/credempl.htm.

Regardless of the option you choose, remember to be consistent and choose the service that works for you. For instance, if you decide to complete a background check on one of your new cashiers but not the other, this would be discriminatory. Given the cost, most businesses choose to conduct these inquiries later rather than earlier in the process. For instance, conducting checks only after a final candidate has been identified is a common practice. Typically, most results are provided by background check services within 72 hours of your request. If you are anxious to make an employment offer, just be sure to communicate that the offer is contingent on the satisfactory results of the background check.

Employers must also consider the difference between what the reporting agencies can report and what employers can actually use to make an employment decision. This is something that varies from state to state. For instance, there is no federal restriction on the reporting of criminal convictions. However, some states do not allow an employer to use a candidate’s arrest or conviction record beyond a certain point in the past. You should also consider the nature of the findings—do they preclude the person’s ability to perform their job responsibilities? You wouldn’t want to hire an accountant who has been convicted of embezzlement; but would it matter if her driver’s license had been revoked?

The decision to use background checks is not something that should be taken lightly. Remember, the person you’re interviewing could become an employee—someone you will need to build trust with. The last thing you want is to make the potential employee feel like you are questioning her or his integrity or invading their privacy. A person’s identity is something held dearly, and when you’re questioning the core of who he or she is, the utmost sensitivity and consideration is necessary.

One of the most gratifying experiences for an employer is realizing that all the time, energy, and expense put into hiring a person was more than worth it. Yes, believe it or not, this very qualified, reliable, hard-working, and loyal employee is for real! And working for YOU.

Author’s note: This article is intended as information only and is not a substitute for legal or other professional advice. Contact me at [email protected] if you want the sources and references used in writing this article.

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Deb Walton is human resources and board of directors administrator at the National Cooperative Grocers Association ([email protected]).

See other articles from this issue: #130 May - June - 2007