How do we say this politely? The so-called “background checks” being used so often these days couldn’t be used for wrapping fish – it would be an insult to the fish. These things are frequently put together by credit bureaus, companies who have a stunning reputation for inaccuracies, errors and misinformation. These outfits collect junk, package it up, and sell it to businesses. How many of you have found errors on your credit report? Have you tried to correct something? Good luck.
An article in Business Week talks about this industry, and the damage it inflicts on people. The underlying problem is that hiring managers, trying to be “efficient”, outsource the very critical task of checking references to low paid call center clerks. The reference checks are the second most important part of the interview process, so outsourcing this step diffuses your ability to get a read on your candidate.
Hiring takes time – but it ranks as some of the most important duties of a manager. In the widely popular book “Good to Great”, author Jim Collins devotes a lot of time to having “the right people on the bus”. His argument is that the great companies get great people, and then put them in the right places. You can change seats, but the primary objective is to get great people.
If you have ever worked with a retained recruiter, the interview and screening process can be extensive. One recruiter I worked with several times had what I thought was a great approach to interviews. It was a chronological process, talking about not only what that candidate did at different stages of their career, but “why” they made the decisions they made – why did they go to a particular college, choose a particular major, choose to work at a particular job in a particular company. This kind of interview takes time – over an hour, easily. But it will give you a good understanding of how the candidate thinks, what interests them, and, over a bit of insight into their personality. Can they relax? Do they seem to be forthcoming?
When it comes to reference checks, ask the candidate for a variety – a supervisor, a subordinate, perhaps, maybe some colleagues – people who know the candidate and their work. Sometimes a candidate ends up on the wrong bus and gets put off – that does not mean that they won’t be great for you. I’ve seen that happen a lot in my career – someone doesn’t do well on one job, but goes on to do great at the next job.
Interviewing and hiring is hard work. Invest the time in it. And skip the “background” checks – these are nothing but feel good exercises that are a sad waste of paper.