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  • There are many steps in the hiring process that are critical because they protect the company from potential harm. One key step is conducting background or reference checks on candidates for hire. As most employers are aware, checking references on a potential hire is a necessary but taxing part of the hiring process. Due to the possibility legal action against employers who gave less than perfect references, many employers choose to simply verify past employment and not offer a reference at all. (It would be difficult for a former employee to prove, but if they can show that a former employer is hindering their right to work by providing negative information, it could potentially allow them to take legal action). It is only mandated by law that references be provided and past performance disclosed for certain critical positions, such as airline pilots and police officers. This leaves many employers with the question, “how do I know if this candidate has had performance problems in the past?”

    Performance issues aside, social media is proving to be an invaluable asset in determining the character of potential employees. Take the candidate who posts photos of himself online doing tequila shots with the caption “capping off a hard day’s work.” While everyone likes to blow off steam after the workweek ends, if you can search the Internet and find this photo, so can your potential clients. Social media postings bring up a different kind of issue; anyone representing your company can post something 24/7. Even if it is posted on a personal site, an unprofessional post can reflect upon your company 24/7 as well. Character references shouldn’t be based solely on a visit to a candidate’s Facebook page, but the content posted there can help determine certain character traits. In short; be wary of a candidate who has a wall full of postings about how their previous employer wronged them.

    As far as references from prior jobs; rarely will you find a previous employer who will provide you with the reason for termination, previous salary information or an evaluation of the individual’s work ethic. Instead, pose this question: “if you had an opening today that this candidate could fill, would you rehire them?”  Nine times out of ten, you will get a response to this question. The reason that this is more effective than asking for information regarding past performance is that it does not require the previous employer to divulge any information that would expose the company to a potential lawsuit. If the answer is yes, you probably have a solid candidate on your hands. If the answer is no, however, you may need to seriously evaluate your decision to extend an offer. Occasionally, you may get a previous employer to elaborate on their answer. If not, check as many references as you are able. If the majority of the references are positive, you can be relatively assured that the candidate is still a good choice. As we all know, many factors lead to an employee termination, not the least of which being personality conflicts.

    When you ask for references from a potential hire, require at least three references. Also, it is extremely important to make sure that you have something in writing and signed by the candidate that they are allowing you to verify the references that they have provided you. Personal references from friends and family members are of no use to you. Instead, demand that at least two of the references are from previous employers. Ask for the individual in the Human Resource department of the company or a direct supervisor. This prevents the individual from using friends as references and you will receive a better picture of the candidate. If the candidate does not have any previous work experience, ask for references from teachers or college professors. Always remember, it is OK to ask for better references. If the candidate is unwilling to provide them, it should raise an immediate red flag.

    As with anything else, a “gut reaction” is important to follow when hiring new employees; if it does not feel like a good fit, it probably will not be. If a candidate interviews well, matches your qualifications and the other references are positive, you should feel confident about extending an offer of employment. Remember, your first instinct is usually the best one to follow.

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