5 Critical Steps Before Hiring Someone

Mar 22, 2011
9 Min Read

As you bring new team members on board, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of ensuring that it’s not a subjective decision.  You can do this by accurately assessing where the candidate has come from and what she has done in the past.

Reference Checking

By the time you’ve had your second interview with a candidate, you should have the contact information for at least two references in hand.  While you can e-mail a reference initially, I highly recommend that you connect either in person or by phone with at least one reference for each candidate.  While reference letters or e-mails can be helpful, speaking with a person allows for a better interpretation of tone, and for the ability to ask questions on the fly.

Some experts say that the primary goal of a reference call is to verify the basics of what the candidate told you in the interview, but I believe you need to do much more than that.  After all, would a candidate really provide you with a reference who couldn’t back him up on obvious things like how long he worked at a company, and what he did there?  What you should be looking for is the reference’s perspective on the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses as an employee.  In this respect, you should ask open-ended questions about job accomplishments, intellectual ability, personality and character, interpersonal and technical skills, business judgment, level of commitment, management style, and areas for development.


The problem with most references is that they tend to be very vague in their comments.  They don’t know you from Adam, and so they don’t want to say anything that might get them into trouble.  Make the reference comfortable and more willing to offer honest and constructive criticism by using a less formal approach.  You might, for example, say something like:  “Jacqueline gave me your name and said you might be able to tell me a little bit about her strengths and areas for improvement.”

If you’re speaking to a reference and she mentions someone else you might want to talk to, take her up on it and get the person’s contact information.  Calling a candidate’s references is not just an item to check off your list before making an offer.  It’s in your team’s best interest to do everything you can to make sure to get to know the candidate as intimately as possible, and the more people you ask, the more complete your picture is likely to be. After you hang up the phone, organize your notes and send a note thanking the reference again for her time.

Background Checking

I’ll never forget an article I read in Time Magazine a while back that talked about the incredible number of people who cheat on their job applications.  Apparently, one resume-vetting company researched 1,000 resumes and found that 43 percent of them contained one or more “significant inaccuracies.”

Because you can’t necessarily trust everything you read on a candidate’s resume, and because unsavory aspects of an individual’s past aren’t likely to be disclosed in an interview, smart hiring nearly always involves some type of background check.  Commonly addressed areas include education and employment credentials, credit history, and criminal and motor vehicle histories.

Education and Employment Credentials

As mentioned earlier, many candidates embellish or lie outright about the amount and years of higher education attained. It’s fairly inexpensive to verify this information through a source such as the National Student Clearinghouse or a Web site like DegreeCheck.com.  Likewise, if you want to confirm that a candidate worked at a certain company or a certain period of time and made a certain salary, you need not waste time calling a valuable reference.  Verifying employment credentials merely involves placing a call to the candidate’s old company’s HR department.

Credit History

A simple credit check can be performed through TransUnion, and you should be looking for issues demonstrating that a candidate is irresponsible with money.  Flag things such as bankruptcies, collection accounts, repossession, and patterns of late payment history.

Criminal and Motor Vehicle Histories

You can use your state’s database to search criminal records, and if the job in question includes driving a company vehicle, you might also want to do a motor vehicle records check to ensure that the candidate has a current license and is free of any driving-related convictions.

Like other issues of this sort, checking candidates’ backgrounds requires that you comply with legal regulations such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), so it may be in your best interest to use an experienced vendor. Background research companies include multinational conglomerates and small, regional firms, and you can usually select a variety of services based on your geographic location and the positions in question.  Well-known vendors include Accufacts, Arrin SystemsGlobal Verification Services, and Kroll Factual Data, but because you are trusting this company with such sensitive employee information, you should check references carefully before employing any firm.

Be Transparent

If a background check procedure is a standard part of your hiring process, you or your recruiting staff should let candidates know about it upfront.  Some candidates may have privacy concerns, so inform them of exactly what will be expected and tell them how long this information will be kept on file.  Under certain circumstances, you may wish to obtain written permission from candidates to perform background checks.

These steps may sound like a lot of work, and admittedly, there is additional effort involved upfront.  But think about the pain and suffering (not to mention the financial hit) you will save your team by insisting that a reputable candidate is brought on at the start.

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