October 1, 2012

A Background Check Now Will Save You From Grief Later

By Paul Bieber

You have been looking for a qualified glazier for two months, ever since Sam retired.  No luck.  Applicants today just don’t have the skills that Sam had.  It was somewhat expected, Sam had worked in the shop for over twenty years.  Suddenly, to a crash of symbols and a drum roll, Earl walks in the door.  He looks fit, about forty years old, and certainly has the experience you are looking for.  You take Earl for a walk in your shop; he offers some very good ideas on handling certain types of metal; he picks up a glass cutter and makes a clean score and snaps a piece of 1/2″ like it was single thick.  You are wondering if he has a red “S” on the tights under his work clothes.

Earl is hired on the spot.

Three months later Earl is arrested and you get a lawsuit that will probably put you out of business.

Where did you go wrong?

You got dazzled by Earl’s skills and personality; you needed a man just like him; and you forgot one of the first rules of hiring:  Do a thorough background check.   Yes, it may take a couple of extra days and you don’t want Earl walking down the street to another shop.  Yes, you might get simple yes/no answers to your questions without really learning anything.  Yes, if you do get answers you’ll probably find out that Earl is as good as he seems.  If you don’t do the checking you might not learn that Earl was fired from his last job for making suggestive comments to the women in the office.  You might not learn that Earl was involved in a DUI traffic accident in his employer’s truck; or you might not learn that Earl was a super employee who taught his fellow workers and that you are hiring a real diamond in the rough that has just moved to your city and the wages he wants are not out-of-line for his skills.

Enough.  How do you do this when all that you can get from employers is name and hire dates.  Don’t leave this to your secretary to do for you.  Make the call yourself–owner to owner.  If you can look up the previous owner’s home phone, call in the evening when the owner is away from the office.  Call two jobs back, call three jobs back…at least five years of Earl’s work history. 

Look at Earl’s job application or resume.  Look at his references…guaranteed they will all be good.  So, call another person at his previous company.  If he gives you another forman’s name, ask for the office manager.  Asking personnel will usually only give you the basics, but asking sales clerk who answers the phone will often tell you more!  Don’t ask questions with a yes or no answer.  Ask to describe Earl’s work ethic and habits and how does he get along with customers and fellow employees?  Ask if his truck was always clean, if he came to work ready to work at the start of his shift and if he got good comments or bad ones from customers he serviced.  If Earl places friends on his reference list, they may not know his work background, but ask if this friend ever went on vacation with Earl.  Did they gamble in Vegas? A little is fine, a lot portends trubles.  Did they chase women?  Never a good idea since Earl is married.

Ask each reference if they can recommend someone else you can call.  You may get an extra point-of-view on Earl this way. (Note from Paul…I usually do this and it almost always works!)

Ask your vendors if they have salespeople in Earl’s previous work area, and if they knew him, or heard stories about him. 

Call your insurance agent, giving them Earl’s driver’s license number.  He should be able to get Earl’s history.  In some states you can get information on the web, for a fee, about Earl’s background.  If you can, do this.  You spend fifty bucks now; this is a small investment when you are paying an experienced glazier going rates.

Go the government web site, www.dhs.gov/E-verify, to check legal standing in the US.  You should do this on all new hires.

All of this may only take a day or two.  And it takes that long to get the results from your drug-testing.  What?  You don’t do drug testing?  Then don’t bother with the background testing because you are already hiring the bottom half of the work force anyway.