You can’t judge a book by its cover; and you can’t judge a candidate by the resume.
On paper, an applicant can look like your next superstar. In reality, there is the chance they could be the beginning of a major headache.
Writing for Inc. Magazine, Laura Smoliar discusses the importance of a thorough reference check. In The Real Reason to Check References, Smoliar says that the possibility of hiring someone unstable—yet “perfectly well-adjusted” on the surface—can be disastrous.
She cites several horrible acts that have been carried out by people who looked OK at the time. Undiagnosed mental illness could possibly manifest itself at the workplace, with tragic results.
A thorough background check is more than explaining gaps in employment; periods of extended unemployment are only one “red flag” on a resume.
Smoliar also offers some insights that can help your strategy for pre-employment background checks:
- Some people are reluctant to give bad references—often they are afraid of legal liabilities.
- Most references provided are those coached to speak kind words about the candidate; they are “gaming” the system in the candidate’s favor.
- Put everything in context. Asking pointed questions, such as the circumstances or reasons why the candidate changed jobs, may inform the employer as to what kind of attitude they have.
- Find people that are not on the reference list. Sometimes co-workers and other employees that had interactions with the candidate can also shed some light on his or her background.
- Of course, there are issues of legality, so with a thorough reference check; it is always a smart idea to consult with the company attorney or legal department before a deeper background check.
Like any good story, a background check needs to have a coherent narrative; if things do not add up, then HR may have to dig a little deeper. A terrific hire will certainly be worth the effort.