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[Author: Lesley Sifers, Tax Favored Benefits, Inc., 2012; R-2013 | Keywords: Human Resources, Recruiting, Hiring]

I don’t know if the economy is really getting better or not. However, I do know that many companies have been running with less-than-comfortable staffing levels. While there are a lot of good candidates out there, in the past few years it has become increasingly difficult to find a really good job. Some “experts” say this has led to more exaggeration on resumes and applications, if not outright lying. It doesn’t really take an expert to know that applicants have been doing that for years.

Perhaps in this New Year, hiring is on your “to do” list for a change. If so, here are some refreshers to help you find the right people.

Resumes if you solicit resumes, be aware that resume-writing software can make anyone look good – plus, their resumes all sound alike. When you review resumes, look first for contradictions. This could be errors in start and stop dates, job titles that don’t seem to fit the job duties or anything that makes you think, “Huh.”

Applications require EVERY applicant (an applicant is a person you select for a personal interview) to complete your own application form. This should always be a handwritten form because that exercise alone can tell you a lot. First, can you read their writing? Second, are they thorough or do they leave things blank or write “see resume” or “will discuss” in the blank space? Compare the application to what they told you on the resume. Do the facts match? 

Obtain Releases you need signed releases to conduct your background check and, especially if you do a credit report, your release must meet the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Make this part of your application process.

Personal Interviews a personal interview is crucial toward selecting the right person. If those conducting interviews are not proficient in that aspect of their position, for goodness sake, at least send them to a seminar on the topic. Questions should be both probing and “open-ended” (i.e. not easily answered “yes” or “no”). Closely examine the applicant’s claims of supervisory background, cost-savings accomplishments, or anything else that seems too good to be true. For example, a claim that the person “reorganized” something resulting in greater efficiency may mean they moved the copier closer to the shred bins!

Claims of “self-employment” are being used to cover large gaps in employment – even more so today. Ask for details about what service or product they provided and to whom. Many of today’s claims of self-employment are Internet businesses, such as creating websites or service-based businesses, such as a wedding videographer. (If they were wildly successful doing that, would they be applying for your job?) Obtain names of clients and permission to contact them.

Testing finalists for your positions should be tested for essential skills. This is most efficiently done in a “callback” interview after you have selected your top candidates. When you test applicants, you must test all candidates in the same way for the same position. (That’s why I think it best to confine the testing to finalists.) If an applicant claims proficiency in certain computer programs or machines, test them to be sure. I recall a situation where the applicant claimed expertise with Excel spreadsheets but, in reality, they had only entered data into a pre-designed spreadsheet. The applicant was clueless when it came to creating or manipulating an Excel spreadsheet. Testing made this very apparent.

Background and Reference Checks this is more important today than ever before. Make those calls and get the reports. Check driving records (if driving is part of the job), criminal history, etc. Call former employers and, if you can’t get anything else, at least confirm dates of employment, job title and rate of pay. Do this for ALL finalists to avoid discrimination charges. Do this, too, for applicants referred by your employees or friends. Just because someone has been referred to you by someone you trust should not make the hire a “slam dunk.” It’s more than possible that the person referring someone has never actually worked with that person.

Always check education claims. If you require an advanced degree for a position or some type of technical training, verify with the educational institution that the person actually attained that degree or certificate. Many applicants rely on the fact that potential employers DO NOT check those things.

Social Media – this is a big deal right now. Should you check an applicant’s Facebook page or whatever else is out there? Personally, I wouldn’t be doing it at this stage – too much litigation is cropping up in that area. However, I would think twice about someone whose e-mail address is HotChick or BeerBum at dotX. (I had to write it that way because my computer tried to take me to the hot chick website when I wrote it like an email address!!!) For one thing, a person who is actively seeking a job should be smart enough to set up an e-mail account with just a regular name and address.