Check-up on your reference checking (Editorial)

Just how poorly employers are doing with reference checking was driven home on a personal front the other day.

Recent studies have been flunking employers for their lack of attention to hiring practices in general and reference checking in particular. The call I received suggested these surveys shouldn’t be brushed aside.

Near the end of the day, I picked up a voice mail from the HR department of a large media organization. The caller explained she was checking the references of a job candidate who had worked for me years ago, and would like an opportunity to speak with me. I put it on my to-do list for the next day, and began thinking about details I could provide regarding a former employee I had managed years earlier.

When I arrived for work the next morning and checked messages, a second voice mail from the organization was requesting I call about the potential hire. Responding, I reached the HR staff member in question, only to be informed another reference had been tracked down and the candidate was being hired. Goodbye.

At this point — less than 24 hours from when I received the first call — there was no interest in anything I might add. What if I had reservations about the person’s ability to function in the specified job? What if I had a warning about dishonesty, an inability to work with others, lateness or violent behaviour? All hypothetical information that the HR department in question may have had at its fingertips, but was unconcerned about gathering.

Of course not only are HR professionals occupied with devising strategies to hire hard-to-find talent and free up time for their organizations’ workforces, they are dealing with staffing shortages within their own departments.

Beleaguered HR practitioners have a lot to cram into busy days. Proper reference checking takes time — time that is hard to come by. Time that departmental managers may also be too impatient to allow their HR colleagues.

All very understandable reasons for turning the task of reference checking into a rubber-stamping procedure. But still no excuse for rushing the process and failing to use best hiring practices.

Hasty hires cause more harm than leaving a position open. As well as hitting organizations in the bank account when unsuitable hires are released and a costly talent hunt resumes, there are productivity concerns. And then there’s the cost of rare, yet expensive, mistakes resulting in employee fraud, employment law suits or unethical behaviour. Adherence to thorough and probing reference checking policies can weed out potential problems, bringing a return on investment.

While HR departments may be short staffed, investing necessary resources is a sound financial proposition for an organization. If your department doesn’t have the personnel to adequately check references, then outsourcing the task is a wise move, with money well-spent.

Bad hires are too expensive a proposition.

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