Archive for February, 2012

Credit Checking Candidates: Is It Right?

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Last week, we talked about the challenges and benefits of personal and professional references. The rising occurrences and prices of lawsuits have made companies wary of giving specific and detailed information about former employees. Even if you get a detailed reference from one employer, the chances of getting all of the candidate’s former employers to cooperate are rather slim.

If you run into obstacles with references, there are two other options that are objective, if not entirely inscrutable. One is the credit check. This is a rather controversial method and it can only be used if the position entails financial responsibilities. The credit check will provide information on bankruptcies and foreclosures, slow or delinquent payments and the like, but anyone who has been unemployed for any length of time knows first-hand that when a paycheck disappears, not all of the bills get paid. It is very easy to draw the wrong conclusions when examining a credit report; just because a candidate has financial issues now does not mean that they will embezzle money from the company tomorrow! And if a candidate has a bad credit history, it is important to let the candidate defend himself.

The other option is the criminal check. This method will tell you if a candidate has ever been arrested or detained for violent or criminal behavior. It is a very good way of spotting potential issues, but the amount of material you can use from a criminal check (especially from sex offender registries) varies from state to state. It is important to carefully assess the material you find: beware of across-the-board bans on hiring felons and consider the nature and severity of the offense (as well as time served) before closing the door on a candidate. Also, a criminal check is not foolproof. Consider a person that lives alone and has anger management issues: they may never have been the object of a police report or even a complaint from the neighbors. That person may be able to adapt into an office setting without any side effects, or something could unexpectedly set them off. Such is the dilemma of human nature.

No matter if you choose to do credit or criminal checks (or both), it is essential to get the candidate’s written permission before doing so. Also, be sure to consult the Fair Credit Reporting Act before performing credit or criminal checks to ensure that you are following the law to the letter. Finally, be aware that there are constant efforts to outlaw the use of credit checks in the hiring process. Here in Colorado, SB12-003, a bill designed to limit employer use of credit reports in the workplace, has been introduced in the State Senate and is now being reviewed by the Judiciary Committee.

There are no easy answers to this problem, but it is important to try the above approaches before offering a position to a candidate. After all, one of the biggest mistakes an employer is to not try to learn about a potential candidate before making them an employee.  Happy hunting!  -Thomas Cunniffe

Recruit a Job Hopper?

Monday, February 13th, 2012

One of my all-time favorite movies is Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment”. Made in 1960, the film offers an incisive look at corporate America of that time. The story tells how Bud Baxter (played by Jack Lemmon) rises up the corporate ladder at a major insurance company. I won’t tell you how this happens—you need to see this movie!—but I mention it here because it assumes a common career goal of the period: after college, one would join a company in an entry-level position, then gradually move up the ranks, so that 20 years later, he would be a part of that company’s upper management team and working from the coveted corner office. Times have changed considerably in the last 50 years. Today, pension programs are nearly non-existent, employer-provided health care is primarily funded by employee contributions, and many employees feel under-appreciated, under-challenged and under-compensated. Thus, a large majority of the job force changes positions about every other year, earning them the derogatory term of job-hoppers.

To adapt the old saw, some people are job-hoppers, and some have job-hopping foisted upon them. With lay-offs and mergers becoming more and more common, many employees keep their options open, and answer the phone when a recruiter calls. One would hope that every job-hopper would eventually find someplace to settle down for a longer period, but some enjoy the challenge of learning and exploring new avenues in their chosen field. Every job field has a basic skill set, and one who changes positions frequently gets a wide variety of experience in several areas. That being said, there are good and bad ways to job-hop. It is of the utmost importance for employees to have reportable and verifiable positive results at any position where they worked. Those who leave jobs just because of boredom, low pay or problems with the work environment are not doing themselves any good when looking for a new position.

On the company side, the cost of training and educating a new employee has to be measured against the possibility of that employee leaving in a rather short time. Thus, it is very important to discover why a candidate has separated from their previous positions, and to establish if this is an unbreakable pattern. After all, some of the reasons for leaving a position are perfectly acceptable, such as temporary or contract employment, or moves due to changes in the spouse’s employment.  An extended period of job-hopping is a potential red flag, though, and the best question you could ask that candidate is whether they really want to continue in this field. Above all, one should always examine the total package. A candidate with a wide background could bring fresh ideas to the company and the sources from where the varied experience stems is far less important than the methods used to get there.

Job hopping is a situation that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. However, it is not necessarily the negative aspect that it once was. So, don’t throw away that resume just because it has several entries—that same person may offer great benefits to your company, and if you treat them well, they might just stay put.

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360 Degree Feedback for Recruiting

Monday, February 6th, 2012

First used in military applications in World War II, 360 degree feedback has been used in companies since the 1950s. Its popularity has increased substantially in the last decade with the use of internet-based applications. Basically, 360 degree feedback is a way to garner information about a candidate from a variety of sources, including the candidate himself. An anonymous online survey is sent to a subject and his managers and peers. In some cases, surveys can also be sent to subordinates and customers. Because of the multiple viewpoints presented, the surveys can provide a richer overview of a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses than that found in a typical résumé. The technique is widely used by companies for performance reviews and promotions, and is gaining popularity in the recruiting process.

When used inside a company as a training and performance review tool, 360 degree feedback has proved to be very effective in identifying areas for employee improvement, and discovering hidden potential. However, 360 degree feedback should be implemented as part of a larger program where the results of the surveys lead to new methods that will bring better future results. Otherwise, a sudden change of approach can lead to lowered employee morale and biased results.

Because of confidentiality issues, it is preferable to have the surveys designed and managed by an outside company. There is no shortage of companies that will offer their software (and usually seminars on how to use it). As you look for a third-party that can provide services, examine their sample surveys, and if you want to use 360 degree feedback for your recruiting efforts, be sure that there is a version of the software specifically designed for that purpose. The surveys should include questions about the subject’s work skills, leadership, motivational effectiveness, ethics and general attitude.

360 degree feedback can be very valuable for recruiting. Some of the survey subjects listed above are the same subjects that can be difficult to include in an in-person interview. Getting multiple responses from outside sources can provide those valuable and necessary insights. For outside recruiters, the positive feedback that comes from a 360 degree feedback report can help build the candidate’s case in the eyes of a hiring manager. After all, multiple corroborating sources are much more effective than a self-serving résumé written by the candidate himself.

However, 360 degree feedback has its detractors, too. One of the major opposing arguments is that the information gathered in the surveys can be biased. Studies show that the longer the person taking the survey has known the subject, the less objective their opinions will be. This is especially true in the case of a candidate’s personal friends. There is also the “Rashomon effect” (named for a classic 1950 film directed by Akira Kurosawa) where different people will give their own differing assessments based on their personal motives. And with both of these issues, there is no way to judge the reliability of the information because all of the responses are anonymous.

In short, every company must make its own decisions on how and if to use 360 degree feedback. It can be a powerful tool, but can bring contradictory results. Perhaps the best solution is to research the companies that provide the service and if you want to take the chance, take advantage of the free trial versions on specially selected subjects. It is a trial-and-error process to be sure, but it may provide an additional and valuable resource to your recruiting and training efforts. Happy hunting! -Thomas Cunniffe