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Employee Hiring, Development, and Retention

Best Practices in Hiring

Mike Poskey | November 1, 2012

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Man in suit interviewing woman in suit at desk

If a job candidate looks good on paper and looks good in the interview, one would naturally assume this candidate would be a good fit for the job. While it sounds logical, it doesn't always work out that way.

Too much faith in resumes and interviews can lead to bad hiring decisions, with negative repercussions, including low morale, high turnover, and the high cost of starting the hiring process all over again. An unfortunate truth is that sometimes candidates are not entirely honest on their resumes. In a survey conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), 53 percent of the human resource (HR) professionals who participated said they discovered false information when checking the references of applicants. This underscores the importance of HR professionals going through a rigorous screening process to identify and hire top talent.

Look Beyond the Resume

Let's say the candidate being interviewed is honest on his or her resume, and let's assume that, after a couple of interviews, people in the office are impressed. Too often, this is where the hiring process ends, but the wrong person may be hired. There could be any number of reasons why this is so. Maybe the candidate had the experience, but he came from a company with a different corporate culture and will have trouble adjusting. Or, while the candidate's resume was impressive, she bristles at her new manager's leadership style, thus performing at a lower level than expected. As many HR professionals and managers have come to discover, a resume and professional interview simply do not accurately predict a candidate's success in a new job.

Individuals are complex, as are the positions they are interviewing to fill. While factors such as education, skill sets, and experience are often shown on resumes, they do not describe the entire person and his or her ability to do the job well. It takes digging deeper. For example, does the applicant prefer working in a group or alone? How does he or she handle criticism? Is she used to more work or less?

Companies have come to realize that the time and money spent on a properly conducted preemployment screening program can help expedite the hiring process and ensure a safe, secure, and productive workplace. Let's face it, whether we like it or not, the future trend in business will require the HR professional to absorb much of the responsibility of employee risk management. HR professionals can craft a companywide hiring management process that can aid the manager in learning more about the candidate before hiring him or her, thus reducing any adverse effects down the road. These checks include criminal and background checks, objective behavioral testing, a formalized behavioral interviewing process, and extensive reference checks. So, you ask, does an HR professional really need to know all of that? Can we just make a hiring decision without all that time and expense? Sure. But "gut feeling" hires and "what you see on paper" hires are much like flipping a coin and can lead to cataclysmic losses.

Add Criminal and Background Checks

Background and criminal checks are absolutely essential in the hiring process today for obvious reasons: workplace safety, "at-risk" behavior, propensity for theft, sexual harassment, alcohol and/or drug abuse, falsified employment applications, substandard driving records, and negligent hiring lawsuits. It is common knowledge that corporations lose billions of dollars each year hiring candidates with criminal records or deviant behavior traits. Much can be gleaned through a comprehensive reference check. However, it's important to keep in mind that many former employers of substandard employees are very cautious when sharing prior performance information, fearing lawsuits if they divulge too much. For this reason, past disciplinary issues often remain undiscovered until it is too late.

Employers can minimize these risks considerably by working with a qualified screening provider whose job it is to protect businesses against losses associated with a wrong hiring decision. When you consider the sheer volume of applications that must be sorted through, filed, and stored, it is no wonder that we want to get a position filled as soon as possible. Many times, when an HR professional finds an applicant whose resume is perfect, whose presence and appearance are seamless, and whose interview is impressive, the urge to cut corners at this stage in the game is overwhelming! Barry Nadell, president of InfoLink Screening Services, Inc., warns employers against taking this kind of shortcut since "You are not only assessing the possible contributions of an applicant, but their potential employee 'costs' in terms of low morale, lateness, absenteeism, accidents, insurance claims, and turnover, as well as possible theft, violence, or lawsuits." Consider these statistics.

  • There are 6 million threats of violence and 2 million assaults each year.
  • Thirteen people die due to workplace violence every year.
  • Thirty-three percent of employees admit to stealing a product or money from jobs in the past 3 years.
  • An estimated 30 percent of business failures are directly related to employee theft.
  • Nearly 40 percent of applications are falsified in some manner.
  • Employers lose 72 percent of all negligent hiring lawsuits.

Mr. Nadell stresses the importance of verifying that the chosen screening provider employee procedures comply with the law. However, the investigation must go beyond a criminal record check. If a behavior, such as past sexual harassment, is not caught and reported, documentation will not exist. If a past employee has never been convicted of stealing, there will be no record of theft. To muck the waters further, many times, the candidate being considered for a position does not have a criminal background but can have unseen character or ethical deviations. If hired, this candidate can wreak havoc, ultimately costing the company thousands of dollars. HR professionals must go beyond background and criminal checks. It is during the interviewing process we can probe beneath the surface to find the character information we need to make a qualified hiring decision.

Structured Behavioral Interviewing

Today's HR professional needs to look past the resume and beyond the criminal and background checks when looking at a candidate for hire. A single document or two simply does not provide enough information to make an informed decision. To complicate the hiring process further, interviewers tread a fine line when trying to find the real person behind the interview façade. In fact, according to a recent SHRM article, interview expert William S. Swan, PhD, reported that a mere 10 to 12 percent of those actively involved in hiring new employees have any kind of formal training on how to conduct an interview.

Legal issues make many HR professionals wary of the interview process. So many questions are illegal to ask that it is hard to tell what is safe today and what isn't. How can today's HR professional identify adverse behavior patterns without stepping on legal toes? Often, behavioral-based questioning can lead a candidate into discussing important aspects of his or her thinking and decision-making style that could affect job performance in a new position.

Examples of such questions include the following.

  • Tell me about some of the times you have had to work under pressure or had to meet difficult deadlines.
  • Discuss a time in the past when you have failed to meet an objective or goal. Why did that happen?
  • In your previous jobs, have you ever been confronted by management because of an error you made? How did you handle this situation?
  • Has there ever been a time when you were asked to do something that challenged your integrity? What was your response?
  • Would you describe yourself as someone who enjoys taking risks? Tell me about a situation in the past in which you had to take a risk.

Of course, even these questions can be answered untruthfully. After all, a person just has to know how to act to give a good interview—he or she does not have to be the right person for the job. This is where using objective behavioral tests can confirm or disconfirm the information you uncover from the candidate. Many of the better preemployment behavioral tests will provide suggested behavioral interview questions to ask of the candidate.

Administer Objective Behavioral Testing

Many companies have decided to go a step further when interviewing potential employees by incorporating preemployment assessment tests into the process. These behavioral assessments offer a number of advantages to HR professionals. According to the Association of Test Publishers, some of those advantages are as follows.

  • Tests are evenhanded—they ask the same questions of everyone.
  • Tests typically require less time than traditional interviews, so they are more efficient in obtaining job-related information.
  • Appropriate tests have been carefully screened to be fair and unbiased and will not include questions asking for improper information.
  • Tests allow the individual's answers to be compared with hundreds or thousands of other candidates' (or current employees') answers to the same question under the same standard condition.
  • The decisions made from test results are based on research studies that prove their accuracy and effectiveness.

These tests give interviewers another perspective of the job candidate, allowing them to assess personal aspects of the individual, such as interpersonal skills, initiative, and self-regulation. By adding these assessments to the hiring process, interviewers can answer the questions that eluded them previously. They can determine how the candidate would work within the corporate culture, eliminate candidates whose profiles indicate they would not work well with the leadership style of the manager, and gain some insight into the individual's work ethic. This gives the HR professional more information on which to base a hiring decision.

Another benefit of assessment tests to the hiring process is the opportunity to conduct benchmark studies on successful performers in a given job. By conducting this type of study using behavioral assessment tests, a company can develop a job analysis of the critical "soft skill" factors necessary for success. These profiles of success can be compared with job candidate profiles and will greatly enhance the probability of hiring the right person the first time.

Does this sound time consuming and expensive? It isn't necessarily so. The following table represents the cost per hire as reported in the SHRM/EMA Staffing Metrics study released this past year.

Table 1. Cost Per Hire by Size
Size Exempt Non-Exempt
Small $9,044 $3,640
Medium $6,362 $2,434
Large $6,062 $2,177
Average $6,943 $2,546

Source: 2012 SHRM/EMA cpH Survey

While the study indicated that the cost per hire criteria varied by company, the averages unearthed are nonetheless significant. Factor in costs of turnover, rehire, lost production, training, and insurance, and the cost of a bad hire can rise to a breathtaking number. Who wants to keep paying costs like these repeatedly? When everything is factored in, it is far less expensive to go the extra step and hire the right person for the job, company culture, and management style the first time.

One caveat to remember, however, is that these tests should never be the sole deciding factor in hiring a new employee. They should be used as part of the entire hiring process and can help in selecting the candidate with the best fit for the position among other qualified candidates. As part of the overall hiring process, preemployment assessment tests can provide a more comprehensive picture of an individual to help in making the right decision for both the employee and the company. But don't stop there.

Polish with Extensive Reference Checks

There are a myriad of legal issues surrounding reference checking, but it is wrong to think that not checking references is the safest policy. As an employer, you have the responsibility and the right to check references. The courts agree that checking references is a lawful business practice. An increase in negligent hiring litigation is a warning to employers to use reasonable care in selecting employees. Your company may choose to select an outsourced vendor to assist in your reference checking, or, if you choose to do this screening function in-house, just make sure the information you seek is job related.


Upon implementation of a thorough hiring management process, it is recommended that you document the procedures and processes and train department managers, as well as recruiters, on all screening and interviewing processes to ensure consistency. In summary, if you just need a "warm" body, or if you are in dire need to hire someone quickly, then why even conduct an interview? Why not just tell the candidate when and where to show up?

The truth is that employers conduct interviews to get a better feel for candidates' ability to do the job, as well as whether they will do the job in their companies. In addition to the interview, it is critical to incorporate background checks, behavioral interviewing, behavioral tests, and reference checks to further determine whether the person will do the job effectively and whether he or she poses a "risk" to the organization. Once your organization has implemented these steps into your interviewing and screening processes, you will have gone far in reducing your company's exposure to employment-related claims and increased the likelihood of unearthing top talent.

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