Preventing last minute surprises: 4 critical pre-employment screening tips

By Paul Slezak - May. 2, 2012
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In the world of recruitment it’s often said that “it’s not over ’till the fat lady sings“, and so it’s best to try to prevent any last minute nasty surprises.

Once you’ve advertised the position, narrowed down the field and finally identified the perfect candidate, before you make them an offer, here is a check list of four useful tips to help you through the last important pre-employment screening phase.

1. Check their references

Don’t simply rely on a written reference. It could have been written by anyone. Do TWO verbal reference checks and when you do, keep these things in mind:

  • Make sure you are dialling a landline rather than a mobile number, so you know you are calling the office of the candidate’s previous employer and not just one their friends or colleagues.
  • Make sure you have the candidate’s permission to speak with the referee about them.
  • Confirm basic details such as the position title, the period they were employed and their level of experience.
  • Always ask open-ended questions, so the referee must elaborate, rather than simply answering yes or no.
  • Ask about the candidate’s reliability, punctuality, attendance record, sociability, attention to detail, time management skills, key strengths, possible areas where improvement could be made etc.
  • Ask the referee why the candidate left their employment.
  • Document the referee’s responses for later comparison with the key selection criteria.
  • Listen carefully for what the referee doesn’t say about the candidate. This omission could be intentional, if it is an area where your candidate doesn’t excel.
  • Ask the referee if they would re-employ the candidate, given the opportunity. Their reaction and response to this question will reveal a lot.

2. Check their online presence

These days, most people have an online footprint of some kind, whether it’s on a social media platform such as Facebook or Twitter, a blog site or a personal web page.

Do a search and see what comes up. You may be surprised at what you find. Despite the public nature of the internet, people are often still careless about what they say and reveal to others.

People have been known to disparage previous employers in chat rooms and if that turns out to be the case with your candidate, you need to ask yourself, “Would I like them to be talking about me and my organisation that way one day?

3. Check their commitment level

If the candidate is currently employed and there is a likelihood their employer may wish to retain their services, now is the time to broach the subject of potential counter offers. Ask the candidate what they would do if their current employer threw money at them to get them to stay.

The candidate’s answer will tell you if money is their primary motivation for changing jobs. If it is, finding out now may save you from a nasty surprise later on, when the candidate suddenly withdraws their application.

If their answer suggests they would be tempted by more money, but you still think they are the best candidate for the job, remind them that 85% of candidates who accept a counter offer end up leaving anyway within the next three months.

4. Check their reactions

If possible, sit down with the candidate and go through the employment contract with them point by point. Seeing their honest reaction to the contract terms will show you where any potential sticking points might lie and allow you to tackle their questions head on and hopefully iron out any problems.

Pre employment screening is never foolproof, as people can be very adept at hiding their true feelings. By following the rules and taking precautionary steps such as those outlined above, you may be able to stop any train wrecks before they happen and, at the end of the day, be quietly confident that you have hired the right candidate for the job.

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.


Paul Slezak

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.

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