Effective and Efficient Methods of Background Investigation and Reference Checking

A great business relies on talented, highly skilled, and hardworking employees that continue target goals and surpass them. Hiring the best employees for a business however, is not a simple task. It requires sifting through the vast workforce and getting only the best of the best for the production results one desires. Intelligent and effective human resources management involves two practices that guarantee the people hired fit their positions to a T: background investigation and reference checking.

The three most effective ways of background investigation and reference checking are mail, by telephone, and in person. In the world of human resources management today, there is no universal agreement on what the terms “background investigation” and “reference checking” mean (Barada and McLaughlin 1). The term “background check” may mean the same thing as a “background investigation,” but there are also some people who interchange the terms with each other. It may be important to distinguish between “background investigation” and “reference checking” however, to clarify the following discussion.

Background investigation involves verifying the accuracy of the information provided by a job applicant through his resume or cover letter. In a way, it serves as the company’s first defense against potential fraud from job candidates. The person or group assigned the task of background investigation makes sure that a particular job applicant has not deceived the company about the details of his cover letter or resume. As an initial screening device, a background check also serves the purpose of decreasing the number of resumes and cover letters on the prospective employer’s table.
Through the careful elimination of job applicants who seem to provide doubtful information on their job applications, the prospective employer can arrive at a shorter list of candidates to consider. These candidates’ job applications are theoretically more credible than the others that have been discarded. Background investigation though, strictly speaking, is very different from reference checking. The prospective employer doesn’t evaluate a candidate’s past job performance during a background investigation.
However, background investigation does involve tasks such as verification of current and former job positions, dates of employment, educational information, and professional licenses claimed, if any (Barada and McLaughlin 4). There are many ways to conduct background investigations, including by phone, through the Internet, and by hiring a background investigation firm. The simplest way would be to phone institutions mentioned by the candidate in his resume. For example, if a candidate claims that he has an MA in business management from a particular university, the investigator could phone that university and verify the information.
Background investigation by phone is very effective and efficient because the investigator consumes little time and effort in confirming the details on the resume. The people concerned can also answer any questions the investigator may have regarding the candidate’s background. Another way to conduct background investigation is to use Internet resources to verify the information on the candidate’s resume and cover letter. Many schools today provide information on their websites regarding their students and programs.
Some may have downloadable newsletters that the investigator could sift through to confirm the candidate’s information. The investigator may also send an e-mail to people concerned, asking them to reply when it’s most convenient to them. There are companies today who hand over the task of background checking to specialized background investigation firms. These firms help their clients to hire better employees by steering them clear of candidates who lie on their resumes. Industry experts estimate that thirty percent of all resumes contain falsifications or misrepresentations.
Most of these are located in the education section of a resume. A background investigation firm can help their clients enhance their workplace security, reduce turnover, minimize the risk of employee theft, and provide assurance to the prospective employer’s decision regarding hiring a candidate or not (Falcone 122). Reference checking, in contrast with background investigation, is an objective assessment of an applicant’s past job performance based on information collected from the applicant’s previous employers (Barada and McLauglin 2).
Prospective employers usually do reference checks during the final stages of the hiring process to assess applicants on their list of job finalists (Kleiman 163). Among the many uses of reference checking is the collection of clear testimonials that support a prospective employer’s decision to hire an applicant, and the revelation of factors that the employer and applicant may have not discussed during the interview (Andler and Herbst 157). Reference checking has many other benefits, which will be discussed later.
The three most effective ways to conduct reference checks is in person, by telephone, and by mail. Among these, the most effective way to gather information is through a face-to-face discussion with a character reference. This method has several advantages over others. First, you can verify if such a person does exist and that the character didn’t deceivingly asked a friend of his to impersonate a boss for example who he claims to be extremely proud of his work. When conducting a reference check in person, it is a good strategy to talk to the character reference first through the telephone.
It may be more appropriate to do this when considering a candidate for an executive position which may have a huge impact on the company’s overall performance. The reference should be asked if he is willing to meet the human resources representative at his office for a brief conversation about his previous employer. The representative could also ask the previous employer if he is willing to talk over lunch or a cup of coffee. The important thing is not to pressure the character reference into agreeing to the meeting. He should agree wholeheartedly about the proposition.
It’s also not right to deceive the character reference about the meeting. He should be clearly informed of what the meeting will be all about. During the meeting, he should not be pressured to reveal information on the candidate. It is best to have a ready list of questions to ask the character reference, so the conversation will not venture off to unnecessary topics, consuming the reference’s precious time. While face-to-face reference checks are extremely informative about the job candidate, it is very obvious that it also consumes too much time, energy, and money to execute.
A human resource representative would have to travel from one place to another just to secure interviews from the character references. He would also have to spend the company’s money during these short conversations. It is therefore not that efficient as a means of checking character references. The most efficient method of reference checking is by telephone. The human resources representative in this case doesn’t have to go anywhere and can remain in the office while checking character references. There are many ways by which a representative can do reference checking by phone.
One effective method is called the “exact-time method” (Andler and Herbst 186). In this method, the representative first calls the character reference asking him what time would be convenient for him to talk a little bit about his previous employee, for example. The representative then establishes an exact-time by which he would call the person again, and then proceeds to call him exactly at the time specified. According to experiments done by Andler and Herbst, the exact-time method has an interesting effect on character references.
Once the representative tells a person that he’ll be calling again at a particular time, the person somehow is induced to sit all day beside the telephone waiting for the call. In their experiments, some were even annoyed because they waited for the phone to ring at the time specified. This works to the prospective employer’s advantage because interviews with character references are then easier to secure. The possibility of missing them because they’ve just had lunch or went to another place is lessened, making the reference check more efficient.
References may also be pleased by the professionalism of the representative through this method since he shows that he is willing to work with their schedules (Andler and Herbst 187). The oldest way of checking references is by mail. Although the method is still being used today by new and old companies, it is obvious that checking references by mail is both time-consuming and ineffective as a means of gathering information. There are many difficulties associated with reference checking, including choosing the right people to do the job, dealing with the references themselves, and making sure no law is transgressed in the process.
While reference checking is an essential part of the hiring process, some companies that are more administrative than results-oriented avoid reference checks by telephone or in person to cut risks (Andler and Herbst 187). This is not advisable to prospective employers because investing in the most credible candidates is an important way to secure the future of any business. Reference checking through snail mail is virtually futile. Previous employers could be expected to be slow in answering questions that the prospective employer sent them. Many of them many not answer at all.
Research shows that the return rate of reference checking by mail can be as high as fifty-six percent and as low as eighteen percent. One reason for the very low return rate is that previous employers are afraid that their employees may sue them for revealing information in written form (Andler and Herbst 187-188). When checking references by mail, it is advisable that e-mail be used rather than snail mail. This would make the character reference more comfortable with writing the information that he knows because he doesn’t have to write it on a tangible piece of paper.
He’ll just type all the necessary bits of information on the e-mail and then send it back. The questionnaire should be written as to assure the character reference that they’re violating no law in the activity and that records of the prospective employee will be competently guarded. Whether by phone, by mail or in person, there are many ways to conduct reference checks. Some companies hire other agencies to do reference checks and background investigation for them. Others though, use their own human resources departments to do the job.
One good strategy though is for the manager for whom the job applicant will work to call the previous employers himself. Thus, reference checking is not done through the human resources department or any other agency but directly (Rosenberg 241). It is very advantageous to conduct a reference check through the manager than the human resources department because the candidate will eventually have to answer to the manager when he gets hired, not to the human resources department. The manager will know what questions about job performance to ask the character references.
A human resources representative wouldn’t have this kind of knowledge and would likely only be concerned with the legal issues the company might face in conducting the reference check (Rosenberg 241). The manager can talk to character references by phone, mail or in person, but it is most recommended that he talks to them by phone for efficiency and more results. One problem with any kind of reference check is that the character references may want to withhold or change information regarding a candidate.
Former employers are usually reluctant to reveal information, sometimes only providing the candidate’s date of employment and job title. Some of them may also want to reveal only information that’s favorable to the candidate even if it’s not true (Kleiman 164). The reason why previous employers and other character references are usually reluctant to share information on a candidate is because they fear they could be sued for defamation by the candidate.
Some candidates do sue their character references, blaming them for their failure to secure a job position. It’s easy to get around this problem though, by clearly explaining to the character reference that he can defend himself against any defamation suits by only revealing information that is factual and objective. He should also only share the information to interested parties and not anyone outside of the transaction. The interview must also completely revolve around topics that are job-related and nothing else (Kleiman 164).
While there are companies today who skip reference checking because of legal concerns and the belief that references would only reveal information favorable to the candidate, reference checking is still essential as an investment for the company’s future. Reference checking is an effective strategy to predict the future job performance and behavior of a candidate based on the testimonials of other parties that have seen his work before (Kleiman 163). There’s always a risk in hiring people, and reference checking supports a prospective employer’s decision to hire a particular candidate.
Conducting a reference check makes a prospective employer feel better about the decision he made regarding hiring a candidate. Reference checks may also reveal information that has not been revealed before during the candidate’s interview. That information may be helpful or disadvantageous to the candidate’s application, but it is ultimately the prospective employer that benefits from the supplementary information. Information like the candidate is a very good mother, very health conscious, or that she’s pleasant to work with may be revealed during a reference check.
The character reference may also give some advice on where the candidate excels best. You can then consider his advice and put him in a position where he’ll likely perform in the best way possible (Andler and Herbst 157). Whatever means you choose to conduct a reference check, it is absolutely necessary to keep the conversation about the job position the candidate is applying for. Common topics addressed during a reference check include the candidate’s dates of employment, job titles he held, rate of pay, attendance, and performance evaluations.
The prospective employer may also ask the reference about the candidate’s behavior, what character traits he possesses or if he has any discipline problems. It’s also important to inquire about the candidate’s ability to get along with his colleagues and his general strengths and weaknesses. The prospective employer may also inquire about the candidate’s reason for leaving if the character reference knows anything about it and is willing to share that information. Finally, he could also ask him whether he’s willing to rehire the candidate or not.
In our opinion, it is not only prospective and previous employers who should be conscious of the necessity of background investigations and reference checks. All employees and job applicants should also recognize that an efficient and successful company relies on credible, talented and hardworking people to accomplish goals and targets. Instead of being too wary of background investigation and reference checks, and thinking about suing their former employers for revealing information about them, they must accept the fact that both procedures are essential to ensure the health of their industry.
They must act on their own and provide only truthful information on their job applications. Background investigation and reference checking will always be essential to the performance of a company. Both of these procedures can now be more efficiently and effectively done with the use of modern resources like the Internet. While employers, both prospective and previous, may continue to confront lawsuits from employees or job applicants, it is necessary to continue the practices of background investigation and reference checking for the benefit of any industry.
Without these procedures, industries will perform poorly because of the increased chance of hiring the wrong people for important positions. Whether by phone, by mail, in person, through the Internet or through a private investigation firm, it is advisable for any company to conduct background investigations and reference checks for improved performance in the future. Works Cited Ades, Leslie J. Managing Mavericks: the Art of Sales Management. Dubuqe: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2004. Adler, Lou. Hire with Your Head: Using Performance-Based Hiring to Build Great Teams. Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2007.
Andler, Edward C. and Herbst, Dara. The Complete Reference Checking Handbook: The Proven (and Legal) Way to Prevent Hiring Mistakes. Atlanta: AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn, 2002. Barada, Paul William J. and McLaughlin, Michael. Reference Checking for Everyone: What You Need to Know to Protect yourself, your Business, and your Family. Dubuqe: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2004. Berman, Evan M. , et al. Human Resource Management in Public Service: Paradoxes, Processes, and Problems. Thousand Oaks: SAGE, 2005. Branham, Leigh. Keeping the People who Keep you in Business: 24 Ways to Hang On to your Most Valuable Talent.
Atlanta: AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn, 2001. Dinteman, Walter Anthony. Zero Defect Hiring: a Quick Guide to the Most Important Decisions Managers Have to Make. Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2003. Enos, Darryl D. Performance Improvement: Making it Happen, Second Edition. New York: CRC Press, 2007. Falcone, Paul. The Hiring and Firing Question and Answer Book. Atlanta: AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn, 2001. Fischer, Robert J. and Gion Green. Introduction to Society. Saint Louis: Elsevier, 1998. Herman, Susan J. Hiring right: a practical guide. Thousand Oaks: SAGE, 1993. Kleiman, Lawrence.
Human Resource Management: A Managerial Tool for Competitive Advantage Third Edition. Daryaganj: Wiley-India, 2003. Loen, Raymond O. Superior Supervision: the 10% Solution. Lanham: Lexington Books, 1994. Marshall, Don R. The Four Elements of Successful Management: Select, Direct, Evaluate, Reward. Atlanta: AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn, 1998. Moran, Greg and Patrick Longo. Hire, Fire, and the Walking Dead: Recruiter’s Guide to Hiring the Best. El Monte: Academic Learning Company LLC, 2006. Pritchard, Christopher W. 101 Strategies for Recruiting Success: Where, When, and How to Find the Right People Every Time.
Atlanta: AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn, 2006. Rosenberg, DeAnne. A Manager’s Guide to Hiring the Best Person for Every Job. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2000. Stone, Florence M. The Manager’s Question and Answer Book. Atlanta: AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn, 2003. Voros, Sharon and Philippe De Backer. The Road to Ceo: The World’s Leading Executive Recruiters Identify the Traits You Need to Make It to the Top. Cincinnati: Adams Media, 2002. Widmann, Nancy C. , et al. I Didn’t See It Coming: The Only Book You’ll Ever Need to Avoid Being Blindsided in Business. Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2007.

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