Employers: Don't Let Job Applicants Snow You
By Marty Nemko
Whether you’re a foreman or a CEO, among your most important tasks is to hire wisely. Land a good employee and the job will get done well and you’ll probably avoid the often draining task of trying to fire a bad employee.
But job applicants make it tough to hire wisely. As a career counselor, I know that many job applicants will go to great lengths to get an employer to hire them:
Truth: The job seeker has been in an alcohol-induced stupor for a year.
What the job seeker tells a prospective employer: My mother was ill for the last year and I had to help her.
Truth: The job seeker has been unable to land a job for a decade.
What the job seeker tells prospective employers: I’ve been continually employed. (The job seeker lists a friend or relative as their employer.)
Truth: The job seeker was fired for incompetence.
What the job seeker tells a prospective employer: My employer was pleased with my work but no longer needed someone with my skill set. (The employer agreed to say that if the employer left without filing a wrongful termination claim.)
A Kiplinger’s Forecast reported that according to a study of 30,000 background checks by pre-employ.com, a screening service in Redding, California, nearly 30 percent of applicants stretched the truth on their resumes regarding their employment or education. Nearly one-fourth of the applicants that ADP, a New Jersey firm, reviewed last year had lied about their employment or education records or both, and six percent had been convicted of crimes in the previous seven years.
Other job applicants, while honest, make it difficult for an employer to fairly assess their suitability for the job. These applicants hire professionals to write their resumes and cover letters and to coach them for interviews. These coaches have the client rehearse scripted answers to the most commonly asked interview questions. That is often done on videotape to ensure the candidate not only says the right words, but seems sincere and unrehearsed.
What’s an employer to do?
1. Get leads from personal referrals. Your respected colleagues, employees, and friends are unlikely to unload a loser on you.
2. Place ads in targeted locations: for example, the website of a professional association and, if ads are permitted, an online discussion group. Good employees often participate in such professional development.
To avoid being overwhelmed by too many applications, advertise the job opening on a large employment site such as monster.com or careerbuilder.com only when the job requires skills so rarely held that you’d otherwise likely get fewer than a dozen decent applicants.
3. Give applicants whose resumes and cover letters look good a written three-question simulation test: Ask candidates to briefly describe how they’d tackle three situations they’ll likely face on the job.
4. The interview should also consist heavily of simulations For example, for a management position, ask the candidate to run a five-minute meeting to discuss a topic. Have the interviewers role-play the meeting attendees.
5. Choose intelligence and drive over experience. It’s usually easier for a motivated quick learner to gain experience than for an experienced person to gain intelligence and drive.
6. Ask the one or two top finalists to submit the names and contact information of ten references. Call all ten after hours. Leave this voice mail: “My name is (insert your name) and I’m about to hire someone for a very important position as a (insert job title or description.) (Insert name of candidate) is one of the people I’m seriously considering. If you think she’d be excellent in that position, I’d deeply appreciate your calling me back at (say phone number twice.) If you think she’d be less than excellent, there’s no need to call. Again, this is a very important position and I really want to hire someone wonderful. Thanks so much.
Excellent candidates usually get at least six of 10 callbacks.
7. Hire a firm to conduct a pre-employment background check. A study by hr.com rated Employment Screening Resources (esrcheck.com) the nation’s top employee screening firm. Thanks to Internet searching capabilities, a background check now only costs $100 to $200 per employee and can reveal criminal convictions and falsified employment and education information.
8. Try to get the new employee to agree to begin as a temp. Despite a careful screening, candidates on the job aren’t always what they seemed during the screening. Some employees’ best day is at the job interview.
And even in at-will states, which, at least, on paper, allow employers to terminate employees at will, terminating a permanent employee can be exceedingly difficult, especially if the employee is in a protected class, for example, woman, minority, or person over 40. To reassure the prospective employee that the job truly is a long-term one, agree that unless there are serious problems, you’ll convert the person to permanent status in 30 days. Most serious problems reveal themselves within the first month.
9. Don’t become cynical. Yes, some applicants lie, but don’t let that blind you to the fact that most people are quite ethical. Most of my clients want to present themselves honestly and be hired on their merits.
© Marty Nemko 2004-2017. Usage Rights