Digging Up Dirt Before You Hire

It’s getting harder to know who or what you’re hiring these days. Many resumes seem to be more of an exercise in creative writing than the fact-filled document we hope for.

Add to this the fact that former employers are becoming increasingly hesitant to give any references beyond confirming a person’s employment for fear of being sued, and you can see why this whole business of hiring someone is becoming a pain in the butt.

Not that there is a big chance of hiring the next Jack (or Jackie) the Ripper, but it would be nice to have a better idea about people before they join your company ranks.

Don’t Hire a Problem
It’s important that you take care during the hiring process. If you end up hiring a problem, you may have an even bigger problem "unhiring" them as there is a growing tendency for people to sue companies for firing them. It can also cause you to run into major time-consuming problems.

For example, in some jurisdictions you can’t fire the person who comes to work drunk every day. You have to provide him with, and pay for, an employee assistance program to help them with their "disability."

My question to you is, Would you knowingly hire someone who has a drinking problem? I’m probably not going out on much of a limb here when I say that I suspect the answer is no.

I grant you that this kind of potential problem (excessive drinking) is very difficult, if not downright impossible, to uncover during the hiring process. Often you have to trust your instincts.

For example, I’m not sure why but I had a suspicion about a candidate I was considering many years ago. During the reference check, which was going pretty well, I made a comment that I thought "Fred" might like to have a drink or two during the day. There was a long silence on the other end of the phone before the person said, "That’s very perceptive of you." Suspicion confirmed.

Making the Extra Effort
Hiring someone is a little like getting married, easy to do, hard to undo. This being the case, you’d think that more managers would put a little extra effort into making sure they’re hiring the right person.

While a  sales assessment test can help you make a better match between the candidate and the sales position, the job of checking out a candidate’s character and values is more challenging. However, there are new and different tools available to help with this, the Internet being prime among them.

Smart companies are taking the time to use these tools to take a closer look at who they let in the door.

Self-inflicted Wounds
A lot of people, particularly young people, shoot themselves in the foot by inadvertently advertising to the world how stupid they can be.

How else do you explain the plethora of poor-taste photos and inane writings that they post on their personal social networking sites such as FaceBook or MySpace? It’s as though they think that the only people who will be seeing the stuff is their friends. They might as well just hire a billboard along a busy highway for all the privacy they have.

We tend to think that only teens use these social networks, but statistics show the average age of a FaceBook and MySpace user as being in their forties.

Digging Up the Dirt
I’m not saying that you should deliberately dig up dirt on candidates. I am suggesting that you should use the publicly available information sources to round out your knowledge of candidates you are considering to hire.

In all fairness, not everything people put up on their social networking sites is in poor taste. Far from it. Having said that, these social networking sites can provide you with additional insights into the individual’s interests and values.

Someone’s social networking site that contains photos or videos of themselves and their families having fun paints a far different picture from one that shows a person holding a bottle of beer in each hand with a glazed look in their eyes. If nothing else, the former indicates someone with a sense of maturity while the latter indicates a fun-loving spirit.

It’s up to you to decide the type of person you want working for you and representing your company in the marketplace.

Too Much Bad Information

While the Internet is a great source of information, not all the information is true or valid.

Case in point: At one time, if you typed my name into the Google search engine, you would discover that I was secretary of the local Hells Angel’s motorcycle club in St Catherines, Ontario, Canada and that I had a substantial criminal record. Trust me… that wasn’t me!

Hey! Try Googling yourself and see what you find.

So, suppose you Googled a candidate’s name and up popped a criminal record containing multiple DUIs and further investigation showed that the information was valid. You’ve just dug up some very important dirt. If this ever happens, be sure that you have the dirt on the right person.

Don’t Go Overboard
Look, don’t make a big deal out of this. All I’m suggesting is that it’s prudent to type a candidate’s name into an Internet search engine and a couple of social networking sites to see what comes up.

If there’s nothing, good. Move along. If something does come up, check it out. See who their friends are and what videos and pictures they are sharing with the world. If what you see makes you uncomfortable, investigate it further.

Bottom Line
The idea is to check out possible piles of dirt before it gets dumped in your corporate backyard. If there’s a problem, you want to find out before you hire, not after.

So go digging for dirt and be happy if you don’t find any.

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