Are we putting too much weight on background investigations?
Hiring an uneducated Axe-Murderer as your next CFO is bad for business; but so is a cubicle-farm full of under-performers.
Mitigating risk and reducing legal liability is a critical component of the hiring process, and background checks and pre-employment drug screenings have become a staple in the HR professional’s toolkit. Some HR and Talent Acquisition pros often weigh them more than a solid system of candidate assessment, which can lead to poor hiring decisions.
As a recruiter in the healthcare field, I often encounter additional (sometimes tedious) steps in the background verification process, sometimes requiring multiple government registries and licensure boards. Clients of mine and I must ensure that physicians, nurses and other professionals being recruited have a clear malpractice history, that Executives and Providers have not defrauded Medicare or Medicaid, all have current licenses, etc… All of this is critical information, and a hiring organization certainly needs to check all of these boxes before extending an offer.
When all of the credentials are verified and are in order, only a portion of a proper candidate assessment has been completed. Underperformers can easily slip through a weak interviewer (although I have never met anyone admit to being a weak interviewer) and, with a clean background, can be hired. The background check leaves an employer with solid documentation that they have protected the company from unnecessary liability, and the hiring manager (who most likely assessed based on a “gut-feeling”) feels satisfied in her/his own competence.
Recently, I became aware of two separate corporations (who shall remain nameless) skip reference checking and rely solely on the results of a third party background investigation. In both scenarios, there was no systematic assessment or rating of candidates against each other. The decisions were the result of a hiring manager and an HR executive agreeing on the same hunch or “gut-feelings”, coupled with the confidence that the background check would confirm the qualifications, education, and morality. Nothing about the process evaluated or predicted a candidates potential for success.
There is certain arrogance about the strength of a quality background investigation that leaves a gaping hole in the process. Performance and skill assessments are still lacking– proven by the fact that we still have salespeople who, though well-liked by clients, cannot close deals, pediatricians who are not very friendly to children and chefs who cannot cook. These poor performers can slip by many hiring processes provided they are likable, have a relatively stable work history and have not committed any crimes. Similarly, the components of a background check can be misleading to corporate HR and hiring managers, and offer a false sense of security when hiring. We assume that individuals with advanced degrees are smarter than comparable candidates with less education, and that those with good credit and a clean criminal history are more reliable. I am not knocking education or good credit, but they do not actually predict success. These generalizations and assumptions are dangerous, especially when trying to recruit and build a team of top people. The problem is compounded when verifications and credentials are used as a crutch, and thus become more important than the assessment of a candidate’s skill set, future performance and “fit” for the position for which they are applying.
There seems to be a trend to get the background consent signed and submitted as early in the hiring process as possible, often before or at the first interview. I submit that these activities should only be done after a thorough and standardized assessment, interview(s) and personal reference calls to previous supervisors and colleagues. Hiring the best people is one of the most important things a company does, and it is an active process.
Great human capital strategies take more than posting a job description and verifying a clean criminal history. Taking an analytical approach to a candidates potential for success is far more important at the early and middle stages of hiring than the insurance provided by background verification or even inconsistent personality testing. I do not know of any single, guaranteed, perfect skill and competency assessment technique that will 100% predict future performance– nor am I endorsing any. That being said, there is no shortage of quality options ranging from Topgrading to Performance-based hiring, etc. –just pick one and use it consistently.
Background checks should be but one component of employer due diligence. Compared to quality interviews, in-depth knowledge of career history, and reference checking, it is really just reasonably priced insurance. Do not be lulled to sleep by the false sense of security background investigations/verifications offer–take an active role in assessing your next hire.