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Small Business Digest


Errors in the Hiring Process Can Lead to Big Trouble ... How to Avoid Costly Hiring Mistakes

According to a recent study conducted by J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., the nation's leading provider of risk and regulatory management solutions, 55% of 161 HR professionals surveyed said they have discovered outright lies on resumes or applications when conducting pre-employment background or reference checks.


"These results are consistent with similar studies," says Edwin Zalewski, a human resources subject matter expert with J. J. Keller & Associates, "but they may be even worse than they appear. Among our survey group, 24% did not respond to the question, which was 'If you conduct background checks or reference checks, have you ever found an outright lie on a resume or application?' If we exclude those who didn't answer, the results indicate that 73% of those conducting background checks turned up a lie. It's possible that 24% didn't answer because they don't perform background checks, and the results clearly show why they should start."


Zalewski says there are a number of reasons why you should perform background checks. One reason is to match the applicant to the job. Often a job application, resume, or interview does not tell you all the information you need to determine employment qualifications. In fact, sources say as many as 40 to 70 percent of candidates falsify or exaggerate on their resume or job application. "The only way to be reasonably certain you have a qualified candidate is to independently verify their qualifications," states Zalewski.


"Another good reason to conduct background checks," says Zalewski, "is to protect your business from negligent hiring. Negligent hiring is an employer's failure to use reasonable care in the employee selection process, which results in harm to others. Courts may hold your company liable for an employee's wrongful actions, if you did not meet a certain standard of care in selecting the employee. In fact, courts repeatedly find employers responsible for the criminal actions of employees on the job."


Zalewski suggests that employers take a proactive approach to reduce liability by always conducting background checks. "Courts may not only hold you responsible for what you do know, but also for what you should have known about your employees," he says. "Claiming you didn't know will not give you much, if any, protection." Zalewski points to a number of cases where employers have been found guilty of negligent hiring because they failed to perform a background check that would have revealed the potential for harm.


Zalewski cautions employers not to make these other common - and costly - hiring mistakes.


Mistake #1 - Not developing a job description from very start of the hiring process
"The job description is really is the most logical place to start," says Zalewski. "And if properly written, the job description can help in many areas." Zalewski goes on to say it helps in recruiting, since the duties and responsibilities can serve as a base for writing targeted job advertisements; it helps in hiring the right applicant, since interviewers can use them to obtain more useful, specific information from applicants; it helps the applicant by providing a clear idea of the responsibilities of the position; and finally, it helps you comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act by providing evidence of what duties are considered "essential functions" when determining if a reasonable accommodation is possible.


Mistake # 2 - Not sticking to a script of job-related interview questions

According to Zalewski, conducting personal interviews can be tricky. He says, "When you conduct interviews, you must remember that what you say, even unintentionally, can get you into hot water." He suggests sticking to a script of job-related questions and asking the same questions of all candidates. This will help prevent you from straying off track and possibly stumbling onto personal matters. He also recommends combining general questions with questions specific to the job and to the individual in order to get information about past work responsibilities, any gaps in employment, and anything else that requires clarification.


Mistake #3 - Failing to track applicants
"Applicant tracking is required under affirmative action plans," states Zalewski, "but we are often asked the question, 'Who must be counted as a job applicant for tracking purposes?'" Zalewski suggests using the definition provided by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, or OFCCP (the federal agency that administers affirmative action requirements). The OFCCP says applicants are those who have shown interest, submitted resumes or applications through the internet or other technology for a particular (versus any) position, and possess the basic qualifications for the position.


"The hiring process certainly does not end with the acceptance of a job offer," concludes Zalewski. He advises HR professionals to pay particular attention to the proper completion and retention of all necessary paperwork.


To view a related webcast, Applicants and New Employees: Avoiding Common Errors in the Hiring Process or to learn more about a valuable tool for applicant tracking, visit

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