Background checking crucial in recruitment, selection

Interviews are an important part of the candidate selection process, but reference checks are also a critical component of demonstrating careful and thorough consideration of the candidate’s recent and past performance.

By Emmanuel Zvada

In today’s competitive labour market, it is important for organisations to utilise their resources effectively in order to gain competitive edge. When recruiters call a reference from previous employees or managers, it should be understood that they are not just looking to hear good things about the prospective applicant.

Rather, they are digging deep into their research to determine if the applicant has presented him/herself in an honest and truthfully manner so that the prospective employer can also consider that before final stages of hiring someone.

Recruitment serves as the first step in fulfilling the needs of organisations for a competitive, motivated and flexible human resource through rigorous process of searching the suitable candidates for employment and stimulating them to apply for jobs in the organisation.

Recruitment is the activity that links the employers and the job seekers the process is not that easy as some may think.

In the process of recruitment and selections there is an area normally overlooked to organisations both in private and public sectors organisations.

Many employers do it in different ways some via the telephone some via the email, but the bottom line is that it should not be neglected.

One way to prevent high employee turnover is to hire the right people in the first place, and in this respect selection methods become important.

By using the right selection methods, one can be ensure that the candidates do not only have the right skills for the job, but also possess the right personality to fit into the existing organisational culture.

Once that “right” person has been employed, it is crucial that he or she chooses to stay in the company and is given the right incentives to do so.

It has been costing many organisations in Zimbabwe because many job seekers bias their references to find the best that can speak about themselves. As a result, one will move with his or her existing problems or weaknesses to the forthcoming organisation, thus affecting performance and in the long run productivity of the organisations they will be in.

Less attention has been paid to the relevance of reference checks in selecting higher performance.

Reference checking is an objective evaluation of an applicant’s past job performance based on information collected from key individuals, for example, (supervisors, peers, and subordinates) who have known and worked with the applicant.

Reference checking is primarily used to verify the accuracy of information given by job applicants through other selection processes, predict the success of job applicants by comparing their experience to the competencies required by the job and to uncover background information on applicants that may not have been identified by other selection procedures.

Job applicants may attempt to enhance their chances of obtaining a job offer by distorting their training and work history information, especially these days where there are many jobseekers chasing for very few jobs.

While resumes summarise what applicants claim to have accomplished, reference checking is meant to assess how well those claims are backed up by others (selection tools). Verifying critical employment information can significantly cut down on selection errors.

If you’re in any kind of government job/public sector, reference checks are mandatory. And if you are handling large amounts of money or confidential information, reference checks and criminal background checks are a routine.

There is no need for an irrational fear that the reference checking process will jeopardise your chances of getting the job offer, rather if you have a good previous history it will help a lot.

Reference checking is an important step in the recruitment process, however although some think references are outdated and questionable in terms of validity and reliability, they should not be neglected since they give relevant information that will enable the company to prepare the prospective candidate to fit in the culture of the organisation.

Some people think that reference checking is an old word for a network, and people who have strong networks and work for people with strong networks don’t bother with reference checks because they generally only hire people who come recommended by someone they know.

Who is listed as a referee is important, but it is also important to do the reference checking to the one who is not listed as part of the references because he/she can give relevant information about the prospective employee.

If past reporting managers or previous organisations are not listed, you should ask why and when the prospective employee gives relevant reasons why he/she did not include them that should not affect your reference checking process.

There may be valid reasons but probing can sometimes produce some interesting insights.

Two questions I always ask in a reference check are “is there anything else a future employer should be aware of concerning the prospective applicant and would you recommend the prospective employee to us?

The most preferable way is to call other people in the organisation to see what they knew about a candidate.

The reason for doing that is most HR people might not know everything about the employee, but would only verify dates.

However, if you probe enough or ask specific kind of questions, you can always get the scoop. People do not always check with the people they list as references to find out what they are going to say.

Very often these people will give a bad reference, when you hear something negative from one source, do not jump to conclusions.

If you hear the same thing from several people, then the decision is easy for you to make. Upon hearing something negative from one source, it is obligatory upon you to explore the facts and determine the truth.

You would not like to miss out on an excellent employee because you went no further than the first negative comment you heard.

Emmanuel Zvada is a human capital consultant/recruitment expert and author. He writes in his own capacity. For comments inbox to or call +263771467441.

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