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Hire better, profit more

September 19, 2010
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Ron Berry, owner of (fictitious) Berry’s Cleaning Service, had a problem.

During one week, three personal computers were reported stolen from his best customer’s offices.

The customer told Berry, “It had to be your cleaning crew.”

Berry decided to have each of his employees complete a theft investigation questionnaire.

The questionnaires indicated one of his employees stole the computer and information from another employee’s questionnaire enabled Berry to recover the missing computers.

But, how could he prevent future thefts?

Job applicant screening is the key.

Preventing employee theft is just one benefit. Other benefits include reduced turnover, better job performance, less absenteeism and improved customer service

The story of one bad hire
Archie was recommended for employment by one of Berry’s friends.

Berry meant to check Archie’s background, but got busy and forgot.

Instead, he gave Archie a quick interview and put him to work.

Archie was the employee who stole the computers.

Don’t wait to hire the best
Qualified job seekers don’t stay unemployed long.

If you can make conditional job offers to top candidates during their first visit, you will hire more of the best.

There are two basic sources of information about job applicants:

  1. The applicant himself. Use the right interview and application tools and he/she will provide much of the information you need.
  2. Outside sources. Important information can be gained from criminal record checks, credit reports and references.
Information from both kinds of sources is essential.

Here are seven steps to utilize those sources and help you hire better.

Step one: The employment application
Have each applicant complete a thorough employment application.

All employment applications are not created equal. A comprehensive employment application is worth its weight in gold.

Most applications are too brief and they fail to ask many critical questions.

Examples of good employment applications are available on the Internet and from companies that provide such services.

Step two: The ‘answer truthfully’ speech
Give the applicant an “answer truthfully” speech.

Job applicants are more likely to answer your questions truthfully if you explain why they should.

Instead of saying, “Here, fill out this application,” tell the applicant something like this:

“Samantha, please fill out this employment application. Take your time. Make sure your answers are true, correct and complete. We will check all your answers for accuracy. We’re not looking to hire perfect people, just employees who tell the truth.”

Will this speech magically persuade every applicant to answer every question truthfully?

Of course not, but applicants will give you more truthful answers with this speech than without it.

Step three: The pre-employment honesty test
Have the applicant take a good pre-employment honesty test.

The JanSan business is similar to many businesses in that it will attract some crooks hoping to become your silent partners.

A good pre-employment honesty test can tell you an applicant’s likelihood to steal from your company or your clients — and much more.

Administer the test during the applicant’s initial visit, score it in minutes, and use its follow-up questions during the actual job interview.

A good pre-employment honesty test includes:

  • Different types of questions about theft — theft admissions, theft attitudes and behavior in hypothetical theft situations.
  • Questions about work attitudes, work history, customer service attitudes, current alcohol and drug use and undetected crimes.
  • Validity scales to catch applicants who try to beat the test by answering falsely to make themselves look like saints.
  • A post-test interview worksheet along with test scores. The worksheet is a print-out of questions answered incorrectly with suggested follow-up questions included. The follow-up questions help you evaluate the seriousness of the applicant’s admissions. Written honesty tests are especially important if you hire young employees because juvenile criminal records are not accessible.

Step four: The interview
The first three steps I have just discussed will disqualify many undesirable applicants. Next, interview those still in the running.

Before the interview, review both his/her application and pre-employment honesty test results.

Make notes about any of the answers you want to follow up on.

Candidly explain the negatives as well as the positives of the job you are seeking to fill and make sure the applicant is still interested after hearing the job’s negatives.

Including this step decreases your turnover.

Talk with the applicant about previous jobs and get clear and logical explanations of why he/she left each job in the past five years, making sure there is an explanation about any gaps between jobs.

These gaps often conceal unfavorable short-term job experiences or incarcerations. Try this approach: Ask about previous jobs, beginning with the most recent, and work backward.

Question the applicant as if he/she had written nothing in the work history section.

Step five: The free credit check
With the applicant’s consent (signed release), conduct an Internet search under “Free Credit Report.”

Print two copies of the applicant’s credit report — one for him and one for you.

Compare his starting pay with his debts and reasonable living expenses. This comparison will tell whether he can afford to work for you.

Employees whose installment debt plus expenses exceed their income have a monthly shortfall to make up.

Some will steal to make up the difference.

Step six: The free criminal record check
Get a free criminal record check which is available to applicants under the Freedom of Information Act.

Tell the applicant that he/she can expedite the hiring process if he/she stops by the nearest police station, obtains a copy of his/her criminal record and brings it to you.

Few applicants who have criminal convictions will return. Instead, they will seek employment elsewhere.

Step seven: The applicant’s references
Check the applicant’s references — both previous employers and personal.

Many human resource departments will provide only minimal information about former employees.

If possible, call the applicant’s previous supervisor(s). Former supervisors want to help former employees who did a good job, and most supervisors can be coaxed into giving a reference.

When it comes to personal references, here are three questions found on employment applications to consider that often yield better references than those folks the applicant lists as references:

  1. “Have you ever worked for our company before?” If so, a former co-worker or supervisor can tell you about the applicant.
  2. “Do you have any friends, relatives or acquaintances who work for our company?” Current employees who know the applicant can be helpful, too.
  3. “Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense as an adult?” A probation or parole officer might provide some background.
Frustrated reference checkers claim that personal references will never say anything negative about the applicant. Not so.

Try asking personal references the same questions you would ask work references.

Make life easier
Establish a mandatory applicant screening procedure, starting with a comprehensive employment application and a pre-employment honesty test.

Make sure all steps in your screening process are followed on every applicant you hire.

You will soon find out that hiring the best will make your life easier and may increase profits.

James W. Bassett is a polygraph examiner in private practice and the author of various employee screening questionnaires and tests. He can be reached by calling (513) 421-9604 or by visiting
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