The Weekly is STREAMING now. Join us at HorizonTV

You Screen, We Screen

The last step in your hiring process may prove to be the most crucial

April 10, 2017
Printer-friendly version

You’ve interviewed your potential new crew chief twice already and the candidate has also talked to your production manager. Looks like a fit. He has years of experience and knows his way around a siding job or a re-roof. He seems personable enough, which is important, since part of his job involves interacting with homeowners on a daily basis. And boy do you need him: Your backlog is already into August. 

So why not just pick up the phone and have him start tomorrow?

Last Step, Key Step

If you’re an experienced company owner, you know is that there’s one last step in the hiring process—a critical step that can help you avoid a costly, inconvenient, and embarrassing hiring mistake.That’s the step wherein you verify that your prospective employee is everything he says he is. 

That screening process consists of several parts. First there’s drug testing, then a criminal background check and lastly a reference check. If we’re talking about a candidate for any job involving fiduciary responsibility—accountant, bookkeeper, CFO—there will also be a credit check.

These aren’t mere formalities and it would be a mistake to treat them less than seriously. If, for instance, you discover that your candidate has a long history of arrests for aggravated assault, wouldn’t you think carefully about having him deal directly with homeowners, some of whom can be difficult and demanding? And except for the drug screening test—you can make employment conditional on passing that test—you need to have results in hand before making the hire. If you don’t, and something damaging or compromising turns up, you may be forced to fire that new employee, leaving you back where you started and with considerable egg to remove. 

What’s Required 

These screening measures are no guarantee of a successful hire, but they considerably improve the odds. Here’s why:
Drug Testing. If you hire someone with an addiction problem, that person’s problem becomes your company’s problem. Lateness, inefficiency, accidents on the job or on the road, or who knows what (selling drugs to other employees?) will soon consume an ever-larger share of managerial attention, and will demoralize everybody else. Make it clear in your ad that drug screening is mandatory. If someone balks, do you really want that person representing your company on a jobsite?

“In many states, employers have the legal right to test job applicants for drugs or alcohol, provided the applicants know that the testing is part of the interview process for all employees,” notes FindLaw, a small business legal resource. Laws differ from state to state, but legal website points out that, “state laws typically allow employers to test applicants, with the proviso that the state’s rules for testing are followed.”

Besides informing applicants that they’ll be tested, three rules must be followed no matter what: You can require this test only if 1) you’ve already offered someone the job; 2) if all candidates are tested similarly, and 3) if “the tests are administered by a state-certified laboratory,” says Nolo. “Most companies that intend to conduct drug testing on job candidates include in their applications an agreement to submit to such testing.” If testing is an ongoing protocol in your hiring process, you can negotiate an agreement with a local lab for discounted rates.

Criminal Background Check. You may find out a lot about someone by simply typing their name, in quotation marks, into Google. But don’t stop there. Do-it-yourself background checks will not uncover the kind of potentially compromising information that could inform your decision whether or not to offer the person a job. Pay the fee and hire a professional firm to conduct that search. A professional company has ready access to databases, such as county, state, and federal records, and because much information still remains to be digitized, they can also put feet on the ground if need be. 

The type of background check determines the cost. According to Criminal Watch Dog, a typical background check includes county court criminal check, statewide criminal background check, national background checks, and checks on Social Security number and sex offender status. Fees for the complete package range from $50 to $95. “In fact,” notes Trisha Schulz at, “some human resource professionals recommend that a background check cost about one day's worth of salary for the position you're screening.” 

Most companies you hire will get back to you in anywhere from three days to one week, says Lisa Magloff at Note: You must obtain the applicants’ written consent if you hire an outside party to conduct a background check.

Reference Check. Reference checks are the “low-hanging fruit” of the recruiting process, says Paul Falcone at They are “fairly quick, easy, and painless to perform.” Two factors make them invaluable. First, they allow you to confirm details, such as whether or not your candidate held the jobs he lists on his resume, how long he had them, what he did at each one, and how much he was paid. Second, they allow you to hear what someone else has to say about the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.

How many references should you ask for?  That will depend on the job he or she is applying for, and on the candidate’s work history. But say your candidate has held a number of jobs over the last few years. Ask for at least five references, blogger Mark Suster suggests. And, he points out, these should be a mix of those who’ve “reported to the candidate, whom the candidate has reported to (2x) and peers.” 

The point of a reference check is to confirm employment history and qualifications, but you should also ask that reference on the phone the same behavioral questions you asked the job candidate, suggests HR website In other words, if you asked the candidate behavioral questions “around communication, decision-making, and time management,” you would want to ask the reference “exactly the same questions.” For example, if you asked the candidate to describe situations in which he was required to make on-the-spot decisions, ask his former boss to recall such situations and describe how well he felt they were managed.

Credit Check. According to a survey of HR professionals quoted on the website of public policy organization, “nearly half of employers check an employee’s credit history when hiring for some or all positions.” (The“credit report” they receive, by the way, would not be the same information shown to lenders if the applicant were applying for a loan.) It might be interesting to see your potential new crew chief’s credit report. But honestly, what would you hope to find out, and is it really any of your business unless that person is going to be handling money at your organization? If you’re hiring a bookkeeper or accountant, or someone else in admin with close proximity to company funds, that’s another matter.

Moreover, “unlike … the credit check that comes with applying for a mortgage or car loan, [candidates] must give explicit written permission for an employer to check [their] credit,” says Libby Kane at Business Insider.  

Why All The Work?

All this may seem like a lot of extra effort if you’re just hiring an admin assistant, a salesperson or a crew chief. Especially if you’re suddenly really busy. But according to HR Magazine, surveys “reveal a trend toward greater use of background investigations and reference checks in employment.” Reasons cited include “increased awareness of the various risks of failure to conduct adequate background checks” and “a rise in the willingness of applicants to misrepresent their credentials”—in other words, lie.

But what finally makes it more than worth the trouble, says TEK Systems, a staffing service specializing in the IT industry, is the fact that “businesses who commit to building and executing a quality screening process significantly improve their chances of identifying a candidate who is the right fit for the position and who integrates well with the company’s corporate culture.” 

About the Author

About the Author

Philadelphia-based writer Jim Cory is a senior contributing editor to Professional Remodeler who specializes in covering the remodeling and home improvement industry. Reach him at

Add new comment

Overlay Init