The Evolution of Ethical Reference and Background Checks

Are reference and background checks standard business practices? The answer is an unequivocal “yes.” How else can an employer find out if the candidate is all he claims to be?  Not only that, but of equal importance is whether or not the candidate can do all that he claims he can. Believe it or not, we have encountered employers who still think they can judge a candidate’s prospects for job success solely on the basis of a face-to-face interview — and nothing more. Clearly, this attitude is a holdover from hiring practices that were in fashion at least 75 years ago — and still evident as recently as the 1990s.

Let’s look back at the way many employers used to carry out the employee selection process. In a much earlier era, most people were hired on the basis of just two or three criteria:

  • The contents of their resume (if they had one)
  • A job interview
  • Occasionally, but not always, a letter of introduction written by a trusted friend or relative

Prior to the industrial revolution, some combination of these three criteria were all the typical shopkeeper or craftsman needed in order to make a hiring decision. Why? Because before the days of industrialization, there were no large companies that employed hundreds, let alone thousands of people. Most businesses were very small operations, particularly during the colonial period in this country. The owner usually worked right alongside the handful of people he employed and could see if they were doing the job or not.

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The Ethics of Background and Reference Checking, Part 3

Setting aside the ethics issue for a while, does it really make good business sense for prospective and former employers to share information about candidates for employment with each other?  The more important version of that question, perhaps, should be, “Why doesn’t it make sense?”  Since we know that some people’s best skill is interviewing,…

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