A great deal can be learned about a job seeker’s technical skills through a job interview with someone whose technical skills are within the same field. It would naïve to suggest that a highly trained organic chemist couldn’t get a fair sense of a job seeker’s knowledge about organic chemistry through a one-on-one interview. What is much more difficult to determine, however, is how capable the job seeker will be in terms of soft skills—like, for instance, his ability to work well with others. It’s even more difficult to know how effectively the job seeker’s management style will fit within an organization’s existing corporate culture, for example.

You may recall the earlier example of the sound and vibration who was technically proficient but who couldn’t get along with anybody on the job. Short of careful reference checking, how else could that sort of information have been uncovered? Would a credit check or a court check have revealed the personality problem? Of course not! I suggest the only way to determine that particular individual’s difficulty getting along with others (which even he didn’t realize) would be through careful reference checking.

To the extent that the prospective employer has something the job seeker wants, that employer has control over the reference checking process. The employer gets to decide how much or how little he intends to do to make sure he’s hiring the best person for the job.

By the same token, I would never disparage any of the pre-employment tools that are available. They all have value; but, standing alone, none of them will give a prospective employer the insight about a job seeker he should have before making important hiring decisions. The cost of using all the appropriate background checking tools, along with reference checking, is a pocket-change investment compared to the cost of making a bad hiring decision.

In the last part of this series I’ll provide a time-tested, common-sense approach to involving the candidate in the hiring process.