Background Checks

As noted in the previous blog, you may recall I mentioned that even a skilled employee will probably have trouble assessing the soft skills of an equally skilled candidate for employment.  My classic (and true) example is the sound and vibration engineer whose references said he was technically very proficient but, according to all of them, couldn’t get along with other employees.

Short of careful reference checking, how else could that tendency have been uncovered?  Is it unlikely that during the job interview the candidate would have admitted, “Yes, I’m very proficient technically, but I tend to offend the people I work with”?  Of course not!  Would a credit check or court check have revealed anything about the candidate’s ability to work with others?  Would a paper and pencil test have revealed the extent to which the candidate tended to annoy others?  Maybe.  But it’s far more likely, in my opinion, that most personality assessment instruments would probably have indicated either a strong personality or a tendency to be a perfectionist.  These kinds of tools are relatively ineffective when it comes to revealing how the candidate’s personality will impact his relationships with other employees.

I believe the only way to discover the candidate’s difficulty getting along with others (which even the candidate didn’t realize) would be through careful reference checking.  If you’ll recall, the engineer was hired anyway—with the employer knowing about his tendency to annoy other employees.  He was initially assigned to an office of his own with projects slid to him under the door!  At the same time, he was encouraged by his supervisor to enroll in essentially a Dale Carnegie-type course.  Within a few weeks he realized he had an abrasive personality and worked hard to improve it.  A few months later his personality had improved so much that he was promoted to the managerial position the company had originally hoped he could fill.  The result: everyone was happy!

The problem was not his technical skills, but his soft skills—and in this case, how others reacted to his abrasive personality!