By  on September 10, 2007

NEW YORK — Executives faced with increasing concerns over the screening process for potential employees need to make better use of the tools already available to them, experts said.

Labor and employment attorneys say that the proper screening of employees is becoming an increasing problem faced by many companies. Some of the problems include making a hire that turns out to be the "wrong fit," hiring someone who is not qualified for the position and hiring people who are unproductive.

While there are many ways to address the problem, experts say that, overall, it is important to take a hard look first at the screening processes to determine how to make better use of the existing information.

"The single most important thing an employer should do is take the hiring process seriously. Making the wrong hire, whether someone proves to be unproductive or doesn't like the job, can be very costly," said Debbie Brenneman, partner in the labor and employment group at Thompson Hines in Ohio. Replacing an employee who leaves or an inappropriate hire can cost as much as twice the position's annual payroll.

"Unfortunately, the bottom line is there's no way to totally know. In some sense, you're just going on faith," said Andrew Slobodien, a partner at Wildman Harrold in Chicago.

The first step employers need to take is to make better use of the information they already have through employment applications, sources said. Businesses need to make sure that they have a form that asks if an applicant has been convicted of a crime, where they have lived, what training or education they have, who they worked for and why they left, said Connie Bertram, partner in the labor and employment practice at Winston Strawn in Washington.

Although it sounds rudimentary, checking references, educational institution attendance and other information can reveal an employee's honesty level very quickly. "It's astonishing how often potential employees pad their résumé to make themselves look better," Brenneman said.

Another screening step that can be overlooked is a criminal background check and credit report, sources said. These searches are particularly important in any position where security is an issue, such as people who handle money, have access to sensitive information, will be responsible for or be around children or are required to drive as part of their job."My clients sometimes ask me, 'Should we do a criminal background check?' My next question is, what is the job? If they're handling money, you really should spend the cost," Slobodien said. Background checks can cost $100 or less if you run enough at a time, he said.

Screening employees this way offers employers concrete information, but it is important to consult legal counsel to make sure that applicants have been properly notified and the information obtained doesn't violate their rights.

Personality tests are still used by many companies during the hiring process, as well. There have, however, been some discrimination allegations under the Americans With Disabilities Act regarding certain kinds of personality tests. Companies need to make sure they do the due diligence in selecting a reputable test without biases, Brenneman said.

"An employer shouldn't do their own personality test or use an unknown one. It should be one that's been evaluated," she said.

The key to integrating any screening process into your hiring procedure, whether it's a criminal background check or personality test, is to make sure every applicant is treated consistently, Bertram said. That can be achieved by ensuring that the right people are involved in the hiring process, she said.

More and more employers are also integrating a Google search or some other kind of Internet check into hiring, sources said.

"You'd be shocked at what you can find if you Google a person," Slobodien said. "It will become part of the hiring process to do it, but a surprising number of people don't do it yet."

For employers that are choosing to Google prospective employees, it is important to treat information obtained with a grain of salt. It is also key to evaluate the type of information that can be obtained through an Internet search and what to do with it, cautioned some lawyers.

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