On the Job

Who's Checking You Out?

By Kenneth Bredemeier
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, March 14, 2008; 12:00 AM

Ever wonder if a potential employer actually checked your references before extending an offer? It can vary from company to company. But when hiring mistakes are made, however, and a new employee turns out to be incompetent, one is left questioning management's reason for hiring such a person.

This worker suspects his references weren't checked and wants to know if the practice has become a thing of the past:

What's the difference between reference checking and employment verification? I'm almost certain that my employer did not call any of the references I listed. I am, however, pretty certain that they did contact the HR department at my previous company in order to verify employment.

Is this becoming common practice, where potential employers are merely making sure you are not lying (or fudging) where you worked, for how long and for how much?

Most employers are not merely checking the nuts and bolts of a prospective worker's past employment, such as the position held and when, says Patricia A. Miller, president of Patricia A. Miller HR Consulting in Seven Valleys, Pa. Depending on the size of the company, the level of effort and money it puts into checking out potential employees, the extent of background checks can range from extensive to not much, she continues.

In general, companies "are checking a lot more these days because of violence in the workplace and terrorism," Miller mentions. They are concerned that if a worker proves to be violent they could be sued because they should have known or learned of some tendency during a background check.

Some corporations are even outsourcing agencies to assist during this process. These agencies are likely to be looking to see if the applicant really graduated from college, earned the degrees listed or whether he held the position listed at his last employer. Miller says they may also look for any criminal record, a poor credit record or an inflated salary history.

Background checks have shown that around 50 percent of job-seekers put some sort of false information on their applications -- a red flag for companies and often disqualifying, she adds. Most application forms will now tell applicants that even if they are hired, if it's later found that they lied, they can be fired.

Kenneth Bredemeier has six years of experience writing about the workplace. On the Job, a column addressing real worker questions about office relationships, corporate policies and workplace law, is written exclusively for washingtonpost.com. To submit a question, e-mail onthejob@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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