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HR Best PracticesHiring and On-boardingFeaturedNovember 3, 2011by Stanton LawAvoid Hiring the Next Person You’ll Fire

Avoid Hiring the Next Person You’ll Fire

On a Cub Scout camping trip this weekend, I started talking with another boy’s dad.  He was an emergency room physician at a large public hospital.  During the conversation about all the crazy stuff he sees, he told me that the folks in the ER consider trauma to be a chronic condition.

He wasn’t serious, of course, and his comment was not a medical opinion.  But his point was well taken – if someone puts themself in a situation once in which they’re likely to end up visiting a trauma center, that person is likely to put themself in a similarly compromising situation again.  The same people tend to injure themselves again and again.

It occurred to me that the same principle holds true for employees.  If a worker engages in conduct on one job that leads to his termination, it’s more likely he’ll engage in conduct at his next job that also gets him fired.  Let’s call it Chronic Termination Syndrome.

I’m fond of saying that 5% of employees cause 95% of an employer’s problems.  Certainly, workers afflicted with Chronic Termination Syndrome would fall into the 5% and are more likely to cause trouble than someone who has never been fired.  If a business could avoid hiring those in the 5% in the first place, it will necessarily reduce the number of employee-related issues in the future, right?

Luckily, there are several relatively easy steps an employer can take to keep from hiring a known member or the 5% or someone suffering from Chronic Termination Syndrome.

  1. Have every applicant completely fill out and sign an application.  Consider your request to a prospective employee to completely fill out a job application to be your first job-related instruction.  If the person cannot follow this simple direction when they’re asking for a job, do you think they’re going to improve once you’ve given them a position?  In my experience, someone who can’t follow simple instructions is more likely to be fired than someone who listens and does what is asked.
  2. Read, analyze, and follow-up on the information on the application.  Pay particular attention to the applicant’s job history  Does he bounce around from place to place frequently?  What is his reason for leaving each position?  Has he accepted less money in a subsequent position?  All of these can be huge red flags that you’ve got a 5%’er on your hands. Call the applicant’s former employers and their former supervisors.  Even though they’re unlikely to give you any information about the applicant (and you should never give out such information to those who inquire of you), they’ll often tell you a lot just by the way they tell you they can’t tell you anything.  And most will answer the simple question “Is this person eligible for rehire at your company?”  If someone who has worked with this applicant in the past would not hire them again, why would you want to hire the applicant for your company?
  3. Prepare for and interview the applicant.  Even if it’s for five minutes, sit down and talk with the applicant.  Ask questions about their former employment and why they want to work at your place.  Base your questions on the information they provided on their application, and ask yourself “Is this someone with whom I’d like to work?  Does this person give me the creeps?  Are they telling the truth? I’d prefer that you spend more time with each applicant, and I could take up several posts concerning do’s and don’ts of lawful interviewing.  But suffice it to say that if you can’t stand talking to a particular person for even a few minutes, the prospects for a long-term employment relationship are dim.
  4. Conduct a background check.  After you’ve obtained the applicant’s authorization (as required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act), run a simple background check to make sure you know with whom you’re dealing.  The checks are relatively inexpensive, can be completed quickly, and will not automatically disqualify anyone from employment.  But it’s good information to have and better to be safe than sorry.
  5. Conduct a pre-employment drug test.  Again, after ensuring that your drug testing policy and practice comports with your state’s law, have the applicant complete a screen before starting work.  As with the background checks, these tests are inexpensive and quick, and if your new employee can’t show up clean and sober on day one, what do you envision for the remainder of his (likely short-lived) tenure?

Hiring folks only to have to fire them is expensive and inefficient.  Sure, every business is going to make a mistake at some point, but following these simple steps will help you avoid the most common pitfalls and likely keep you from hiring the next person you have to fire.  At least until Chronic Termination Syndrome is designated for protection under the ADA.