Everybody knows what a red flag is when it comes to the employee-selection process. They can pop up anywhere in the hiring process. One of the most frequent, and sometimes overlooked, places to check for warning signs is at the very beginning of the process when resumes and job applications are initially screened.
According to Tom Sutton, president of Sutton Associates, a Sidney, Ohio, executive search firm, "Ten or 15 years ago, nothing would cause a red flag to pop up more quickly than an employment history with frequent job changes. If a resume disclosed that the candidate had changed jobs every couple of years or less, the suspicion was that the individual was either using employers simply as stepping stones to further his career or, worse yet, that there were other more serious ongoing job-performance problems." In either case, resumes of apparent job-hoppers usually were eliminated from further consideration rather quickly.
More recently, however, frequent job changes have become commonplace. The sputtering economy also has prompted many workers to switch jobs more frequently for a variety of legitimate reasons. For example, downsizing, rightsizing, mergers and acquisitions have all made frequent job changes the rule rather than the exception. The net effect has been to reduce the perceived risk of hiring someone who only a decade ago would have been seen as a job-hopper.
From the employer's standpoint, however, this does not mean that careful job performance-based reference checking is any less important than it has ever been. On the contrary, it's more important than ever for employers to make sure that seemingly attractive candidates on paper are who they claim to be and that they can do the job for the employer. "The tendency for an increasing number of employers, unfortunately, has been to skip checking references, on the assumption that short tenures with several employers will only produce limited job-performance information or the fear that a good candidate will be lost to a competitor," Sutton says.
The key to successful reference checking under current conditions is to objectively evaluate an individual's job performance over time and from different points of view. Under ordinary circumstances, talking with three solid job references would be the standard, but for those individuals with short tenures, it may be necessary to contact anywhere from four to six references to obtain the same degree of consistency required to make an informed employment decision. The conversations with multiple references may be shorter, but the exercise is still essential to ensure the candidate is really right for the job.
For example, if the candidate has performed well for several employers and the reasons for leaving are understandable and legitimate, then the employer is in a much better position to make an offer of employment. On the other hand, if common areas of concern emerge from the comments of multiple references, then a legitimate red flag may have been raised.
A few of the best questions to ask about short-tenure candidates are:
- Why did so-and-so leave?
- Would you hire so-and-so again?
- Could so-and-so have stayed with your company if he had wanted to?
Despite the increasing frequency with which people are changing jobs, it's important for employers to remember that red-flag job seekers are still out there and that careful reference checking is still the best way to find them before they turn into red ink for your company.