When you think you’ve found the ideal candidate, it’s time to focus on reference and background checks.

All too often reference checks are treated as an afterthought or a mere formality. The reality is they should be an important part of your hiring process. After all, who better to ask about a potential new hire than someone who’s seen them on the job before?

There is no standard set of questions to ask when conducting a reference check so build your questions based on areas of concern or uncertainty. I recommend that you call — not email — the reference. Describe the job you have hired for and ask open-ended specific questions. Listen closely to tone of voice and ask follow up questions for clarification.

Here are some examples of questions you might want to use:

  • How do you think X would do at a job like the one we are hiring him/her for?
  • Tell me about X’s organizational skills (or whatever skill you need more information about)
  • What did he/she do well?
  • What areas do he/she need to develop?

Don’t feel obligated to stick only to the references the candidate gave you. Use your own network to see what you can find out. It is very common for HR departments to only verify dates of employment so to get useful references you may need to dig deeper. The good news is the trucking industry is relatively small and people tend to move from job-to-job within it. Ask your employees, suppliers and customers if they know the candidate. Check their LinkedIn page to see if you have any common connections that you can contact.

While reference checks can be complicated, background checks are even trickier because there are lots of laws governing them. The EEOC is tasked with making sure everyone is treated equally. That makes it extremely important that when conducting background checks you treat every applicant exactly the same.

Things are complicated further by something called disparate impact that says there are some problems that are common in one group over another. When asking about felony convictions, make sure what you are asking about is “job related and consistent with business necessity.” For example, if the candidate is going to have access to bank accounts it is okay to check for embezzlement convictions, but it may not be relevant for a dispatcher.

There has been some movement to “Ban the Box” that asks about felony convictions and some cities and states have already passed legislation that prohibits employers from asking about it.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act is something else you need to be aware of. If you plan to use the information from a credit report in your hiring decision, you need to tell the candidate in writing and you need to get written permission before performing a credit check. If you don’t hire the candidate following a credit check, you must give them a copy of the report along with a summary of their rights. And you must give them the opportunity to review the report and explain any negative information.

If you plan to use any of these reports, make sure you are fully in compliance with the rules governing them. We have seen an increase in the number of Class Action lawsuits targeting companies that hire drivers. The best approach: before you begin background and credit checks, contact an employment expert like an attorney to make sure you are in compliance with all regulations relating to background and credit checks.

In my next blog, I will focus on the job offer and the first day on the new job.