There are many things that you cannot do when interviewing and selecting applicants for jobs. These restrictions come from various federal laws and hopefully are obvious to all - you cannot discriminate based on gender, race, age, etc.
But the government does allow employers to make one major distinction. You still get to assume that what the applicant did in their recent past (and how they did it) will carry over to you as the new employer.
For example, if you find out in the interviews and reference checking that an applicant was lazy in their last job and continually missed deadlines, you get to assume that they would still be lazy and miss deadlines if you hired the person. Nothing about changing jobs is going to miraculously turn them around into a stellar employee.
Alternatively, if you realize that an applicant was very diligent and thorough in their last position, you get to assume they would be equally diligent and thorough for you.
So, what do we do with this realization? I offer two suggestions.
First, you need to make sure your selection process for hiring is robust enough to get a good handle on the previous employment of the candidate. I recommend to my clients they should conduct more than one interview, on different days, with different people from your organization being involved. The more sets of eyes you get before you hire, the better chance that you will make a good final selection.
In the interviews, find out about both experience and education and inquire as to why they studied what they did or why they changed jobs/careers. Interview questions that start with the word "why" are usually great sources of information.
Conduct reference checks not only from a list given you by the candidate (which will always be positive, of course), but also with some previous employers. If a previous employer doesn't wish to give you any information, offer to fax them the signed release you have at the bottom of your application for employment which hopefully has language authorizing previous employers to release information.
Check the education that the applicant tells you they have achieved. More than once, I have come across someone who says they have a master's degree, only to find that they may have completed the courses but didn't complete the final thesis and thus didn't actually graduate. Here again, you get to assume that if they're willing to fudge a bit on their application, they will be willing to fudge a bit in their new job.
Many employers test applicants for many different reasons. Provided the tests have been validated as appropriately relevant, I would not hesitate in the least. This is especially true if the new employee is going to represent you to the general public, such as a sales role.
My second suggestion is to always keep your business card in your wallet, and when you come across a person out in the public who impresses you with their diligence, give them your card and tell them you would like to hear from them if they ever want to change jobs. The person might be a bank teller, the counter person at your dry cleaners, or even your child's sports coach.
But take this one step further by writing your initials in the upper corner and tell the person to inform you when they contact you that your initials are on the card. This will be a sign to you that at some point in your past, you were personally impressed with this person.
You get to make a major assumption in hiring - that the way the applicant was before, is how they will be with you. Use that reality to the fullest.
Randy Fox, SHRM, SCP, SPHR, is founder and senior partner of Capstone HR Services, Inc.