Small business advice: Are you really hiring the person you think you’re hiring?

By Joelle Scott

GrowBizCorp was looking to hire a new chief financial officer, and after sifting through hundreds of resumes, the company narrowed the search down to Jane Smith. With years of experience as a CFO in various capacities, Smith seemed like the perfect fit. The company’s executives met with her, liked her and extended her an offer.

A few months after Jane joined GrowBizCorp, however, executives started to hear grumblings from unhappy employees. Some said they were being harassed. Ultimately, they decided to conduct a posthumous background check – a step initially overlooked due to time and cost constraints.

What they found was startling. Smith was not a CPA (as claimed on her LinkedIn profile and resume), she had no master’s degree in accounting (as claimed), and she had been sued by two former employees for harassment and discrimination — yikes.

This was an actual situation for company I worked with (though I have changed the names of the firm and the individual), and incidents like these occur more often than you might expect.

One of the biggest challenges small business owners face is finding quality candidates — someone with the right experience, someone who will be a good “fit” with the team, and someone you can trust. And that last part is probably the most difficult. When hiring a new employee, especially in a senior level person, a lot of the decision comes from your gut; thus, to a large extent, it represents a leap of faith.

However, business owners must ensure that they are collecting real information about the candidate, too.

This requires the obvious steps (resume evaulations, reference checks) and in some cases, the not-so-obvious ones (background investigations, reference assessments). Ideally, before making any hiring decisions, a thorough background check should be completed. Here’s where to start.

1.Make sure individuals attended and graduated from the schools they claim. National Student Clearinghouse is the largest third-party provider of this information.

2.Cruise the Internet, and not just a quick Google search. Make sure the person does not say or do anything on their social networking sites that might embarrass your firm, or that would indicate unprofessional behavior.

3.Confirm those credentials. These days, most individuals’ LinkedIn pages and resumes list numerous industry associations and certifications. These credentials can — and should — be verified. From accountants to engineers, many professions require some sort of licensing.

4.Use the public record resources available to you. If the candidate is in finance or securities, check FINRA and NFA to see if the person has a registration and if there are any disciplinary actions or sanctions.

5. Call references. No, not just the three or five names the candidate provides. Do some research, find the other people that worked with the candidate – the superiors, the colleagues and the subordinates – and ask them about their experiences. If someone does not return your calls or emails, you should know why and make sure it is due to a scheduling conflict and not a potential problem.

Simply talking to people is one of the most undervalued resources now that the Internet has come along. Former business associates will usually be candid and tell you what you need to know, including how the candidate performs in certain professional situations and if there are any risks or weaknesses.

It is these reference assessments that would have helped in the case of Jane Smith and GrowBizCorp, potentially saving the latter a considerable amount of time, money and embarrassment. Business owners must protect their companies – including their assets, their reputation and their employees — and that means being careful and proactive during the hiring process.