Time Spent on Reconnaissance is Seldom Wasted

Time Spent on Reconnaissance is Seldom Wasted

Good people really are your greatest asset and if you’re expanding your team or replacing a key member, it’s worth taking the time to design a really robust selection process and checking candidates very carefully. In doing so you can do a great deal to avoid future problems. Check my book How to Build Your Dream Team for practical solutions and shortcuts.

If a candidate stands up to scrutiny make an offer conditional on confirming his or her background, and then invest in training and developing them.

Getting recruitment right is the absolute foundation to creating and building a successful business, but it’s not always a straightforward process.

While there may be many applicants, the truth is that the number of good quality candidates is not large. It is also a brutal fact that a substantial number of candidates aren’t as honest as they might be when applying for jobs. Many candidates will embellish their CV in a relatively minor way, for example, saying that they are captain of the university squash team. Some will lie outright, saying their degree is better than it really was, or it came from a more prestigious university. In some cases they make up qualifications altogether. Technically, lying on a CV is fraud and therefore a criminal offence. It doesn’t happen often, but people have gone to prison for it.

If you do find someone who ticks the boxes, make any offer of employment conditional, subject to receipt of references which are satisfactory to the company, proof of eligibility to work in the UK and confirmation of qualifications. If the offer letter expressly says this with no ambiguity, you can withdraw the offer with little risk of further liability. If a lie is uncovered before an employee has accepted a job, you can withdraw the offer of employment. Document your reason for withdrawing a job offer as you may face claims alleging your action was unlawful (for example, that it was an act of discrimination).

If you’re withdrawing it because of a reference that suggests too much sickness absence, investigate first to find out if there is any risk of a long-term and substantial medical condition. If there is, you could be discriminating on grounds of disability.

But what if an employee has already started working for you and then you start to suspect something is wrong? If an employee has lied about qualifications or job history, then that could breach mutual trust and confidence. If the employee hasn’t achieved 103 weeks’ service you can dismiss with fairly low risk, as long as it is clear, ideally on paper, that that is the reason (rather than a discriminatory reason),and that you have a reasonable belief after investigating that the employee lied. You should still hold a formal meeting with the right to be accompanied if you dismiss.

If the employee has achieved 103 weeks’ service then you need to take more care. A lie is still a lie, but after two years if it is clear the employee could do the job without a non-statutory qualification or quite as long with a previous employer as he claimed, then you will need to consider whether at this stage it is fair to dismiss.

If the employee has lied about having a statutory qualification of course, dismissal will be almost certain unless another role can be found and the employer is in a generous mood.

If you’re worried about recruitment – and that is the best time to discover a problem – there are CV and reference-checking companies that can help. Blacklisting is banned these days, but certain sectors use reference checkers to research the candidate. The pharmaceutical industry for example will often want to check for links to violent animal rights groups.

This might seem invasive, but if you’re buying an expensive piece of machinery for your business, you’ll probably spend quite a while checking out the various strengths and weaknesses it has, and finding out what others have thought of the product. The old military adage that “time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted” applies here, particularly if you’ve found a candidate you like but have formed an opinion after only an hour’s interview.


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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2021 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.