Ask the smart questions

By Jane Garcia

Asking some of the right questions of a potential employee can help organisations source the best candidate for a position and potentially protect it against fraud.

According to David Meacham from the Central Coast School of Business at the University of Newcastle, there has been a marked change in the approach to pre-employment screening in Australia over the past five years.

He says there have been a lot of high profile failure stories where organisations have short-cut their pre-employment screening, particularly for high paying positions, and been dudded. This has led to a lot more care to make sure especially high-cost employees are checked, Dr Meacham says.

“For me the clincher, especially when you’re talking to people who have worked with an applicant in the past, is asking ‘would you choose to employ this person again or would you choose to work for this person again?’,” he says.
“If they’re hesitant about that then I would be wary.”
“You do get some people who when they’re recruiting insist upon talking to the immediate or past supervisor of the applicant and that can be a real double-edged sword and there’s a real trap in it.
“There’s commonly an antagonism between bosses and particularly the ambitious or the very capable subordinates. If you went to John Howard and said ‘look, I’m thinking of employing Peter Costello as a Prime Minister’ there could have been an interesting answer.”
“It pushes you to look into a diversity of sources when you’re checking people out. Don’t stop at your first negative. The most rewarding people can be some of the most difficult characters too.”

Dr Meacham suggests another good litmus test for employers is asking a potential job candidate ‘where do you see yourself in so five years’ time?’.

If a candidate has not thought this through then “they don’t have a forward focus”, he says, although he advises caution when assessing Generation Y candidates who can be tripped up by this type of question.

“We are in the period of protean careers where people are realistically going to be with you for three to four years max. They go their own way and maybe somewhere down the track your interests will coincide again and they may come back,” Dr Meacham says.

For more on pre-employment screening see the cover story, Up close with personnel, in the July 2007 edition of Government News magazine.

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