10 Tips for Effective Candidate Screening and Validation

Resource for Managers to collect the evidence they need to hire right

Interviewing prospective candidates is always the baseline for hiring – but is it enough?

We’ve been using more validation lately to determine if a candidate is who they say they are. Albeit rare, we have been surprised to realize that a candidate’s education was not valid, or that their reference was actually staged with a friend. When possible, we’re suggesting that extra steps be taken to fully grasp a candidate’s experience, authenticity, performance and personality.


Phone Screen

Make the phone screen count! You can determine how the candidate will present themselves to others if their role includes public facing phone work. You can also gain valuable insights into who they are before booking an in-person interview. Sometimes applicants are more casual and open over the phone, and will share more about their goals and dreams from the comfort of their own space.

Phone Screen Questions:
What attracted your attention to this role?
What do you know about our company? Do you know anyone who works here?
What are the top 3 motivators for you to leave your current position? What would you miss the most about your current employment?
Describe your dream job.
If we made an offer today, what’s the earliest you could start?
What do you have planned for the year ahead?
How would your current employer react to your resignation? Do you anticipate a counter offer?


The Interview

Make the most of your meeting with these tips:

Create a matrix or grid by order of importance of what you are looking for including career experience, hard skills (technology, software, languages), soft skills (personality, communication, eye contact), compensation, etc. Fill in the matrix with what the candidate brings to the position, and do the same for each candidate. This will provide an easier comparison after your first-round interviews are complete.

With your top choice of candidate(s), aim to have at least 3 people conduct an interview. We’re often surprised by what is revealed to one interviewer and not another. Host the interviews within a week so you don’t lose the candidate to another offer.

Vary interview times to determine if they show up on time in a morning commute, if they lose steam in the afternoon, or have certain commitments at specific times of the day that you can or cannot work around. This also offers insights into their flexibility.

Ask insightful questions. Email HRPractices@excelHR.com to receive our comprehensive Interview Guides by skill category (14 Topics including: Administration, H.R., Accounting/Finance, Marketing/Communications, IT Development, Sales and more).

After the first interview, ask the candidate to take an action – eg: “send me a sample of your work” or “send me an email that you are interested in the role”. See if they have strong follow-up skills.

Beyond a traditional interview, try something new to see how they respond. Case-based interviews are a great way to assess a candidate’s abilities in “real-life scenarios”. Present them with a problem and see how they fix it.

Keep the interview process moving. Despite the statistic that Canada takes an average of 20.1 days to hire, we recommend aiming for less. This is a hot labour market with only 5.8% unemployment. Great people are in demand, and will secure other offers. Keep in close contact with your best candidates with open dialogue.


Software Testing

Testing adults is difficult because most have been out of that realm of examination for some time. For some, test results show a true measure of their ability – for others, their nerves prevent them from demonstrating their skill.

You can probe about a candidate’s skills verbally by asking the right questions. Your technical team, for example, could prepare a set of specific questions to assess a new Developer – OR you can go beyond and administer tests. We are happy to have your candidate complete skills and/or software testing through our firm if needed.

Software Testing Programs

IKM TeckChek – offers over 400 adaptive technical tests with customization options. www.ikmnet.com
eSkill – includes testing a variety of skills, including IT, accounting, healthcare, management, etc. www.eskill.com
IBM Kenexa – offers tests for Microsoft skills as well as industry and job specific skills. www.ibm.com/Kenexa
Interview Mocha – which offers over 1000 technical tests and custom testing options. www.interviewmocha.com

Another option is to give the candidate access to the software in your office and ask them to complete specific tasks within a time limit.


Language Testing

It’s easy for a candidate to say they are fluent in a language when in reality they may not be able to carry a conversation or compose a letter. To test language proficiency, employers may conduct:

Verbal Assessments
These are pre-set questions designed to get the candidate speaking so the assessor can gauge their level of comprehension and oral accuracy when responding. The person conducting a verbal assessment would need to be fully fluent in that language and have a guideline to rate the person being tested.

Written Assessments
Prepare your own written test package that is short and telling, eg: ask the candidate to write a letter in the required language addressing a specific relevant topic. Our firm can administer the tests you prepare that are unique to your firm as requested.

Online Grammar Tests
These are tests that are auto-generated and graded by an outside resource. This is a great option for languages where you may not be able to easily assess by relying on another team member.


Personality Testing

In addition to testing for hard skills, such as software and language, prospective employers may choose to test for personality traits or emotional intelligence. Three common evaluations:

Kolbe A Index Test
This assessment consists of 36 multiple choice based questions designed to assess a candidate’s instinctive strengths in four key areas: fact finding (gathering and sharing information), follow-through (organizing information and processes), quick start (dealing with risk and uncertainty) and implementation (tackling space and tangibles). The cost is $49.95 (CND) per test. www.kolbe.com

DiSC Assessments
This tool is designed to assess behavioural tendencies. Each letter represents a behavior type (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness). The test consists of a series of statements to which the respondent selects their level to which they agree or disagree on a 5-point scale. There are various types of DiSC assessments that range in price from $64.50 to $107.50 (CND). www.discprofile.com

Myers Briggs Indicator
This shows if the person is an introvert or extrovert using four measures: sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking. The cost is $49.95 and up. www.myersbriggs.org

FIRO Assessment
This assessment helps people understand their interpersonal needs and how those needs influence their communication style and behavior. The Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation facilitates behavioral change by providing insight into working relationships and requirements. www.psychometrics.com/assessments/firo-b/

Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)
Assesses cooperativeness and assertiveness based on five factors (competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding and accomodating) to help people understand how different conflict management styles affects interpersonal and group dynamics. www.psychometrics.com/assessments/thomas-kilmann-conflict-mode/

CAUTION: Personality and Instinct testing may be more valuable to understand the best way to motivate or manage an employee after they have been hired.


Background Checks – Criminal or Credit

Organizations may request a criminal background check or a vulnerable sector check if they can show that the position they are staffing requires it – that it’s a bona fide requirement of the job. For example, a military equipment company may need its workforce to be clear of criminal history. That being said, the criminal history has to fit the requirement. If a candidate’s criminal history was a “driving under the influence” (say they had two DUIs), that does not mean they should be precluded from an accounting role – but it does mean that they may not be hired as a Driver.

A hiring manager would not want to discuss a candidate’s criminal background in this regard. This would open the manager up to a discrimination claim should the candidate NOT be selected. Instead, hiring professionals can simply state that a criminal check will be performed should the candidate be a finalist. The same applies to a credit check. The employer has to show that a clear credit check is needed for the role.

To obtain a criminal or credit check for a candidate, there are several companies that can facilitate this including:
BackCheck: www.backcheck.net
Triton: www.tritoncanada.ca
Equifax: www.consumer.equifax.ca
TransUnion: www.transunion.ca

The candidate can obtain it directly from the police by going to a local police agency. If fingerprints are required and the police agency does not offer this service, they will refer them to an accredited fingerprinting company. http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/en/where-do-get-a-criminal-record-check.

TIP: A security clearance (Enhanced Reliability or Secret) is NOT the same as a Background Check, including credit or criminal. The Government of Canada is looking for a person’s credibility and honesty to represent our country and have access to Canadian documents. They are looking for the risk to the Crown, and may not be as interested in petty crimes that took place a decade ago that may not have any risk to the nation. Employers should not imagine that an Enhanced Clearance means that an applicant has no criminal history or has no credit issues.


Education Check

We encourage employers to check on the accuracy of a candidate’s academic background. Rarely but occasionally, candidates exaggerate their education or claim degrees they don’t have.

Caution: Ontario employers cannot ask for the location of the candidate’s degree because it can create discriminatory practices. The employer can ask about their education, courses taken, and degrees completed but not where the education was obtained. The employer can verify education and ask for a copy of a diploma or degree after an offer has been made.

The CBC reported on false degrees in 2017. The news source obtained a list of 800 Canadians who may have bought a degree from Axact, the world’s largest “diploma mill”. The list included Engineers, Legal Clerks, CEOs, Politicians and Teachers. https://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/episodes/2017-2018/fake-degrees-exposing-canadians-with-phoney-credentials

A list of the schools that produce fake degrees is available here (although it’s ever changing). https://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/blog/list-of-schools-linked-to-axact

Ways to Verify Education 

Use a background check service: Triton, BackCheck, AuraData. The firm checks for the candidates’ degree and credentials, the date they graduated, the major of their degree and the official educational accrediting body. There is a fee associated but it could be included in the overall background check including credit or criminal.

Verify yourself. Call the university to inquire (which may not be successful in all cases). You will want to check if the school exists, if the school is accredited, if the candidate attended during the time period claimed and if the degree was actually granted.


Online Investigation

Nowadays, you can find a lot online. For employers, this can lead to discoveries about a prospective employee. Googling a candidate’s name can yield results that lead to social media profiles, education or, and in extreme cases, details of grave concern.

Here are five things to look for when conducting an online investigation:

  1. Negative comments about previous (or current) employers and/or colleagues
  2. Offensive or defamatory language
  3. Side gigs that may be a conflict of interest to your organization
  4. Obscene photos
  5. False information – where it’s clear they don’t have the experience they claim

One major caution employers need to keep in mind when googling a candidate is discrimination. For example, looking for age, ethnicity, marital status, health, etc. are all areas protected under human rights laws. It’s possible that an employer could expose themselves to a discrimination-based complaint if they rely on a protected element to make a hiring decision.

The lesson here is that employers can rely on internet and social media searches to discover information but they need to be cautious of how they use that information when making hiring decisions.


LinkedIn vs. Resume

The most common and effective way to rely on social media when screening a candidate is to locate a candidate’s LinkedIn profile to verify facts against their resume. Do the employment dates, job titles and companies listed match their resume? To be open and transparent about checking these facts, many hiring managers will add a candidate to their LinkedIn network after inviting them in for an interview. That way, the candidate won’t be shocked if it comes up in conversation.

TIP: How to address a fact discrepancy: “I noticed on your resume there was a gap in employment between X position and X position, but on LinkedIn you listed that you were working as a X at X company. Can you tell me more about your time at that company, and what dates are exact?”

It’s possible that the candidate felt their experience gained in that role was irrelevant to the position they are applying for, which is why they opted not to include it. What you want to listen for are clues of meaningful omissions or falsehoods.


References – Formal vs. Informal

Although it’s still common practice for employers to request references from job seekers, it’s becoming less and less common for companies to provide them. In fact, many organizations do not give references.

Reasons Organizations Don’t Provide References

  • Giving references can be time consuming;
  • Some fear legal action for being “too honest”
  • In some instances, an employee wasn’t with an organization long enough for a manager to truly comment on their work ethic and capabilities.

Employers have no legal obligation to offer references although most will confirm employment, except for their statutory obligation to do so for Canada Revenue Agency.

In some cases, applicants are left scrambling for references. Sometimes they provide former work colleagues that were friends, and not supervisors.

As an alternative, some hiring managers may seek informal references. This would be when they call a mutual contact who knows the individual being considered for employment and ask “off the record” questions.

For employers looking to conduct formal references, we’ve created a list of 15 Questions to Build On When Conducting References. To receive a copy, email HRPractices@excelHR.com.


Job Shadowing

Once the interview process has been complete and you’ve narrowed your selection down to the top candidates, you may want to offer a job shadowing experience to the finalists.

This is a great way for both the prospective employer and the candidates to see a day in the life of working together. This may be a half day or full day experience, or in some instances employers may extend a one-week contract to a candidate to further assess fit (if they are not working).

During this process, look for team fit, how they interact with other staff members, communication skills, ability to take direction or give it, overall passion for the role and the organization.

Make the Job Shadow Count

  • Before the job shadow occurs, define if this is paid or unpaid
  • Create a clear schedule for the day, including a start and end time
  • Communicate with your team to make sure they are aware of the job shadow and what is required of them
  • Observe the candidates behaviour and interactions with other staff
  • If possible, schedule a lunch to debrief during the day

Download the printable PDF below.

10 Tips for Effective Candidate Screening and Validation


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