Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yes: people get fired during probationary periods: a call for more reference checking and "Internet background investigations"? Reputation again!

Benny Sisko has a great column this morning on Tech Republic about having to fire a new hire just before the end of a three-month probationary period. The title is "Firing a bad hire: a real world story."

He goes through how he was had – the overstated resume, the references who covered up, and then the lackadaisical performance and slow learning curve and recalcitrance of the individual (to adapt to new problems, apparently) once hired. He goes into the team friction and the closed-door, behind-back office politics that went on before the firing.

The end result in advice? Employers need first to test for skills themselves (even certifications can be deceptive – passing multiple choice tests isn’t the same as doing the work), and need to dig harder for secondary references, running the old liability gauntlet. This may be another argument for the notorious “search engine” background investigations, which are making online reputation such a testy and befuddling issue right now.

The article does bring back some déjà vu, of firings that happened twenty years ago or more, that I watched from the periphery. I’ve seen this sort of thing “you had to call tech support twice for something you should have known how to do yourself.” Yes, it does happen. But it’s nothing new.

Actually, there is something relatively new, though, in the age of cheaper publishing, blogs and online social networking sites—and this Tech Republic posting today brings this problem to mind, mine at least. An employer, particularly a client of a staffing company, could wonder if someone is coming to work just to “spy” and write about a sensitive issue inherent in the organization’s business later, even in disguised (without searchable names) but ultimately recognizable fashion. (There have been cases where professional news organizations have hired journalists to do just that, resulting sometimes in litigation.) We’re, as poet Walt Whitman wrote (composer Ralph Vaughn Williams set to music), moving “toward the Unknown Region.”

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