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McCarter (2003) believes that hiring is the single most important func-
tion of HR and argues that “the roots of unhappy employment situations
often go back to the original hiring” (p. 20). The author believes that many
problems can be avoided by using some of the following steps, which I've
elaborated and augmented: (1) develop a clear and concise job description
and keep the hiring interview focused on the person's ability to do the job
as described in the job description. Only bring in applicants whose paper-
work and references suggest that they will be able to do the job at a high
level. (2) Use a checklist with the important job variables to compare appli-
cants. (3) Look for relevant past experiences and how they might be help-
ful, or hurtful, to the organization. (4) Carefully check references.
McCarter thinks that applicants are often careless about references
and use people who might say negative things about them. It's important
to get the applicant's permission to call references and listen carefully to
what they say. Ask the tough questions and follow up on anything that
sounds problematic. It's also a very good idea to get the worker's permis-
sion to contact employers or others not listed as references. This should
be done with the written consent of the worker. If the worker refuses to
give permission it probably tells you they have employers in their work
histories who might say unflattering things about them. As Steingold
(2000) notes, checking references is “especially important if you're hir-
ing someone who will be interacting closely with people. You don't
want to hire a worker with drug and alcohol problems or a worker with
a history of violence or sexual aggression” (p. 14).
In further concerns about references, Cherne (1999) says that it's
important to read between the lines and to learn to translate politically
correct or safe language. An applicant can be described as independent.
Independent can be a positive and safe descriptor, but the reference may
also mean the applicant cannot work in a team effort. Another safe
descriptor is the individual “has a lot of potential,” which usually means
they didn't live up to that potential yet. “She's a real go getter” can also
mean “she wants to move up the ladder, and she doesn't care who she
steps on.” The information is still there in the references, you just have to
look for the underlying meaning ( Cherne, 1999 , p. 12).
Cherne (1999) cautions that hiring should be an objective process.
When it becomes emotional, as in hiring someone because they appeal to
you or because you like them, you've hired someone who may be a good
person to talk to but not necessarily a good worker. “If you really liked
the applicant and felt you could talk to him or her indefinitely,” she
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