Hiring the right people is a tough job. Every prospective employee works hard to present a fantastic first impression. Someone who doesn't frequently hire can be fooled into hiring the wrong person. It's important to use every tool to dig beneath the enthusiastic veneer to get to the real person underneath. One tool increasingly used by business owners is a background check.

Bob Weickgenannt, president of Starcom Design/Build, Columbia, Md., recently began incorporating background checks as a standard procedure. “There are two reasons to invest in background checks: to protect our clients and to protect ourselves,” Weickgenannt says.

It's your duty as a business owner to protect your clients. Your staff have access to the entire house and any valuables in it, and they come into regular contact with all family members.

It's also your duty to protect your company and its profits. Anyone coming into a company can negatively affect it. Obviously, a bookkeeper or office manager has access to the detailed financial information of the company as well as the systems used to control money and thus has the opportunity to embezzle. It's easy to see why these people should have a stellar background.

But anyone could find a way to steal from a company. We've all heard stories of a company paying exorbitant workers' compensation premiums, left holding the bag when a new worker was “hurt” on the job. Too bad they didn't know this had happened three times at other companies. How about extra materials being purchased and never making it to the job? Or hundreds of dollars of personal phone calls charged to the company? There are many examples.

After careful research, Weickgenannt found an online resource called Intelligent Investigations (www.intelligentinvestigations.com) through which he can check:

Personal information, including address history. Numerous address changes could be a sign of financial irresponsibility.

Criminal records, which include sexual offenses or other run-ins with the law. Someone with this mark on his record should not be hired, period.

Assets, including any bankruptcies. “A bankruptcy immediately eliminates bookkeeping or administrative applicants,” Weickgenannt says, “but for other positions, it may not automatically eliminate a person.” Licenses, including a driver's license, which is mandatory for Starcom field positions.

Workers' compensation claims. Starcom won't hire a person with a history of these claims.

Starcom starts with a cursory phone interview, and if the candidate sounds good, will do a second phone interview. “It's at this time that I tell them about the background and drug checks we do before hiring. This usually scares off anyone who's had problems in the past.”

Starcom invests approximately $65 for each complete background check, and Weickgenannt says, “It's worth every penny. I get a much better feel for a person by reviewing this objective personal data. It [stops us from making] what could be a very costly hiring mistake.” —Victoria Downing is president of Remodelers Advantage, Laurel, Md. 301.490.5620.