In Just how good are your references anyway? I suggested that we might all raise our standards by applying the extreme methods that President-elect Obama is using to screen candidates for cabinet positions.

Reader Lucille asked if I was being sarcastic and titaniumtux pointed out that I’m the guy who suggests withholding salary history information. So what gives? Should the hiring process now include a proctological exam?

I admit that I am trying to prod everyone into discussing this. The President-elect’s candidate-review process is extreme, and maybe it needs to be. I do believe, as someone said, that it’s more political than practical. When you become a cabinet member, you give your life up to the role. When you take a job, you’re devoting your professional time to it, not your life. Does an employer deserve more than just that part of your life?

Only if they’re willing to compensate you for it.

There is probably some level of compensation you’d be willing to take in exchange for a top-level role in some organization. But should HR subject people to the kind of intense scrutiny that has become common? I think it’s common because HR can now easily outsource ridiculous levels of background-checking. HR behaves like the proverbial jet pilot at 50,000 feet pushing a button that releases a bomb that will drastically affect thousands of lives far below – it’s all too easy. “Hey, I just pushed a button. I didn’t fire any gun.” HR finds a comfortable distance from the act and claims it’s just doing its job.

You need to think about this because in the current job market, employers will feel empowered to subject you to all sorts of indignities. Decide now how far you will let yourself be pushed.

And employers should decide how much they’re willing to pay for extreme levels of compliance from job applicants. What is full disclosure worth?

In back-to-back editions of the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, I raised a bigger question: Does HR go too far when screening candidates? Comments from readers were astonishing. But the best was one savvy reader’s method for avoiding trouble when the HR department goes too far in screening candidates. He has come up with a way to protect his privacy that also helps him “weed out the lookers from the serious bidders.”

Here’s my disclosure: I am not being considered for any cabinet posts, nor would I subject myself to that kind of scrutiny. Unless the money were right. Or if my doctor ordered the exam.

  1. While job hunting, I’ve noticed that many applications ask you to sign background check forms then add: “You agree not to hold X company liable for the disclosure of such information….”

    It’s as if they KNOW they’re engaging in some form of duplicity. I don’t think these types of companies will sign a confidentiality agreement when they pretty much tell you upfront that they withhold the right to screw you.

    Nick, I posted a quick question about spouses as references on the message board. Hopefully you’ll have a chance to look at it!

  2. In the references post, you seemed to think sunshine was a good thing. But your references are (if you set them up well) going to be laudatory. However, there is great deal of difference between showing sunshine on your work which is what references show and your abililty to manage your life, which is what background checks show. I don’t agree that you don’t have anything to hide with references. You have to choose them carefully. But at least if you don’t they are generally checked out after the company is ready to offer you the job. I am very unhappy with showing background data because it done before an interview, and because there aren’t enough privacy laws to protect me. I disagree with both posts. If I seem as if I have something to hide to an HR person, I don’t. But I don’t want the presumption either.

  3. Re the ‘willing to compensate you” link:
    I worked for one of the best companies around when it came to helping, respecting and taking care of employees.
    Paid one man with terminal cancer his full salary til the day he died, although he hadn’t been able to work for over a year.
    Bumped the pension of their first retiree to credit him with 20 years because the company was only 18 years old.
    One had a stroke so severe he didn’t even recognize his family and totally forgot his considerable IT knowledge. But after two years of rehab (on full salary), they found a new position for him commensurate with his reduced ability – but did not reduce his salary.
    A family medical emergency made me miss two months, then often a week at a time later. They didn’t charge it against my vacation or pay.

    That’s why when they needed me to work 24/day for four days in a row, I was glad to do it.
    That’s why I worked some 140-hour weeks.

    They took care of me, I took care of them.

  4. Ray,
    I’m glad to hear a positive story. What goes around, comes around. True loyalty comes through in action, not words (translation: company “policy”). I’m tickled to hear about a company that goes above and beyond, and whose employees return the favor!

  5. Ray/Nick,
    You reminded me of a good news story from a manufacturing company. All of the unions went on a prolonged strike – 3 weeks or more – in second half of November. There were picket lines, but not violent – more a show of strength and solidarity. As it moved into December, the company send private letters home to the spouses saying that if they wanted to discuss interest-free loans so they could buy Christmas presents, they could do so with absolute confidentiality. “Respect for People” was something which was practised, but those three words never appeared in print until 10 years later! Cheers, R