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Top tips for vetting new employees

It's often estimated that between 20 and 30% of job applicants lie on their CVs and the number of embellished CVs is said to be on the increase as competition for jobs intensifies.

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It's estimated that between 20 and 30% of job applicants lie on their CVs and the number of embellished CVs is said to be on the increase as competition for jobs intensifies. While it's great to feel you can trust other people – and no one would want to live their lives suspicious of every stranger – when you're recruiting, the stakes are high, and gut instinct can prove an unreliable indicator. If you take on someone who doesn't live up to the claims they have made, you're heading for trouble. Estimates show that giving jobs to people who lie about their qualifications and experience costs British business £2 billion a year. It can, however, take a while for problems to show, particularly when someone has good social skills. By the time you spot something isn't right, the person could have lost you customers, committed serious fraud, or disappeared with the new company car. It happens more often than you might think – and with candidates at all levels, in all sectors. Even the Office of Fair Trading fell foul of an internal fraud, losing £250,000 in the process. Despite the risks, too few small businesses carry out thorough checks on job applicants. These tips will help you make sure you are not putting your business at unnecessary risk by recruiting a candidate who can be shown to be incompetent or dishonest. Ask short-listed candidates for permission to vet their application. Explain what sources you will be referring to and advise them that they will not be appointed if you find adverse information. Covert investigation of an applicant is rarely justified under the Data Protection Act. Check the candidate has the right to work in the UK. To do this, they must provide you with an original version of documents specified by the UK Border Agency. Check the facts on the CV. The most common areas for lying are job titles, salaries and benefits, length of service and qualifications. Look out for references to foreign universities – non-existent ones appear regularly on CVs. Ask probing questions at interview such as "What was your greatest challenge in winning the Lollipop Lady of the Year Award?" or "What did you find hardest during your three years selling hats to herdsmen in the Hindu Kush?" Watch body language as the person replies. Follow up all references prior to the commencement of work. Many previous employers won't say more than that the person worked there, but that's better than nothing. And if you call rather than write, you may get a more helpful off-the-record response. In some cases you may be able to – and even legally required to – carry out a criminal records check. It is generally accepted that you can ask any applicant who will be in a position of trust whether they have any "unspent" or current convictions. The only way you can check this is by asking them to produce a basic disclosure (only they can apply for this). Standard and enhanced disclosures, which include "spent" convictions, can be obtained from the Criminal Records Bureau and can only be applied for in certain circumstances, i.e. the candidate will be working with children or vulnerable adults or carrying out an activity regulated by the Financial Services Authority. Ensure you delete information about criminal convictions collected during the recruitment process once it has been verified, only keeping a record of whether a satisfactory/unsatisfactory check was made. Check social media sites. A Facebook update from the person concerned saying they have just bunked off work with a hangover is unlikely to endear you to them, even if they haven't actually lied on their CV. Under the Data Protection Act, however, you can only check what is relevant for the job concerned, so you must be confident you can show a genuine reason for such checks. You might consider using a vetting company or private investigator (PI), but make sure the firm is regulated by a relevant organisation, such as the Association of British Investigators or the Institute of Professional Investigators. Members of these organisations operate by a Code of Ethics that includes being aware of and working within the principles of privacy legislation. Don't keep information on candidates for longer than is necessary, and never longer than six months, or you risk prosecution under the Data Protection Act. It is worth bearing in mind with all these points that Data Protection Act guidance states that vetting of prospective employees should only ever be proportionate and appropriate for the role you're recruiting for. A quick guide to employers' responsibilities under the Act can be found here. About the author Mark Docker runs SLS Investigations, a Manchester-based private investigation firm whose services include employee vetting. Mark can be contacted on 0161 285 8572 or via