So you hired a total asshole. The guy whose idea of punctual is parking his car at 8:58, the dickhole who steals lunches from the break room fridge, the douchenozzle who farts when he cruises past your desk and books it around the corner before the fumes can settle. On top of all this, he sucks at his job and morale is down 40% this week; that is, the purchasing coordinator drinks her lunch from a paper bag and the new intern is rocking back and forth in his chair muttering something about "the eternal cleansing".
HR people aren't God, folks. They're not some magic genie who comes out and grants you three wishes, one of which is that your new hire stays on board for 90 days and the second of which is he doesn't have a taste for beans. The hiring process, in fact, is an intricate game of three card monte; all applicants, no matter how well they're groomed to it, will reveal some Achilles' heel during their interview. No one is perfect. No reasonable hiring manager will dismiss a perfectly qualified applicant for one little snafu during an interview.
This is where the background check comes in. Like every method of scoping out a person, short of sitting downwind of the remnants of his sup at the Mexican restaurant, it's far from foolproof, but it offers a facet of his personality he may have written off due to a misunderstanding of the law and basic human nature.
So for your convenience, here is a compendium of misconceptions you probably have about employment background checks that are actually wrong and are proof positive that you suck at life:
MYTH: Companies are not allowed to say anything negative about me during reference check, even though I pooped in the break room microwave and blamed it on the guy who doesn't speak English right?
STATUS: NOT NECESSARILY TRUE. Many companies have policies that dictate only title, dates of employment and eligibility for rehire can be discussed during a formal background check. Sadly, this is but a cookie cutter policy and sometimes human nature takes over. Shame on you for having more hair than your boss, or because you disagreed on which of those three bizarre Mountain Dew flavours should have won, and why the fuck did you shit in the microwave, what are you, fucking twelve? For that matter how did you do that? Is there a new yoga position called the Impudent Asshat? No matter, your boss hates you now and you're gonna pay out the ass for his shortcomings. Just don't do it in the kitchen. We haven't even cleaned the microwave yet.
But seriously folks: There really is no strict policy in place as far as what an individual can submit for a character reference; first impressions mean everything, and human nature being what it is, sometimes it's hard to work past that one guy who gave you a bad reference. But he's just one guy, right? And who the hell is he? The only person who ever saw you in the office? The only person who ever saw you leave a mess on the lunchroom table? You figured he'd overlook it and return to his cubicle hell like a good little corporate drone, no?
Cue Columbo voice: "Oh, one more thing..."
He might just be the one dude who chose to take his beef with you to the higher ups. And said higher ups might just decide to make a little mental note of this so-called "minor annoyance." HR people aren't always nice. Sometimes they're assholes just like you. Sometimes it's Friday afternoon and they're still all giggly over the applicant who walked into the broom closet on his way out of the building. That being said, even if they follow protocol, sometimes tone of voice gives them (and you) away. Are they hesitant to answer when asked if you're eligible for re-hire? Maybe they really want to say "well, if someone held a gun to my head and said either I re-hire Joey Jo-Jo Sixpack or they'll paint the wall with my brains, I'd say I'd grown quite tired of living" but they really can't think of a nice and/or socially acceptable hilarious way to word this. Despair not! This is a reflection on them. One does not develop a "cred", as it were, in HR without knowing how to sugar-coat a completely shitty employee evaluation. That bitch be talkin' shit, yo.
Still with me here?
MYTH: If my former employer knows I'm a total asshole and wouldn't re-hire me even if there was some big, probably illegal poker game in which the losing organization had to re-hire their shittiest employee, I can leave them off my employment history thingie and stuff right?
STATUS: Where is this poker game and how can I get in on that action? Many companies check references without you even knowing. They conduct what is known as a "social security check" (in the U.S.) to determine where you worked in the past and then call the HR department of each employer for a reference. This move can also reveal attempted concealment of gaps in employment, something else that is best avoided at all costs.
Geez, you still with me?
MYTH: DUDE! A bunch of people think I don't totally suck nard! I'm gonna put them on my resume because they're made of weapons-grade
fail awesome just like me!
STATUS: We're HR folk. We have nothing better to do whilst waiting for energy refills on FarmVille so we'll call your lame-ass friends to hear a whole new angle on how much you suck nard. I've heard numerous schools of thought on this matter. Absolutely include your references because it shows true enthusiasm for the position. Do not include references because it comes off as pretentious and desperate. Personally I have chosen the happy medium; at the end of your resume add "References available upon request". It indicates the availability of and willingness to share references (preferably ones who don't equate "happy hour" to two episodes of Futurama and a fat blunt) without being presumptuous. It also won't waste valuable HR time if you actually do totally suck nard and the only input your "references" have to offer is how many times you can have your stomach squeezed until you vomit.
MYTH: OMG! I got the job! I am totally within my rights to act like a total asshole from here on, so everything my totally
sucky awesome references said about me is off the books. Speaking of, I never really told anyone this before aside from all my shitty stupid awesome references, but I totally have these fantasies about taking an axe to my co-workers. But who doesn't think that from time to time, AMIRITE?
STATUS: Read the fine print right here. I can legally fire at y...uh...I mean...fire you. Most employment agreements state that an employer can fire you within a 90-day probation period for any reason or no reason at all. Said (non)reasons may include, but are not limited to: gross incompetence, insubordination, being a total asshole, splitting open your co-workers' skulls, and whistling before 10 AM (we hate that shit).
For real, people: Employers can and do use this probationary period to check your references and background in addition to evaluating your performance. Your suckitude doesn't end with a fluke interview.
Oh shut up.
MYTH: I sued my former employer. We're totally cool now, because if they say anything about me taking an axe to Christine the HR assistant because she had the FUCKING GALL to call me
incompti incontinen bad at my job, they'll get sent to federal fuck you in the ass prison. *grin*
STATUS: We own your tiny feeble little marbles for life, dude. Job reference laws can easily be bypassed. While it is true that said laws restrict a former employer saying anything definitive (that is, something that explicitly states that you suck and they wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire) they can still take a pot shot at you with some deft wording. A classic HR blow-off line akin to "don't call us, we'll call you" is "Hold on a minute while I look up that employee's file." This of course translates to "Hold on while I ensure that I can say all the bad shit I have to say about this oxygen thief is permissible by law." In other words, sucks to be you.
I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU DON'T SHUT UP.
MYTH: Yeah I totally gotta level with you. One of my references is the totally hot chick I met at the gas station one night while I was buying box wine and porno. The other is a made-up guy in a story I'm planning on writing one of these days who chops up those who wronged him with an axe. Long story short, I'm not talking to these dudes anytime soon, so meh, AMIRITE?
STATUS: And at least one of these people told you to burn things, yes? Assuming these people actually exist (outside of acid trips, mind you), call your fucking references and bring them up to speed on your current job search. This way they will be all that much more informed when (and if) someone calls to get a reference for you. People hate being bothered on the phone these days. I've personally informed all my friends that if they call me before 10 AM I will cram every vulgarity and voodoo curse in my personal lexicon into one long, interesting sentence. This has not happened. Yet.
*And don't forget to share with the hapless HR person who had to spend the day listening to your bullshit.