The city of Gresham learned a painful lesson, which many government agencies and private companies could benefit from, without having to suffer the pain.

The human resources department in the city jumped through all the traditional hoops when hiring a new transportation supervisor in November 2010. They called his references, they did a criminal background check and they interviewed him.

However, none of those measures prevented the city from having to fire Jim Burch just nine months into his employment after an ugly personnel situation came to light at his last job in Oregon City. Now, we're not saying that Burch wasn't qualified for the job in Gresham - or even that he deserved to be fired - but sometimes baggage from a previous stop makes it impossible to hire someone with a clear conscience, especially for a management job.

All of this embarrassment could have been prevented if the city had taken one extra step early in the process. Use the Internet and search for references to the applicant before doing an expensive background check.

Once The Outlook heard about the charges against Burch, a quick Google search revealed a story our sister paper, the Oregon City News, did when a federal lawsuit was filed against him in July 2010. If Gresham had done this search as one of its first steps, a background check might not even have been necessary.

Experience has taught us that you can't rely on a recommendation from a previous employer, who might be trying to rid themselves of a problem. I'm sure Gresham's human resources department isn't alone in relying on background checks to catch past legal issues, but civil cases and brewing legal concerns won't be caught with such a tool.

Why not make a Google search the first step in the hiring process?

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