Employment History

Shalie Reich
Shalie Reich
We all have a “past.” When we are applying for jobs, that “past,” with reference to our employment history, is put on display! HR professionals review employment history every time we look at a resume. Reviewing employment histories may be second nature to us, but let’s look together at the importance of these histories, how to get a complete history, how to evaluate them and how to spot potential red flags. At the end, we will not only be able to review these histories in our sleep, but we can confidently evaluate them to better understand our candidates.

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What Is Employment History?

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition of employment history is a record of jobs that a worker has had. That sounds like a good enough answer as any, right? If we expand this definition further, we would find employment history typically contains details such as past employers/companies, job titles/positions, dates of employment and, in some instances, information like salary and specific job duties. We are basically looking at a snapshot of our candidate’s entire life in the workforce, which is extremely beneficial to us in HR.

Why Understanding the Employment History of Your Applicant Is Important

Understanding the employment history of our applicant is so important because it provides us key items we need to evaluate prior to hiring. Let’s review some of them below:

  • Prior related experience. Knowledge of our candidate’s prior experience allows us to evaluate if they have the necessary experience for our open position.
  • Relevant knowledge and skill. As we evaluate employment history we are looking to see how the previous experience has provided the candidate with knowledge and skills that would be instrumental in the position with our organization.
  • Performance. Employment history and the trajectory of a candidate’s career provides us more beneficial information on the overall performance our candidate provides their employer. A key component we are looking at when evaluating employment history.
  • Firm experience. Based on the thorough evaluation of our applicants employment history, we can conjecture if they would provide us with not only prior related experience, but stronger experience as well, which would set us up for success.

How To Get a Complete Copy of Someone’s Employment History

Today, we are able to receive a copy of our candidate’s employment history simply by asking for a resume, but is that the “complete history” we are looking to obtain? In order to make sure we have a full employment history, it’s always best to have our candidates fill out an additional employment application when the resume is submitted. This typically offers us a bit more information into each role that is not on the resume. This extra step gives us a complete applicant picture as we evaluate further.

How To Evaluate an Applicant’s Employment History

Evaluating an applicant’s employment history should look the same for each role, organization and salary range we are hiring for. Let’s evaluate the tangible way this looks below.

Resume Screen

At this step we are going to be evaluating the resume. We are comparing employment history and how it could apply to our specific position. We are looking broad here in step one, evaluating not only work experience, but education, skills and knowledge, any personality/character traits we can see from the resume and competencies. When we screen a resume, we are getting a baseline to see if this candidate would be able to fully complete the minimum requirements of the role as verified through the resume.

Preferred Qualifications Evaluation

After we have a baseline overview, we then dive into our “nice to haves” and compare employment history as it relates to our specific role. We will be evaluating the following information: positions in a similar industry with similar responsibilities, length of time in each position, career advancement and reason for leaving each position. As we continually review, we should be looking to see if the candidate passes both our initial basic resume screen and our “nice to have” list. If they do, we move on and further evaluate their employment history.

Set Up Candidates for Interview

Once we have done our two previous exploratory steps through our candidates’ employment history, it is time to shortlist them for interviews to fill in the gaps in our evaluations with some actual interviews. The number of candidates we interview will be dependent on our specific organizational need, but it is important to note that just because we extend an offer does not mean they will accept it, especially in today’s climate. We should prepare to have more candidates to interview in order to account for this drop off, should it happen.

What To Do if You Spot Potential Red Flags in an Applicants Employment History

If we see potential red flags while reviewing employment history, there are a few different directions this can take us. As we evaluate the red flags, they could be extreme enough that we no longer wish to move forward with the candidate. Alternatively, they could simply implore us to ask more open-ended questions that will lead to clearing up some of those red flags. Let’s look at how this could play out.

Request Clarification

First things first, we always want to provide the candidate the opportunity to clarify the red flag. If we see a lengthy career gap, but the rest of the resume prompts us to push them to the next phase, let’s clarify that gap and see if it falls outside our company parameters to move forward. Reaching out to the candidate to clarify red flags is a sure-fire way to clear up the red flags that are not spelling/grammar errors or attention to detail failures that could potentially rule out a candidate.

Verify References

An additional step to take if we spot red flags in our applicants’ employment history is to reach out to references. Reference verifications have changed over the years, but they can still provide us some clarity in evaluating the red flags we are facing. Perhaps we are looking at a title that does not quite make sense to us. Verifying the employee position with the previous company could clear that up right away and take out the guess work in our process. From there we could see if the duties and responsibilities of the previous role would fit into the model we have at our organization, all from a little verification.

Enlist a Second Set of Eyes

We have received clarification, we have verified references, but there is something still getting to us about these red flags. Our final step would be to call for reinforcements! Ask a supervisor or a co-worker to evaluate the resume, not sharing our red flags, and see if they are able to come up with the same issues. From there, put all the cards on the table from our research and evaluate if the candidate’s red flags are company non-issues, or if they should prompt us to pass on the candidate instead.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Employment History

Should I always ask for a complete record of an applicant’s employment history?
Best practice, yes. When we have this information right from the beginning, we are setting up for success as we continue to evaluate the candidate. If we cannot see the full picture, it is hard to make the right decision and we could miss something that could make or break the candidate.
What are red flags to look out for?
Red flags to look out for: career gaps, excessive spelling/grammar issues, lack of career progression, inability to follow directions and attention to detail failures. When evaluating employment history, looking at these items on a resume will help us filter out the top candidates early on in the process.
Shalie Reich
Shalie Reich

Shalie has over 4 years of experience working in a variety of HR positions and organizations including: working as an HR department “of one”, working with a start-up based in Europe, to working in a fully established robust USA based HR department. Shalie has experience in multiple states and countries with all aspects of the HR spectrum. She has a passion to share her knowledge and experience to benefit the HR profession!

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