Read background checks to avoid hiring a serial killer

“We found your friend passed out in the hall and dragged him into his room.”

Dave Millhouser

I was checking out of a hotel early one Friday, and the desk clerk somehow thought he was offering good news.

I’d been asked to train “Bob” and we’d been traveling together all week, visiting customers. Once you recover from imagining me training anybody, it gets better.

All week there had been subtle signs of trouble. Bob was four hours late for an appointment — twice.

One clue to the cause of his behavior was when he turned up an hour late for breakfast — the morning after the hotel gave us free drink coupons.

Other evidentiary flares popped up. He had been reluctant to give us a Social Security number and was a bit undecided about where he actually lived.

A Google search showed that he was the current CEO of his previous employer. In other words, either he was going to work two jobs or Bob wasn’t his real name.

It’s important to know who you’re hiring. The regulations regarding what you can and can’t do in terms of interview questions and background checks are complex, but you want to know as much as you can before committing to a candidate.

Someone in your company should be familiar with the process and adept at gathering as much information as is legal.

A friend pointed out that it’s not enough to gather information, it’s important to read it. The applicant who lists “serial killer” as his previous job either has a sick sense of humor or is hoping you won’t study the application too thoroughly.

You might want to be looking for the gaps in employment that often accompany incarceration.

You’d be surprised at the number of times (misguided) friends have asked me to be a reference, and then were hired without anyone calling me.

Previous employers often are nervous about giving less-than-stellar recommendations (even where merited), but you can often read between the lines. “Waste no time interviewing him” can be interpreted two ways, but if you hear the sound of rolling eyeballs, it’s safest to adopt the negative one.

Some operators outsource a substantial portion of background checks and drug testing. But remember, if you mess up, you are on the hook. If they mess up, you are on the hook.

Make sure you pick good companies, and again, read what they send you. In the current environment, hiring a person is almost like adopting them.

Don’t assume you can change applicants just because you’re really desperate for their skills as drivers or mechanics. If they wrecked previous employers’ buses, they’ll ding yours.

There’s a manager/sales guy type awaiting sentencing who worked, one after another, for virtually every bus company in a major city. He stole from them all.

Each hired him, tempted by his proven ability to sell charters, and assumed they could win over his cheating heart. One even offered him a raise if he’d stop stealing (he decided to take BOTH options).

People sometimes do grow or change, but it’s critical to know their history. If you hire someone with a troubled past, don’t stick him in situations that create temptation. A reformed embezzler might make a great driver, but you should be wary of hiring him as your CFO.

Our building in Buena Vista, Colo., was down the street from a correctional facility, and it allowed “civilians” to take part in some of its vocational programs. One of our guys decided to take a welding class, and returned breathlessly to the garage.

He had noticed “Jim,” one of our ex-drivers, in the class — wearing prison garb. We’d wondered what had happened to Jim. He’d returned from a trip and disappeared. If we’d done a background check we wouldn’t have been surprised.

Now we knew where he’d be — for about five years.

Sometimes a little digging turns up good things. At a party I was chatting about airplanes with a young man who looked about 16. He mentioned he was a pilot and asked if I knew where he could rent a plane to tootle around in.

While I’m not an aviator, finding an airport is within my meager skill set. It seemed wise to ask about his experience, and since he looked like a teenybopper, I checked with the party’s hostess.

It turned out that he looked 16 but was 26, and a combat proven F-16 pilot in the Israeli Air Force. He was taking graduate classes in the U.S. and thought a bit of aerial sightseeing might be fun.

Now THAT is the kind of surprise you’d like to find in the background of a recent hire. He would make an excellent bus driver, and be available to strafe pesky competitors.

Dave Millhouser is a bus-industry marketing consultant and freelance writer. Contact him by email at




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