Character Counts with Strangers at the Door

Nobody saw it coming. The guy apparently didn’t have a record and had passed a criminal background check before being hired as an installer by a cable company in Chicago. I say “apparently” because there is no national database of criminal records, and bad guys can sneak through the hodge-podge of documentation.

So the creep was arrested and charged with the sexual assault and murder of a young woman who let him into her home to repair her internet service. He was a suspect in the murder of another woman two months before under similar circumstances. The police didn’t tell his employer he was a suspect because there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest him. He subsequently was charged with the first murder as well.

I’m not trying to make you dear readers paranoid. Stuff like this doesn’t happen every day, and most plumbers, whether employed by our company or others, are good people. But every time I read about a lurid case like the above, it reinforces our resolve to do everything we can to hire people of top-notch character.

While home service technicians don’t commit homicide every day, every day does bring a slew of lesser crimes by workers voluntarily let into homes and offices. Residential service contractors dread getting complaints about things missing from the home after a visit from one of their technicians, and many of them have had the experience at one time or another. (We haven’t, thank goodness.) Sometimes the accusations are false, but it’s hard to tell who’s right in “he said/she said” situations unless a thief gets caught with the goods.

I recall another story about a computer repair technician whose job took him to various office sites. Women who worked in those offices often reported purses and other personal belongings missing. The thief got busted when investigators put two and two together and noticed the correlation between his service calls and the office thefts.

Those of us who run businesses involving visits to homes or commercial work sites have an obligation to make sure we hire people of impeccable personal character. We fully realize that one unsavory worker on the payroll can destroy our company.

We have to work hard at making sure that doesn’t happen. Criminal background checks are no guarantee you’ll discover the deepest, darkest secrets of job applicants. But it’s virtually guaranteed that you won’t discover them – until it’s too late – without doing background checks.

In addition to criminal background checks, we drug test all new recruits. Not every recreational user is a bad person, but we can’t take the chance that someone will be high on the job and behind the wheel of one of our service vehicles. Even if we were inclined to look the other way, our insurance company insists we test for drug use before hiring someone.

We also check past driving records. A traffic ticket or two won’t necessarily disqualify a job candidate, but a DUI or a history of repeated violations will.

We also subject new recruits to personality tests. No test can perfectly capture the essence of a person, but we have noticed a high correlation between test results and character. And, yes, we do follow up checking with references given by the job applicant.

Finally, and perhaps most important of all, we adhere to a detailed interviewing process that involves getting the job applicant to talk extensively about himself or herself. Our subjective impressions carry a lot of weight in our hiring decisions.

This may seem like a lot of trouble to go through, and it is. Virtually all plumbing companies will tell you that finding competent technicians is their biggest problem. So the temptation is great to take shortcuts and overlook character flaws.

Our attitude is it doesn’t matter how hard it may be to find the right employees. We’re willing to give up potential business until we find them.

Individually, none of our screening mechanisms can assure we’ll hire a person of good character. But when you put them all together, it makes it very hard for a bad person to land on our payroll. Experience has shown that to be the case. We are very proud of the people who work for Dutton Plumbing. Every one of them lives up to our slogan, “The plumber you’d send to your Mom’s house.”