How to screen for reliability in a job candidate?

The obvious answer is references, but here’s my story.

The company I work for sells a web-based product, and as such, we have clients all over the country, and we generally don’t need to be where they are. Part of the initial setup, though, requires some groundwork for which we hire temporary contractors.

The job is easy. Period. You know, if you actually show up and do it. We’ve mainly had great work, but there’s been major league flakery that costs us in a lot of ways, and is worse than simply bad work. I’d flatly prefer someone who is not great at the job over someone who is good at it, but I can’t rely on. Of course we’d rather have someone who both can and will (which we’ve found, to be fair) but dependability is an issue and I’m kind of a little frustrated a lot by feeling like I’m rolling the dice on who’s an asshole or not. I think I have the “can” part down, but the “will” is evading me.

Is asking for references the only way to it? Are there questions to ask to get to the heart of the matter? One question I saw after furious Googling is to ask how they react when colleagues are late/miss deadlines/etc. I think that’s smart?

I guess the bind that I’m in is often the setup work is very short, and so we don’t ask them to pee in a cup and/or submit retina eye scans for a one or two week gig. If strengthening the interviewing process is the only way around it, I don’t like it at all, but I’ll do it. I’d rather find better questions to ask that really get to the heart of whether I can depend on them.

Also, because I want to play this game on hard mode, I don’t want to sound too HR-y. You know what I mean?


Job history, not references. Does s/he stay at their job longer than the norm for that type of job?

A ot of people move on from jobs, looking for greener grass. Well, the grass is greener where you water it!

Truth! Some gaps are reasonable, but generally erratic work history is not a good sign.

But we’re offering gig work, and get a lot of young people, many of whom are fresh out of college, general freelancers, and/or folks who don’t have the most gap-free work history in the world. It’s kind of tough. We aren’t getting a lot of career-minded folks who are applying to do our odd job for 20 days.

This process is so much easier for full-time, permanent employees!

But you’re right. Even gig folks should have some kind of consistent history. I suppose I’ve been spending more effort on gauging how good of a skill set match they have, and looking for red flags in that area. Time to hone in on reliability red flags!

(I have zero experience in managing new employees…so don’t attack me, please)

I’m just throwing out a couple of ideas that may be relevant:

  1. Make the reliabilitly issue a major part of the interview. Ask questions about how long it took them to do their previous (20-day?) gig and why they didn’t do it in 15 days.
  2. Tie their salary to their timetable. Sort of like a salesman’s commissions. Base salary is so minimal that’s it’s embarrassing, but if you finish on time, there’s a bonus , which is the real money.

Tell each applicant to gather some kind of information, and then phone you at a certain time of a certain day to report on it. See who phones on time with well organized information.

Some industries just don’t have consistently reliable employees, restaurants will see cooks and waitresses turn over frequently, you just come to expect it, but then again usually doesn’t take long to find a replacement. Gig work has that same kind of problem and part of those businesses is preparing for the people not to show up, you need to give your reliable employees the most work and pay bonuses if you have to for them fill in last minute, and management and owners need to be ready to do the work themselves if needed. The extra cost involved has to be built into the business plan.

Hire twice as many as you think you need and expect that half just won’t show up. That’s what I’d do.

Maybe, be up front. Tell each candidate that you expect x months or y years (whatever it is) from them, and ask them, can you do that, will you do that?

There are no guarantees, of course, from either side of the table. But it does set the expectation. Together with their job history, you can glean if they will likely be dependable.

I also searched this, and quickly glanced at some results and they looked good, interview questions for reliability dependability:

Apartment managers run a background check on potential renters. That can include credit check, criminal check, driving violations check, rental history check, and more. There are also employment background check services.

With the above information, you could tell if they pay their bills on time or borrow money and don’t pay it back (indication of responsibility / considerate of other people). And if they follow the rules of society - criminal records - driving records. Driving record can also show substance abuse problems [DUI].

Also do a drug test.

For the background check, search the internet for Employment Screening, Renters Check, or Tenant Screening. The applicant will need to sign a form which should be provided on the screening web site. Like this…

Drug testing you can find in your local phone directory. Be sure to mention that applicants must pass these checks in your employment ad. The scumbags/druggies will not bother to apply! [Except for some REALLY stupid people!]

Are there any temp/staffing agencies/contractors that can supply these short-term employees for you? Best case, the local office is weeding out the unreliables (and giving the reliable ones enough work that they’re happy to keep doing the short-term gigs), and the extra cost is made up for by you not having to recruit/interview.

Hire older workers with experience in your field. They’re less likely to party and call in sick the next day, they’re thrilled to be in a job, and there are fewer opportunities calling them away to other workplaces.

Good idea. But I think hiring them as Temp to hire with a 60 day contact would also work.

Or even if you don’t overhire, just start interviewing for their replacements before you need them. You can always tell the new applicants that the position is filled if a spot doesn’t open up, but otherwise you have a candidate ready to fill the spot.

OP, could you clarify what you mean by reliability? I took it to mean “shows up when scheduled”, but many answers are taking it to mean “stays in the job for a long period of time”. Which isn’t really the same thing.

Up-and-quitting without giving the customary two weeks notice counts as unreliable, but getting a better job and moving on doesn’t, in my book.

It sort of depends on the industry, but if a potential employer were to ask me that question, my immediate response would be to ask if they wanted to write a contract for that duration of employment. And if they said no, they still wanted to the right to fire me at any time, well, I’d feel exactly as much loyalty as I ought to.

Yeah, but so will people (like me) who think that drug tests for employment are bullshit. I’m not taking a drug test for employment unless they randomly test the CEO and other executives, or I have no other options.

Not sure how many people feel that way, but insisting on a drug test doesn’t just weed out people who are on drugs. It also dissuades people who feel that employees have a right to privacy from their employers.

This^. Establish a relationship with a nationwide temp agency. Clearly define your needs and they’ll handle the vetting. At that point all you have to do is pick up the phone and place the order.

Big floor to ceiling 1’ diameter burnt and distressed wooden pillar, to which a large set of manacles has been welded. Right next to a desk with a computer.

Casually ask them if they have any problem with the manacles.


You know, I think the actual test should be whether or not they can figure out time zones. I send a calendar invite for interviews, and people screw up the time zones so many times. I’ve not hired any of this people because I assume they’re idiots.

We run background checks.

I think this is a really good idea. I’m going to tell boss lady when I’m back at the office that we need to stop being cheap, think big picture, and pay to find quality employees. Shitty ones are costing us money and our reputation (which also costs us money).

You know, I’m leaning toward this strongly. A lot of the problems are coming from 20something year old kids. I’m doing a round of interviews right now, and my top candidate is am actual adult and stay-at-home mom who’s looking for a little side gig to fill her time briefly. Her previous work history was solid. I just can’t see her behaving this irresponsibly.

I mean showing damn up. We don’t need long-term employees here. We’re hiring for brief, contract positions to help us out with projects.

I think this is a fool’s errand. If you only want to hire someone to work two weeks, your target recruiting pool just doesn’t have ‘reliable’ as a characteristic. All the people with that characteristic have found full-time employment instead of waiting around for the next gig.

I agree with others posting above that you shouldn’t be doing this kind of hiring yourself. Outsource it to an agency.

Yeah. I didnt realize you were hiring for that short of a time. Take what you can get and dont bitch. You’re offering very little, expect the same.

If you’re hiring recent college grads, find out how they approached college. A person who went to 4 consecutive years at State U is probably reliable. They managed to plan their classes, show up to class, pass the tests and write the papers. I’d say the same for someone who did 2 years community college and then 2 years of State U.

I’d ask a lot of questions of someone who stretched out college for a long time. Did they constantly drop classes? Several changes of major? Take time off? Not saying they’re guaranteed to be unreliable but they might be the type that just ‘goes with the flow’ and they may not include work on a day they think they need a mental health day.