C-Suite and Executives Shouldn’t Get a Free Pass on Background Checks

Nick Fishman

Raise your hand if you think business executives should be “spared the embarrassment” of an employment background check.  Earlier this summer we held a panel discussion on the things job applicants will do to cheat a background check.  One of our panelists, Lisa Kaye from greenlightjobs.com, shared a story about her time as a chief human resources officer at a major entertainment company in which she was told not to conduct a background check on a potential C-level candidate.  She fought them tooth and nail, and ultimately did a little digging by connecting with some of her colleagues from the company the candidate worked for.  Long story short, the feedback she got from more than one person was that she was totally unqualified the role.  Imagine how grateful Lisa’s colleagues were when she reported what she found and they decided not to move forward with an offer.

Okay, now raise your hand if you still think employee background checks shouldn’t be conducted on business executives.

Still not convinced?  Check out HR Executive’s article, “Vetting at the Top”.  It’s a brilliant piece on why screening should be more meticulous on business executives compared to the rank and file.  See excerpt below. We’ve all seen the results when high profile execs are not thoroughly vetted; Yahoo’s Scott Thompson, Radio Shack’s David Edmundson, Notre Dame’s George O’ Leary, etc.  And if candidates for these positions are offended by this process and don’t understand why this needs to be done, perhaps they aren’t the right man or woman for the job.  I know we recently performed a search on a potential CFO candidate for a major Fortune500 organization.  The background check actually took a while to complete because the person had lived outside of the U.S. for a period of time.  Both our client and their candidate stuck with the process and only when the check came back without any blemishes did both parties proceed.

Vetting at the Top by Will Bunch

Tracy McCarthy, currently the senior vice president for human resources at Chicago-based SilkRoad technology inc. — with a 20-year background in the HR field (including as a CHRO at a mail-order retailer and in HR leadership posts at other retailers) — says one of the worst pieces of advice she’s ever received came during an earlier job when her 200-employee company was searching for a new CEO.

A leading and well-known candidate had emerged for the post and a board member told McCarthy there was no need to run a very extensive background check. “They said that we shouldn’t do that, that a background check would be insulting, that this is a known person,” says McCarthy, whose current employer, SilkRoad, offers HR services to high-tech firms.

McCarthy says she went ballistic at the suggestion. “I said I think we owe it to ourselves, and our investors, to do an extra, extra deep background search — to look at everything that might be out there,” she says.

McCarthy — and other human resource executives and experts — say double- and even triple-checking a C-suite job candidate’s resume, references and educational background isn’t just a way to spare the company from future embarrassment; it also offers career protection to the candidate who might be able to correct a resume error before it becomes an indelible stain on his record. And some experts argue that problems with the hiring of the very top executives run deeper than the resume, that candidates should be psychologically assessed and past co-workers should be mined better for information.

Earlier this year, the business world learned, yet again, just what can go terribly wrong when candidates for the highest-level jobs are not properly vetted. In May, Scott Thompson had been CEO of the large but troubled Internet-content giant Yahoo! for just four months when an activist investor challenged his educational background as listed in one of the firm’s filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

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Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
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