April 23, 2015
By Chelsey Franks
Vice President, Investigations
If you’re accustomed to running standard, top-line background checks on your executive-level candidates, current executives and potential business partners, you might be surprised to know that you’re barely skimming the surface of all there is to know when it comes to the senior executive vetting process. As a seasoned investigator in the field, I’d like to share some insight into what can be found in those possible “cracks in the pavement” — before you and your organization find yourselves face-planted on the ground with a bruised reputation and bank account!
To begin, say you’re provided with a résumé by an individual you are considering for an executive-level position or as a partner in a potential business venture. If you simply go down the list and make good-faith efforts to confirm each employment reference, you’re missing a wealth of valuable (and relevant) information. First, are there any gaps in their employment history? If so, why? What were they doing during that timeframe and could it be a risk to your business? One such investigation conducted by my firm uncovered that a subject was a former boxer turned hedge fund manager — a fact that he did not want known. This was uncovered by identifying an employment gap and conducting customized, investigative press research that uncovered several media references to his side-gig. This individual had also formed a boxing promotion company which landed in federal court for a breach of contract claim filed by one of the athletes it represented.
On a similar note, when it comes to a person’s prior employers, since you likely won’t be conducting separate screens on these companies, you need a seasoned investigations team with decades of experience to spot potentially harmful patterns. In one such instance, it was uncovered that the CFO candidate our client was vetting had worked for four prior companies who had gone bankrupt — all of which occurred during his tenure in top financial roles there.
Next, let’s say the executive-level candidate indicates that he or she holds a CPA license in Kentucky. It’s good practice to confirm that this particular license is active and in good standing. But best practice is to check and see if the candidate has held that same licensure in other known past states of residence, which could reveal another license with serious disciplinary history. And, this information isn’t always readily available online. It often takes deeper probing with the licensing agency — something not covered in the standard screening process and a step you definitely don’t have time to do yourself.
Another crack in the sidewalk worth heeding is that of a candidate’s corporate affiliations. This information is virtually never disclosed in a résumé or bio, but if you are vetting an executive or potential business partner, wouldn’t you want to know if that person had a side business that might take up a significant amount of his or her time? For instance, maybe the candidate runs a vineyard in California, but will potentially do business with you in New York. You wouldn’t necessarily know to ask the candidate about this information and how it might potentially affect your business interest unless your vetting process included compilation of all of his or her registered business entities. I worked with a client and found through the Secretary of State’s Office that a potential candidate ran an active organization called “Smith Family Winery,” which led to the uncovering of a website for a busy family vineyard. Ask yourself: would you rather have your new hires spending their days growing your portfolio, or growing their grapes?
Lastly, let’s consider perhaps the biggest “crack” of all —press and media research. This is almost never a step in the standard screening process, or if it is, only at a base-line level. But this is where a wealth of information can lie. Many executive background checks processed by my firm have uncovered shrouded but provocative details, including:
Formal complaints from neighbors
“Letters to the Editor” revealing radical political leanings
Social media profiles with questionable photographs
Press coverage revealing a significant involvement with a now-defunct corporation immersed in media scandal
Memberships with elite motor clubs or an affinity for driving fast cars
Part-ownership of an NBA team
This type of information would not usually be uncovered without extensive, customized press and media research, but may be extremely relevant to your decision-making process nonetheless. As Google asks, “Are you feeling lucky?” Is it worth the risk relying only on the Internet to vet executive candidates that can either make or break your organization?
As you navigate through your next screening process for a new, executive hire or potential business partner, tread carefully, be vigilant and keep the following in mind:
Are there unaccounted for gaps in a résumé?
Are there patterns in prior companies’ histories that would be of concern?
Do candidates hold additional licenses that they didn’t disclose?
Do candidates have outside interests that can impact yours?
Is there negative or risqué press coverage on them that you should know about but couldn’t find through Google?
Remember, some of the biggest weeds can grow from the smallest cracks!
View this article on the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ website