An Executive's Past: What Search Firms and Their Clients Need to Know

Executive's Past

What Search Firms and Their Clients Need to Know

Altogether, he seems like the perfect hire for your C-level search. He is smart and articulate, presents well and appears to know your client’s business as well as his own, backward and forward. It is hard to imagine he might have something to hide, but there is too much at stake to leave this unconfirmed.

Over the past 25 years, we’ve been trusted with vetting candidates for the highest-profile C-level and board placements. Using a mix of cutting-edge techniques and expert analysis, we verify the professed qualifications of candidates and uncover inconsistencies, omissions and red flags that may hide in their backgrounds.

We’ve encountered thousands of red flags that businesspeople try to hide about themselves. Knowing more about these indiscretions can help you exercise due diligence in your next hiring decision.

What do we uncover most often, and where do we find it?

We tend to find information of interest by exploring three fronts:

  1. A candidate’s self-reported background, including not only their résumé, but also social media and regulatory filings;
  2. A candidate’s past controversies and troubles, whether in court documents, media headlines or government files; and
  3. A candidate’s reputation among former colleagues and industry observers.

Let’s take a closer look, beginning with a candidate’s claims about him/herself. We start by seeking independent verification of the claims on their résumé. We check, for example, whether they actually received the college degrees they claim they did (cross-checking their majors as well), and also look for consistency with bio paragraphs in regulatory filings that might contradict the résumé.

When candidates present themselves on social-media sites, such as LinkedIn, we find that some go too far in trying to clean up their past. The inconsistencies we most often uncover in candidates’ self-reporting include jobs they held but omitted from their public profile. People often do this to make their career path appear more “logical.” They may delete a job from which they were fired or erase nine months at a start-up that blew up. Such smokescreens usually include stretching the dates of the surrounding jobs to cover gaps. For example, if someone left Acme Corporation in April 2018 and didn’t join Delta LLC until September 2018, their LinkedIn profile might state that they left Acme in August 2018, thereby eliminating the gap.

Let’s turn to past controversies. Searching the local courthouses near where your candidate has lived and worked is one way to look for trouble in their background. Step one is to see if they have been accused of wrongdoing as a defendant in lawsuits. Equally, we look for court cases brought by the candidate, as the plaintiff, because who-sued-who is less important than what the dispute itself reveals. We pour through the actual litigation filings, looking for allegations against the candidate and paying close attention to whether the lawsuit was resolved favorably to the candidate.

Not all of our checking is about wrongdoing. We also fill in a profile of candidates’ business and personal behavior. For example, we take note of a candidate’s offshore structure or other tax-haven entanglements when we find them. Though some clients may view the fact that a candidate has a controlling interest in a Seychelles trust as business as usual, we still want to fill in the picture.

One of our mottos at the Mintz Group is that “trouble in a person’s past doesn’t always have their name on it.” For example, a candidate might have run a division of a company that was accused of malfeasance, but the resulting headlines, lawsuits and regulatory actions did not mention the candidate by name. We run sophisticated searches to dig deeply into a candidate’s involvement so that our clients are informed enough to ask, “We didn’t see your name mentioned in the NewCo options trading mess, but you were the CFO at the time. What was that all about?”

Last, we turn to a candidate’s reputation among former colleagues. We sometimes shift our attention from paper to people when there is little public access to courthouse and regulatory filings for a background researcher to check. We identify circles of colleagues and associates who have dealt with the candidate in various aspects of their lives, and then we approach them for information and insights. These can include former employees, competitors and industry observers.  

We identify the sources we approach independently of the candidate. These are not references that the candidate has set up in advance to speak well of them. We ask these sources about the candidate generally, but also focus our conversations on any specific issues identified by the client. Increasingly, clients want us to ask about any alleged sexual misconduct, bullying or other worrisome behavior in the workplace. Often these reputational inquiries are the only way to get a look into this important issue. Until this year, employers’ #MeToo concerns seemed to be centered in the US, but this focus is now worldwide, with India and other places in Asia almost as concerned as the US.

Another point about background checks: Some reveal no flags at all! No lawsuits, no attacks in the press, and goodwill from former colleagues and industry observers. There is no better result from a thorough background check than a clean bill of health and an accepted job offer.  Indeed, background checks can turn up as many positives as negatives; showing not only a lack of trouble in their background, but indications of a strong fit with the prospective employer.  

Regardless of the outcome of the background check, executive search consultants—and their clients—can rest a little easier, knowing that they are looking before they leap into important relationships.

About The Mintz Group

Mintz Group is the exclusive due diligence partner of the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants. Founded in 1994, they have a team of more than 250 investigators, including former investigative reporters, federal investigators, prosecutors, anti-corruption investigators and former intelligence officers, with offices in 15 cities in North America, Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe. Having vetted many thousands of executives for search firms and their clients over the years, they are recognized as a global thought leader on executive background checking.

Download Issue Sixteen