Birmingham, Alabama — The secret fear of every search consultant is that a candidate with an unknown sordid background will blow up in the client’s face.

candidate vettingNo one, and I mean NO ONE, wants to spend time and money on an executive search only to see everything go to waste because the selected candidate had a history of inappropriate behavior in his or her personal life, had committed financial improprieties, had used bad judgment that forced a hospital to the brink of bankruptcy, or had hired a highly touted surgeon with a nasty drug addiction who harmed patients.

There are three steps that governing boards, potential employers or recruiters, can take to ensure that a mission-critical decision does not become a reeking, 100-pound rotten egg in the middle of a hot room.

We always ask a candidate early in the screening process if there is an issue about which we should be aware that might bring into question the viability of the individual’s candidacy.  Most candidates, but certainly not all, are honest and will disclose.  Hear them out.  Do not ever automatically rule someone out of further consideration unless the issue is so difficult that no one can get beyond it.

Step One — It begins with the interview. There are some basic rules that anyone who interviews a potential executive should follow.  Read and re-read the resume, looking for potential questions regarding relevant accomplishments and evidence of such success, as well as to ask for names of references who are in a position to confirm the information. Second, Google the candidate.  It is amazing what you can learn.  But here is a cautionary note:  you cannot believe everything you find on Google and there could be more than one person with the same name.  Finally, take notes. You need a detailed record of questions asked and responses given.

Step Two  — Conduct a thorough background review.  Google or other search engines can be helpful but they are NOT definitive.  We recommend going back 15 years, examining records in every jurisdiction of employment or residence.  In those states that do not forbid reviewing a credit history, do one.  That information can sometimes reveal potential serious issues.  In our organization, we pay less attention to payment frequency and look more for evidence of serious financial fraud or other activities that might preclude the candidate from discharging their duties.  Be sure your investigators look at local, state and federal databases, including the CMS and sexual offenders database, etc.  We recommend using professional outside investigators who know how to use databases to find the necessary information as well as the rules of the road.  As soon as you use an outside source, whether it is an actual investigator or someone’s web service, you must have the candidate sign a release of information that is compliant with the Fair Credit and Reporting Act of 1998, as amended.

Step Three — First, examine the candidate’s reference list.  There should be three to four professional contacts — a superior, a peer and a subordinate.  If the candidate reported to a board in a previous job then he or she should provide the name or names who can speak to her/his accomplishments.  Personal references are not appropriate at this critical stage of the search.  You probably have already figured out whether the candidate is a nice  person or not.  Second,  prepare in advance before conducting calls to references.  Think about the various accomplishments the candidate touted in their interview and think about questions to address those issues. If a candidate is going to fudge the truth for whatever reason, the subject of accomplishments will be the place.  You cannot think that everyone is lying but it is probably a good idea to follow President Reagan’s approach: trust but verify.  Finally, if the background checks or internet searches produce any issues, this is the last time you will get a bite of the apple before you make an offer.

More and more, organizations are using behavior and profile tools like the DiSC©.  The information contained in these profiles can be very helpful in preparing for interviews but, another cautionary note, you need to engage a specialist who understands how to maximize the effectiveness of this tool in the interview process.

Recruiting is not a science, an old business wag one said, it is more like a black art.  But in the world of science or black art, there is no substitute for doing your homework and thoroughly vetting the candidates. Too much is at stake.

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