Background Checks


Sometimes employers can spend far more money than necessary on background checks on applicants for employment.  Just a couple of months ago, according to an article written by Keith Sargeant, US Today Sports, Rutgers University spent $70,000 for a background check “that failed to uncover verbal and emotional abuse from former volleyball players against the state university’s new Athletic Director Julie Hermann….”

Although a spokesperson for the search firm declined to comment on the oversight, it seems obvious to me that actual references were not thoroughly checked – probably because Ms. Herman was concerned about what a careful reference report would have disclosed.  More fundamentally, however, careful reference checking isn’t something that search firms typically do very well.

Why not?  Think about what search firms are in business to do.  Their primary focus is making placements.  Their goal is to put people in jobs as quickly as possible and collecting a substantial fee for making that placement – not preparing in-depth reference reports!

We have worked with search firms in the past who asked us to leave out any negative information that might cause them to withdraw a candidate from further consideration by the prospective employer.  Of course, we’ve never done that; and, unfortunately, we don’t work for those search firms any more.  But we were not ethically prepared to withhold negative information about a search firm’s candidate just to help them make a placement and collect a fee.

The foregoing is not meant to suggest that all search firms operate in unethical ways.  We have worked for other search firms who were very frank in telling their clients that reference checking wasn’t their specialty and that they farmed it out to a company that specialized in checking references – us!  During the course of our association with one particular search firm, on more than on occasion, they withdrew candidates from consideration after receiving our reference report.  The interesting thing is how much the search firm’s credibility increased with the employer because they withdrew the unsatisfactory candidate!

Furthermore, had Rutgers University retained our services to check the new AD’s background first, it might have cost them as much as $500 to avoid spending $70,000 on an incomplete representation of the individual who was hired.

A thorough background or reference check doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars, and it can save an employer from making what might be a very expensive hiring mistake!