Trust, but Verify. Even in the C-Suite.

ceo background checkHuman Resource Executive (HRE) Online recently published a story on the importance of “Vetting at the Top.” The fittingly titled article by Will Bunch covered recent ethical debates that highlight the need for closer screening of high-level candidates.

The article pointed to the recent attention-getting case of Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson as an example of what happens when screening is glossed over. Thompson’s educational background came into question after just four months after he had been hired. It turned out that one of the college degrees he had listed on his resume was false. He was fired, the company was sent into PR turmoil, and fingers pointed in every direction—at HR, at the background screening company, at the executive search firm.

Numerous other stories like this can be found throughout the news headlines.  Companies and organizations like Food Network, Notre Dame football, Radio Shack, Baush & Lomb… and the list goes on.What’s behind the lack of employment screening at the top?

HR experts point to a few issues that get in the way of screening at the highest levels of an organization.


A hot topic on the presidential campaign trail and in boardrooms alike, cronyism is blamed for a failure to screen at the top. Defined by Wikipedia as, “partiality to long-standing friends, especially by appointing them to positions of authority, regardless of their qualifications,” cronyism is to blame for many instances of executive-level hiring where solid vetting practices are tossed aside.

Fear of Pushback

Particularly true when hiring individuals with significant backgrounds or known reputations, it can be intimidating for a hiring manager to bring up the topic of a background check. The fear of offending the individual or getting pushback from the individual on the issue can prevent the process from going forward.

Lack of a ‘Culture of Compliance’

Probably the biggest culprit of failing to screen at the top levels of an organization is a bottom line lack of culture around compliance and risk management. Many organizations simply do not have it in their DNA to hands-down, across-the-board, require proper vetting of all employees, let alone those at the very top. When compliance is made a matter of fact part of the process there is far less resistance to background screening.  It just becomes a natural part of the process—top to bottom.

Making the case for background checks at the highest levels

A phrase we use often around here is the Ronald Regan quote, “trust, but verify.”  The HRE article drew the same conclusion. When it comes to screening at the top, companies absolutely must trust… but they also must verify.  The risks are simply too great to rely on gentlemen’s agreements, candidate claims, and gut-feel alone.

People are the greatest source of risk in an organization. It’s the decisions and behaviors of people that drive an organization’s success or failure. Background screening requirements should be greatest at the top of an organization where an individual holds the highest level of responsibility for the reputation, financial success, and safety of an organization.

Employment screening helps to protect the people, brand, and profits of an organization by fueling better hiring and employment-related decisions. Furthermore, organizations have a duty of reasonable care in the hiring process that is made apparent when a company has a well-defined, consistently-applied screening program. Remember, “Trust, but verify”.

For more on this issue, we strongly recommend reading the HRE article, “Vetting at the Top.”

To discuss the employment screening practices of your organization with an expert, we invite you to request a free risk assessment and consultation with one of our experienced sales consultants.


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About MichaelGaul

Michael is a results-oriented marketing executive with over two decades of experience in employment screening, physical security, and business process management. Michael has deep experience in human capital risk management and a passion for educating business leaders and HR professionals on strategies that tangibly protect their interests. Michael serves on the Board of the Secure Cash and Transport Association (SCTA) and is a member of the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA), and the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS).
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