Background Checking Your CXO: What to Look For

cxoChoosing among the candidates to hold a position in your C-suite represents a critical investment. Executives at this level (we refer to them as CXO where the x represents any of the C-level positions, from CEO, CFO, CMO, etc.) often have unsupervised authority over operations and resources that can affect the organization’s financial performance and reputation. They are in a position to do great good and great harm.

Making a bad hire at this level is costly.

For starters, it has been estimated that someone who just doesn’t work out costs between one and 5 times annual salary in lost opportunities plus on-going recruitment costs. In the worst-case scenario, your bad hire nightmare is one that lands on the front page of the newspaper. (It happens!)

Tailor the “check” to the role.

One of our most basic, but important, screening guidelines is to tailor the background research to match the role in question. Conceptually, the idea is to collect the information you need to evaluate the risks a candidate poses in that specific position as well as the opportunities he or she brings. For a candidate at any position, past behavior is the best predictor of how they will behave in the future (people tend to be consistent over time).  This is especially important for a CXO role.

Your personal reference checks should be extensive. Go beyond the references offered by the candidate to talk with people who know, or should have known, the candidate. Ask questions that are job-related, such as what kinds of projects the candidate led; interpret the information you get in its context – it will help you understand the bare facts.

Use a behavioral interviewing approach. Ask the candidate to share stories or describe scenarios that will reveal how they would approach the new position. You are trying to test their attitude, leadership skills, and the kind of approach they bring to problem solving.

Dig deep.

Finally, given the level of the risk characteristics associated with CXO positions, the background screening should be deep and comprehensive. Elements of the screening research often include:

  • Verify basic identity, e.g., SSN locator
  • Verify educational and professional licensing requirements
  • Verify the beginning and end dates, salary, title, and job responsibilities claimed on a resume
  • Conduct complete criminal background check, including searches in national and local jurisdictions going back at least 7 years
  • Conduct search of sex offenders records database
  • Conduct review of motor vehicle record
  • Perform media and civil records research, including a legally compliant search of social media content

It’s worth the time and expense to know your CXO candidate as well as you possibly can. This is one hiring situation where relying on your instincts or having a ‘good feeling’ about someone just isn’t enough to make a solid hiring decision.


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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