Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Adventures In Recruiting: What Was The Candidate Thinking?

When I was in advertising, one of the things I believed in was managing perceptions.  It is a critical part of communications.  I always believed that the definition of managed perceptions was that if you tell people what to think they will think it.  If not, they will form their own opinion, which may not be what is wanted (that is the whole point of advertising) This is a story to illustrate that point and how it applies to interviewing and getting a job.

I once dealt with a candidate who I liked a lot. He was from out of town and I got him an interview in New York with a small, independent agency. He was a senior executive and was interviewing for the job of CMO and head of new business. 

At first, he did telephone/Skype interviews with about four or five key people.  They all liked him.  So the company flew him to New York.  While here he met in person with the same people plus a few others.  He had lunch with the agency president.  All went well again; they really liked him.

The president called me the next day.  She wanted to make an offer pending references and a background check. I contacted his references and spent the best part of a day obtaining their opinions of him, writing them up and sending them back to the president.  The agency president sent me a form for him to sign.  The form was to allow her to do a background check on him.

While most companies don’t do this kind of background check it is not that unusual. This particular check included employment, education, criminal and police records, credit history, motor vehicle and license.  The form was very explicit as to what issues would be checked.  I forwarded the permission form to the candidate which he signed and sent back immediately and without a word.
In the meanwhile, part of the offer included a moving allowance and some relocation fees.  The candidate started making arrangements in a completely normal way.

In about a week, I got a phone call from the agency president.  Apparently, his background check showed a history of domestic abuse and arrests!  The agency president and I agreed that this was unacceptable and the offer was withdrawn.  We agreed that if he had given me a heads up on these issues,  I might have been able to manage the problem. 

It was the only time in my career something like this happened.  

I called the candidate and told him.  I asked him why he signed the permission but did not say anything to blunt what he must have known was coming.  He merely acknowledged it and told me that he was now divorced and remarried.  To this day I have no idea what he was thinking when he signed the form without explaining to me what they would find. 



  1. Another great piece. I have some thoughts, bc I don't think this is that weird, and I can think of a number of reasons that it went down the way it did:

    1) I imagine this guy never considered they would do a background check. It had probably never happened before.

    2) Once he learned there would be a background check, maybe he thought that they wouldn't look that deeply. Like, maybe he wrongly thought it would stop at the felony level.

    3) Even if he was worried they might find out about his sordid past, he was faced with two uncertain paths forward: a) admit it and draw attention to it, so that it would need to be addressed, or b) hope that the background check wouldn't uncover the issue, and even if it did, hope that it would be ignored. Both options had inherent risk.

    4) Finally—and this was what really compelled me to comment—I'm genuinely curious about how you would have managed this. What could you have said to the employer that would mitigated this situation...even partially?

  2. Harry, I read the permission from.it was very clear as to what the would be doing. After a number of conversations with the candidate, I determined that he knew what would come up. He took his chances. To answer your very good question, I would have found out exactly how it happened and why. All he had to tell me was that it was there, that he had gone to anger management, had remained married (or got divorced) and was now fine and clean. Always, in business (and in life), forewarned is forarmed.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thanks Paul. The fact that he expected it to come up changes things...weird that he didn't try and get in front of it for sure.

    3. Harry, the whole point of this post is that if there is a problem, people must get in front of it. Nobody likes a surprise. I might have been able to blunt it, but I don't really know if I could have forestalled the ultimate rejection. Perhaps if he had trusted me we could have given our best. Truth is, if I had known, I might have told my client to withdraw the offer, but hindsight is 20-20.


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