Do CEOs Undergo Thorough Enough Background Checks?

By Michael Klazema on 10/28/2014

When you look at society as a whole, the people that you would expect to be subject to the most rigid background checks generally are: from doctors to teachers to the President of the United States, these individuals usually face incredibly in-depth criminal background checks before being allowed to go to work.

When you look at a standalone business or corporation, then, you would expect background check policies to be similarly predictable: the employees who are at the highest levels or who have the most substantial responsibilities would be the ones facing the most thorough background screenings. The lower-on-the-totem-pole employees, meanwhile, wouldn't have to go through background checks that were not quite so rigorous.

According to a recent Forbes article, though, that might not be the way things actually work. Using evidence from a UK survey they made a shocking discovery: many CEOs go through fewer interviews and background checks that college graduates applying for their first job.

That's a double-take kind of statement, and to be fair, the survey that the article is looking at was done overseas. Who knows if the findings would hold true in the United States? Still, the findings are fascinating and are worth looking at for anyone involved in the background check industry on either side of the pond.

Those findings indicate that almost half of the HR managers interviewed know of CEOs who had to go through fewer background checks than recent graduates applying at the same company. The survey highlighted a troubling assumption HR experts have about how people applying for leadership positions probably don't lie on their resumes. It's eye-opening stuff, and it turns what we think we know about due diligence on its head a bit.

Of course, it's easy to see why some CEOs might be given free passes in terms of interviews and background checks. After all, most corporate leaders come highly recommended, or have incredibly impressive resumes full of leadership experience and monumental business accomplishments. With that much clout, is a background check really necessary to verify the CEO's credentials?

The issue, though, is that high-ranking business leaders can lie on a resume just as easily as someone else. And if those individuals have serious criminal history, then it could be a huge liability for the company doing the hiring. A CEO of a large organization is, of course, under the microscope, and the slightest black mark on their record can impact the reputation, stock value, and earnings of that company, among other things.

The lesson? CEOs, board members, and other applicants to high-ranking positions need to be subject to comprehensive executive background checks and interviews that are more meticulous than they are for anyone else. It's not a bad thing to screen recent college graduates with complete thoroughness: companies should continue doing that to protect themselves from unsavory people. But it makes no sense that the leaders of a company would ever be held to lower standards than the people joining the lowest ranks.


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