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Corporate America has rightly embraced the regular practice of background checks.  The use of them is mainstream and widespread:  Human Resources departments require them for a potential executive, investors use them to do their due diligence investigation on hedge fund managers, lawyers need them to learn about their witnesses or expert witness, banks and private equity institutions make use of them on potential investments and corporate and non-profit Boards of Directors initiate them to vet board candidates.

Open Source Records

The foundation of a comprehensive background check typically includes investigative steps such as confirmation of dates and affiliations on a resume, civil and criminal checks in the jurisdictions where the subject has lived, searches for liens and judgments, online reviews of major and regional newspapers and other media outlets, checks on federal and state watch lists (sexual predators, terrorist-related associations, etc.) and often a review of assets including property records and mortgages.

What Else Can You Do?

But what if nothing of any interest or substance was found on your subject through public records? What if a third dimension tactic, including source interviews, was initiated to conduct a more complete background check? What can be learned about this person that is not on paper?  What do your subject’s professional and personal peers, mentors, and neighbors have to say?

Obviously, if a background check digs up a DWI or a drug possession charge and the subsequent punishment, it is self-explanatory as to what happened.  But, what if you wanted to find out more information about the circumstances surrounding the DWI or drug possession? What if your subject was sued for breach of contract or was a named defendant in an anti-trust matter?  If the outcome of this litigation is not clear or detailed, it is probably worth going a step further to talk to someone to find out what exactly happened.  Was your subject falsely accused?  Was this litigation frivolous?

Are Personality Traits Important?

Source interviews might indicate this person has a severe temper and has alienated virtually all of their past business contacts due to their inappropriate behavior.  While it’s true a criminal record does not exist, it is still helpful to know you are dealing with a person with a bad temper.  Depending on your needs, that’s a plus…or a big minus.

It is understood that the information provided by any source is subjective and often hard to prove.  What if the source has a personal vendetta against your subject for a ridiculous reason and they unfairly disparage them?  An investigator must do their best to make sure that other sources are interviewed to corroborate information.  If a former colleague of the subject says the subject belonged to a country club that did not allow minorities for 30 years, or that the subject verbally trashed unions for years in the 1980s, this information requires follow-up.

What You Need to Know

Source interviews are a tremendous asset in any background investigation.  Before going ahead with them, make sure the ground rules and methodology are established.

  • How will the investigator identify sources?
  • How will the investigator be identified when reaching out to sources?
  • Is it okay if the subject of the investigation finds out that source interviews are being conducted?
  • Will the names of the sources be provided to the subject of the investigation?
  • Do the sources understand how the information they provide will be used?

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