Supporting large-scale criminal prosecutions through our judicial system has taught me a few things about evaluating and assessing a person or company where a degree of risk may be present.
Essential to our criminal investigations was the need for an authorization from a judge: a search warrant; wiretap, or any other legislative tool, which allowed us to further our investigation. We were required to include all relevant information, both good and bad, in the application, which aided the judge in making a fair and balanced decision. If you proceeded this way and were successful, then it became very difficult to challenge the warrant’s legality in court.
However, one way to defeat the judge’s authorization at trial was a defence known as material non-disclosure—the argument that the police did not provide all relevant information to the authorizing judge and that if the judge was aware of this “new” information, he or she would not have granted the authorization. A successful argument by defence councel meant that the evidence gained through the authorization could not be used at trial.
So what does this legal principle have to do with assessing the risk of person or company? Everything!
When reviewing the background of a potential employee or company purporting a set of self-disclosed information as fact, it is very dangerous to make an assessment exclusively on the basis of information they provide. Resumes and qualifications, like advertisements, are inherently biased—a person or company will depict themselves in a favourable light, emphasizing accomplishments, and diminishing or omitting shortcomings or facts that are less complimentary. Is that wrong? Of course not. The sum total of a candidate’s suitability as an employee or business partner is not a mere tally of self-disclosed positive and negative attributes; however, the facts provided should be accurate, unembellished and verifiable.
Once a proper assessment of an individual’s credentials are complete, are they are good to go? Perhaps, but maybe not.
Resumes, by way of example, list skills, past employment, and achievements, but are missing crucial information that is just as relevant, such as associations, personal views, reputation or patterns of behavior, all of which reveal character, stability, suitability and risk. There is a growing concern amongst employers and the general public regarding individuals and organizations that display poor social or unethical behaviour. In the past, most could get away with it, but now, with the power and scope of social media and the Internet, it’s often just a matter of time before unsavory or suspect behaviour surfaces.
A skilled background researcher can find an extensive amount of information on the web (sometimes in its dark recesses) that can be used in conjunction with conventional screening tools (resumes, interviews, and criminal records checks) to draw a clearer picture of a candidate. A comprehensive background check not only reveals a truer picture, but can also be used to support or verify information provided in resumes or interviews. Combining these two methods of screening helps companies make informed decisions while reducing risk.
A simple Google search doesn’t come scratch the surface of information available on the Internet. Google results are sometimes like the iceberg visible above the water line. It’s what’s below in the murky depths that are more dangerous, concerning, relevant and revelatory.
So, to circle back to my original material non-disclosure comparison: would an employer or individual have made the same decision if they had been provided information (revealed by a thorough background check) that was not disclosed in the initial examination? You be the judge.
The lesson here is: access all relevant information, candidate-disclosed and that mined by investigators, before you make a serious decision.