An important lesson learned.

By Elliot Clark.
I am still bothered by the guy in Alaska. We did everything right, and we received many accolades from our client. We were on target to finish one of the largest high-intensity hiring waves we had ever done. Everything was working out well. Until, the guy from Alaska ruined it. The moral of this story: Employee screening is $25 to $85 (or so, depending on level). Catching the guy from Alaska: priceless.


My ex-colleagues from Kenexa who might be reading this are in the office or at home cringing: “Not the guy from Alaska. Please don’t remind us.” But I must. We had a large, multi-year recruitment process outsourcing client in the pharmaceutical sector. Shortly after we contracted for the program, the client made the strategic decision to build two new national sales forces to sell new products. One product had just been approved by the FDA, and the other had come as a result of a joint venture. Kenexa had been asked to assist in a 12-week hiring blitz for 600 experienced pharmaceutical sales representatives. We were to perform all tasks from sourcing to interview scheduling in hub cities around the country, background checking coordination, on-boarding, and requisitioning of equipment.

The project was complex, and we performed well. I received a great deal of positive feedback for our efforts, and the project manager and the team assigned to this program did an extraordinary job. Then, one day, I received a call from the project manager who asked if he could come to my office. It seems I was to expect a call from the client about a problem in Alaska. Since this was long before the 2008 presidential campaign, I had no idea what to expect.

It seems we had gotten the go-ahead to make some provisional offers in advance of background checks. However, FDA guidelines required blood test results and background checks, so all offers were contingent on the background checks and physicals. One of the candidates who received a provisional offer in Alaska had gone to the lab for his blood work as per the instructions. The lab tech recognized him as having been in the lab a few months earlier—under a different name—and called our client, who in turn called the police.

It turned out that the candidate had been working for other pharmaceutical companies as a sales rep under other names. How do you do that in Alaska? He must have been very organized. I mean, how many doctors are there in Alaska? How do you keep it straight? Do you go back into the same office wearing Groucho glasses and a moustache and figure that you won’t get recognized?

The storm hit, and the client was upset with us for not having divined the subterfuge before the provisional offer had been made. At the time, I was also disappointed that we had not uncovered this pathological liar and fraud. An old friend reminded me, however, that dishonest people can always think of ways of doing things that honest people can never imagine because they are . . . wait for it . . . honest. That is why we need background screens. When we ultimately did the background screen on the guy from Alaska, the inexpensive screen passed him. The more expensive statewide and national screens revealed that he was using a false identity. Clearly, the products worked. Pre-employment sophistication has grown immensely since that program many years ago. In screening, also remember when you buy a package that penny-wise can be pound-foolish.

We are hosting a number of screening providers at the RPO Summit (, and many of them will be demonstrating their latest technology at the HR Demo Show ( in Las Vegas, December 7 to 9. If you have not registered, you should to learn more on the available options and products.

The screening category includes background checking as well as skills and behavior-based assessments. In this issue, you will see the results of our HRO Today Screening Bakers Dozen Customer Satisfaction Survey, based on responses from some 330 HR executives who are using screening products today (see here). I hope none of them have hired the guy from Alaska, unless its part of a prison furlough program.

Tags: Contributors, Screening & Selection, Talent Acquisition

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