Undertaking Due Diligence When Recruiting Senior Employees

due diligence for senior recruit board member

Recruiting the right person is a challenge for any business. For startups and SMEs without an in-house HR team or even a single HR specialist, it can be especially daunting.

Hiring executive talent brings extra complexities and takes valuable time. But be warned, failure to do your homework on candidates for senior positions can be a risky business.

An essential part of your due diligence (DD) in the recruitment process should be conducting a thorough vetting of candidates CVs. This might include;

  • Verifying dates of birth in order to confirm an individual’s identity,
  • Checking dates and titles at previous employers,
  • Speaking to referees and former colleagues,
  • Verifying academic and professional qualifications, and,
  • In the case of new board directors, compiling a full record of past and present directorships and broader affiliations.

CV Due Diligence

Why is CV due diligence so crucial?

A survey by HireRight found more than half of job applications contained inaccuracies, with some being accidental but others, on occasion, deliberate.

Conducting due diligence during the recruitment process helps to ensure that the prospective candidate is who they say they are and whether he or she is likely to be a good fit for your business.

How long does CV due diligence usually take?

It is hard to be precise about the length of time spent on candidate due diligence. Most senior hires or potential board members will have had reasonably long careers which take time to verify.

When speaking to referees or former colleagues, be aware that it will inevitably have to be at their convenience, and they may be on holiday or have more pressing work commitments. Always factor in the human element to any background check.

If a candidate has worked in overseas jurisdictions such as Africa, the Caribbean, or Russia, expect it to take longer. These countries still largely rely on paper files and do not have fully digitized records, meaning requests for information generally take longer than the UK, the US or most of Europe.

On average, professional candidate due diligence takes between 10 and 15 working days. Resist the temptation, when waiting for the last pieces of information to be assembled, to assume the rest will tell you the same story. Only act on the evidence actually collected.

When to start due diligence on candidates?

Due diligence should begin as soon as possible for shortlisted candidates, certainly in time to inform a second interview. The benefits are that any red red flags raised during vetting create opportunities to seek answers from candidates, who may well be able to reassure you with their own explanations.

It’s not a good idea to ask your tough questions right at the end of the interviewing process which is when you should be moving towards negotiations on salaries and benefits.

Look out for the most common faults in a CV

From our experience, the most common anomalies appear in job histories. These often occur when a previous employment may have only lasted a few months and has been ‘lost’ from a candidate’s CV. However, discovering more about unsuccessful roles, or ‘lost months’ often produces the most revealing information.

Another common anomaly relates to a subject’s education. We find candidates might have listed their attendance at universities but not mention that they did not actually complete the degree course on their CV.

Where possible, and particularly when you have the subject’s consent, it is always wise to obtain copies of their exam certificate.

Outsourcing candidate DD to a third party

For busy directors of small businesses there are considerable time costs to CV vetting.

Lawyers, accountants or business information specialists like Pelican, who regularly perform due diligence on CVs, will have the expertise and the database access necessary to conduct it on your behalf more efficiently. They will not be put off when information is not available online, and can often use their network to add context and comment to facts sourced from the public domain.

More importantly, they have the expertise to filter and present the available information coherently back to the client with the right level of detail and analysis.

Complying with GDPR while conducting due diligence

Membership of the European Union demands that businesses comply with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which came into force in May 2018. It requires data protection and privacy for all individual EU citizens.

Complying with GDPR is relatively straightforward during candidate DD, providing the candidate has provided consent to verify the information contained in their CV.

Once the interview process is completed, any personal data gathered must be privately and securely stored on your company databases. The candidates have right of access to the information related to them that you have kept on record (via a subject access request). However, some firms even go as far as to remove all information relating to a candidate search on completion, following authorisation from the instructing client.


With information more easily accessible, including, sadly, ‘fake news’, there’s little excuse for not doing homework on candidates. For board positions or senior roles, attempts to save time and money by not completing thorough DD adds substantial risks to a business.

Professional DD filters out inappropriate candidates and help find the one who is the ‘right fit’. If you have external shareholders, you need proper records to show you have followed best practice. No one wants an ‘own goal’ if it can easily be avoided.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Nicholas Whetherly, Managing Director of Pelican Worldwide Limited, experts in informational retrieval, intelligence gathering and analysis.

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