Do You Google Every Candidate You Screen? A Cautionary Tale

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Sep 5, 2018

The Assignment:

Find a site director for a 250+ employee pharmaceutical contract manufacturing site in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, area.

The Players:

The Candidate, let’s call him Charlie: 25 years of progressive experience in the pharmaceutical industry with strong leadership and technical skills. Candidate is also a local candidate which makes him even more appealing.

The Company: Small, well-financed, and growing pharmaceutical company with three U.S. sites, focused on R&D and contract manufacturing.

The Recruiters: Highly regarded, boutique recruiting firm has been working with “The Company” for five-plus years, placing salaried candidates in all areas, including a site director at one of the company’s other locations. This recruiting team has excellent relationships with site leadership and hiring managers at all three sites.


As recruiters we are challenged each day with making judgment calls based on a resume and a phone conversation. Of course, decisions are focused on whether or not the candidate has the experience and skills to do the job, but after that “cultural fit” plays an enormous role, especially when it comes to choosing candidates for leadership positions.

In this case, these recruiters had a strong sense of what the company was looking for. They had placed a site director at one of their sites in the Midwest the year before. They knew company leadership was focused on candidates with excellent communications skills, as the position required significant customer interface.

The recruiters presented four candidates for the role. Charlie stood out among them. He had an excellent phone presentation, a depth of progressive management experience in the pharmaceutical industry with both large industry leaders, and had led smaller organizations through successful and rapid growth periods. In the last year he had been doing consulting work for a large pharma company on the West Coast.

The Company was excited and did an initial phone screen with Charlie. Subsequent phone interviews were done with the site director of the Midwest location and the CEO. The Company flew him to corporate for a series of interviews. Every step of the way, the feedback the recruiters received was positive from both Charlie and company leadership.

After several weeks, Charlie finally went on site for several more interviews. A few days later an offer was presented and Charlie accepted. The recruiters checked in with both Charlie and the HR team and heard all was going well in the first few weeks.

Fast forward to day 102 from hire. The recruiters receive a cryptic call at 5:15 on a Friday from HR that there were problems with Charlie. The HR Manager will not elaborate but did say he had missed quite a few days that week due to an illness with his mother. The recruiters call Charlie and are unable to reach him.

Monday rolls around. Still nothing from HR. The recruiters connect with Charlie by phone. It’s 11:00 a.m. He sounds confused, foggy, or drunk? It is clearly not the Charlie the recruiters had come to know. He launches into a big explanation of his ill mother and how he had to leave town and has spent the week in the hospital with her.

Recruiters contact both the partner recruiter they had received Charlie from (it was a split) and HR. Partner recruiter is blown away, “solid candidate, never saw this coming etc.” HR says it is going to fire Charlie. Apparently from early on there were red flags, but no one from the company contacted the recruiters. Some of these include not showing up for an important out of town meeting with a client, multiple days not showing up at all, and, lastly, passing out in his office at 8:30 in the morning. This last situation involved a paramedic call and red-light trip to the ER. None of this had been conveyed to the recruiters.

Recruiters “Google” Charlie. A simple Google search shows that he had two prior DUIs, the most recent a year ago. That one, on Christmas Eve, also included battery on a police officer. Really? 

This company had always run comprehensive background checks on all potential hires, all the way down to hourly techs. This is especially true in highly regulated industries like pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and healthcare. This company also did its own reference checks. In the end, HR had dropped the ball. A background check was never done.

As recruiters, how do you handle situations like this? Most companies run their own background checks. It’s a rare company that asks recruiters to perform this task as they like control and a comfort level with the background companies they prefer. But a simple Google search would have turned this up.

The story didn’t end well. The company came back to the recruiters asking what it “could do about the fee.” The terms of the contract were 30 days’ payment, 90 days’ replacement. The company tap danced around it, but essentially wanted the fee back. That was impossible as the fee to the other recruiter had been paid and cashed. Recruiters offered to find a replacement to maintain the relationship, even though it was outside the 90-day contract window. Recruiters never heard from the company again, despite sending several replacement candidates and repeated outreach. They heard from leadership at another site that they were “thrown under the bus.”

Is Google a recruiter’s friend? In this case, it very well could have been.

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