Here’s Why You Should Do Background Checks

Do you do a background check on your executive candidates?

For whatever reason, we think it’s important to double-check that the kid with fast food experience didn’t lie about his experience. Surely someone with a stellar resume is too important, and bosses who are too important to contact.

Now, for the record, I’m not a huge fan of reference checks because you don’t know who you’re speaking to–was this a micro-managing manipulative, abusive former boss or the best boss ever? Unless you know people personally, you don’t know. (And, frankly, your interaction with someone at an annual industry conference doesn’t give you any real understanding about their management skills.)

But, even if reference checks aren’t important, background checks are. And someone at the University of Utah screwed up. Actually, I suspect several people screwed up.

Fox13’s Adam Herbets investigated a highly paid (over $200k) University of Utah employee and what they found makes you bless the background company you use. They write:

Christopher Massimine, the managing director of Pioneer Theatre Company, portrays himself as “the Mastermind,” a major figure in the film, television, advertising, video game, music, and theatre industries.

That sounds fabulous for such a position! But, red flags were flying everywhere that everyone ignored, like claiming a massive number of accolades, not really possible for his age (35). It’s not that someone at 35 isn’t capable of great things; it’s that there are a limited number of hours in the day, so there is a limit to the number of amazing things you can accomplish.

It took a five-minute phone call to NYU to confirm that he did not have a master’s degree. And his big claim of working on the Old Spice Campaign? Herberts writes:

Massimine’s resume lists him as a “Media Direction and Communications Consultant” for “Old Spice (Scents for Gents).”

The resume also states he received an “ANDY Award” for “Old Spice’s Scents for Gents” and “Old Spice’s Muscle Man.”

A spokesperson for Wieden+Kennedy, the actual advertising agency in charge of producing Old Spice commercials, confirmed Massimine never worked on those ads.

“That individual has not worked for us,” the spokesperson wrote

That’s another five-minute employment verification phone call.

The whole article is one mess of lies after another. 

What went wrong? I can only guess, but here is my biggest guess: They wanted a purple unicorn.

The article states that they searched for 18 months for the ideal candidate, and so when Massimine’s resume showed up, he looked exactly like what they wanted. The most unicorny-of-unicorns. And they were probably so relieved to find the perfect candidate that they didn’t bother to check him out thoroughly.

This is not to blame the recruiters entirely–Massimine went to extremes to create his lies. He gave himself awards, paid to publish an article about his “successes,” and brag about fake awards after getting the job.

He was definitely a practiced con man, but simple employment verification can solve many problems.

People who lie about their degrees and employers are very different than people who exaggerate their role in a particular project. We expect everyone to exaggerate a bit (and heaven knows hiring managers exaggerate about how awesome they are as bosses), but lying about a degree is not exaggerating.

Image by AxxLC from Pixabay

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7 thoughts on “Here’s Why You Should Do Background Checks

  1. I cannot imagine NOT background-checking prospective hires. In this case, it might not have picked up that he didn’t accumulate all those awards, but I expect that it most certainly would have caught that he didn’t work everywhere he claimed and lacked a graduate degree.

    1. Yeah, he could have gotten away with it if he hadn’t lied about the companies he worked for and the degrees he had.

  2. I caught an educator in a lie about having his doctorate. Our college failed to properly vet him (before my time ) but a neighboring college verified degrees and contacted us. It didn’t take long to see his diploma was from a diploma mill and his excuse for not having official transcripts was that he owed parking tickets and couldn’t get it. We lowered his pay for the semester in which he was teaching (doctorate not necessary; pay based on degree) and terminated once grades were turned in.

  3. This reminds me of this guy who was on Dateline years back. He gets all kinds of jobs, including executive-level roles, using a fake resume. For references, he gives companies numbers that come back to his phone and he answers with a different voice. Eventually, his background check comes back and he’s fired and then he moves on to the next employer. At one point, he impersonated a priest and even performed marriages (he’s basically a less-than-moral version of Jared from The Pretender if anyone remembers that show).

    As an aside, I wonder if the move to virtual companies and permanent WFH in many cases is going to make it easier to fake references. My firm has a main number but we’re all encouraged to use Google Voice numbers. Plus, many corporate phone systems can be set to forward calls to cell phones. I could be thinking I’m calling George at Vandelay Industries but instead be speaking with his buddy Jerry.

  4. Yowza!
    I always struggled to make my resume sound impressive with only admin jobs on it, but I would never outright LIE. It will always come back to bite you. And who wants to have to worry about it?
    A relative of mine who used to work as a recruiter once told me to fudge my resume; she said all her friends did it, they just lied to get jobs and then learned as they went. This same person then turned around later and told me she had to let a contractor go because the person misrepresented herself. I was over here like *mouth hanging open*
    I finally have a better resume that focuses on accomplishments. No need to fib.

  5. I worked for a company that had this happen. An E-VP was hired at this small company in the South. He claimed a graduate degree from a small, elite college far away that a relative of his attended. What were the odds that one of his new colleagues went there, too?! It happened. He was busted. A cleanup crew (including me) was called in under a new HR person. We did background checks, made personal (medical, sensitive info) folders separate from personnel folders, lots of salary spreadsheets to align pay, and other random things that no one had done before.

  6. I wonder if part of the problem here isn’t that people often conflate confidence and chutzpah with actual skill. The Dunning Krueger effect says that people who are least capable are most confident and vice versa. But I have seen many occasions in which a person who exhibited confidence far beyond what his skills warranted had impressed his boss more than did his humble but capable colleague. Time and time again I’ve seen a manager swallow excuses for failure and outlandish promises for next time and continue to value the confident guy above the quiet dependable employee. I wonder if the same magical effect of confidence isn’t what convinces a potential employer that it’s okay to forego the background check.

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