Do You Google Every Candidate You Screen? A Cautionary Tale

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.

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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.

Jan Hudson is a partner in the recruiting firm, Surf Search specializing in healthcare, medical devices, pharmaceutical, and biotech, and works on roles across the U.S.  When she and her business partner Debbie Winkelbauer aren’t searching for the perfect candidate, they are searching for the perfect wave at the foot of 15th Street in Del Mar, California.







6 Comments on “Do You Google Every Candidate You Screen? A Cautionary Tale

  1. Why didn’t the recruiter simply ask HR about the criminal check being completed?

    Were charges pressed for battery on a police officer? I’m guessing no matter what, that would show up on a criminal check if the criminal checks are done correctly. In my 18 years of experience, I’ve seen dropped charges from 15 years prior show up regardless of whether the check only goes back 7 years. Courts will send up all sorts of things; reports pick up all sorts of things (regardless of convictions).

    Do the Fair Credit Act and background parameters include Google or social media searches?

    I would not suggest recruiters substitute a Google search for a thorough criminal check. There are plenty of productive adults in the workforce who have had life troubles, battled alcohol addiction, or slipped up. Mistakes are made. Usually, if they’re of the legal / criminal sort, they’re captured on a background check.

    1. Yes, the recruiters asked if all the required on-boarding and checks had been done prior to start. As this is a highly regulated industry, the company’s longstanding policy includes a criminal background check on every new hire, no matter the level. The candidate was told one would be done and asked if anything would come up. His answer was no. The multiple charges relating to battery on the police officer were dismissed in exchange for guilty plea on the DUI.

  2. A DUI does not mean, someone is not reliable on the job or that they even have a drinking problem. We probably all know someone that has received one at some point in there life. Some states are more strict about this than others. I think a more prevalent item was that the candidate didnt arrive at such meetings etc. I had an employee that was absolutely horrible , irresponsible, late and had nothing in their back ground. just lazy

    1. In this case he not only did not show up for important meetings, he arrived to work drunk and then passed out. A comprehensive background check would have given them a heads up and they could have made a more educated decision. Again, this was a highly regulated pharmaceutical manufacturing company where addiction is not tolerated, for obvious reason.

        1. He was fired for multiple reasons, including not showing up for work, not showing up for an important client meeting in another city, (neither of these did he notify) showing up for work drunk and passing out which required emergency ride to the hospital. Again, this was a site director — he was responsible for the entire manufacturing site.

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