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The scrutiny of top candidates

Don't take anything for granted; ensure meticulous quality assurance throughout your recruitment process, whether it involves reference checks or background analyses. This advice comes from Lars Navéus at Alumni, one of Sweden's most seasoned executive search consultants.

Having spent over two decades at Alumni, Lars Navéus has become a prominent figure in the field. Operating out of their offices in Copenhagen and Malmö, he has honed his expertise in executive recruitment at the highest echelons of the corporate world. From local enterprises to major publicly listed conglomerates, he consistently seeks out candidates for positions such as CEO, board chair, and other top-level roles.

In certain situations, the pressure can be intense, such as when a chairman urgently contacts him to replace a CEO. Moreover, the demands for confidentiality are paramount, particularly within the realm of publicly traded companies. However, even amidst such challenging circumstances, it is crucial not to bypass critical stages in the recruitment process and avoid making assumptions.

”...Look Closer gives good advise…”

Understanding the full picture

"There is a threshold to the speed at which this process can unfold. It revolves around human interactions – the need to meet and converse, to contemplate and reflect, and to thoroughly investigate certain aspects. It is essential to understand the full picture of the ultimate candidate and minimise risks to the greatest extent possible. Regardless of the chosen recruitment methodology, it is impossible to eliminate all risks. Each situation and organisation possess its unique characteristics, requiring candidates to adapt to these new circumstances. One can never fully predict the outcome in advance. However, the key lies in mitigating risks and establishing optimal conditions," explains Lars Navéus.

Alumni employs a comprehensive array of tools to identify the most suitable final candidate. This encompasses a range of techniques, including in-depth interviews, personality assessments, practical exercises, and role-playing simulations. Additionally, an extensive reference-checking process forms a crucial component, allowing clients to directly contact relevant individuals who can provide insights into a candidate's motivations and the means to foster collective success.

When it comes to senior executive positions, a more comprehensive background check is included. Lars Navéus, who played a pivotal role in the emergence of this industry in Sweden during his tenure on Look Closer's board (which he left in 2015), elucidates the escalating requirements for candidates to possess an unblemished record. Several factors underpin this trend, including the increasingly globalised business landscape, where top executives frequently operate across multiple countries, heightened regulatory compliance standards, and the lightning-fast dissemination of adverse information online.

"One can swiftly be subjected to judgments when rumours circulate. The imperative for an airtight recruitment process has markedly intensified throughout my involvement in this sphere. Conducting a comprehensive background check on a candidate has now become an indispensable practice. This aspect stands out as one of the most critical areas where I firmly believe there is substantial scope for further development, paving the way for significant advancements.”

The collaboration with Look Closer has endured, maintaining its relevance over the years. Each background check is conducted with transparency, enabling candidates to receive pertinent information well in advance. As part of this process, Lars Navéus routinely inquires if there are any details candidates themselves deem important to disclose. The outcomes of these conversations vary, underscoring the fluidity of the exchange.

"While it may appear disconcerting and cynical, the crux of the matter is that trust cannot be taken for granted. One cannot even rely on how individuals perceive information concerning themselves. Moreover, it remains impossible to anticipate their reactions when issues surface during the verification process. Psychologically, this offers captivating insights across various dimensions.”

It may sound like a grim picture, but Lars Navéus argues that it often does not involve any form of malice or outright lying. Instead, it could be about things that have been forgotten, that a person has been in closed environments for many years where different remarkable behaviours have not stood out, or that an inconsiderate embellishment of their CV at the beginning of their career has persisted despite the candidate proving their abilities as a manager over a long period.

"My experience is that surprisingly often, things come up in these investigations that may not be alarming, but still things that should be noted, discussed, and aired out before a press release about a significant appointment is sent out," he says.

"For example, it is relatively common to lie about or embellish one's education. It could be that you somehow got caught up in a falsehood at some point, and then it became difficult to wash away and has persisted. Some are, of course, aware of it but still couldn't break the pattern, thus putting themselves in an awkward situation.”

The candidate's response tells a lot

During the background checks, the findings are flagged based on their severity. If they involve what are known as red flags, there may be immediate grounds to abort a process. However, yellow flags, with notable or remarkable deviations, do not necessarily mean that a candidate is considered unsuitable. However, if the candidate, in the subsequent conversation, does not demonstrate an understanding of the situation, that may change. This is where one's ability to navigate in a "moral landscape," as Lars Navéus puts it, often reveals itself quickly.

"The best response I can get is when the candidate immediately confirms and acknowledges and shows an understanding that they should have brought this up beforehand. Then we can continue with a conversation that becomes trustworthy right from the start. It also becomes easier for me to go back to the client and explain the situation, that there was no fuss about it not being true. But it becomes very troublesome when there are people who claim that the facts are incorrect, then you know they're lying.”

In general, candidates show a great understanding that both the background check is conducted and that the results must be taken seriously. The best cases are when it becomes a sort of self-help, where the person gets an opportunity to sort out the problems, take personal responsibility, and also take action regarding communication, instead of reacting afterward.

"That's how I feel we have to work today. There is no time to be surprised. There is no time to repair damage once it has occurred. So, don't take things for granted, but try to ensure quality throughout the entire process.”

In the recruitment process, a significant part of this work is done through collaboration between the candidate, the client, the recruitment consultant, and Look Closer. With experience from several thousand investigations in Sweden and abroad, the possibility of follow-up advice is highly appreciated.

"I think Look Closer gives good advise, which is why I often put them in direct contact with my client. Even in cases where everything seems to be green lights, there are always things that should be addressed and commented on before everything is finalised and the news can be released."


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