Catchy, if misleading, headline, eh?


I’m proud that our clients have trusted us with significant business matters, including vetting CEO’s and political appointees. We have run deep due diligence on key individuals placed in high-trust positions and those investigations have sometimes cost our clients into the thousands of dollars. However, when I saw the headline above I did a double take!

$70,000 for a background check? Yikes! And they missed something significant? Double yikes!
Then, I read the article (and reread the headline) and realized that the background check was only a part, and a relatively small part, of the services provided by the search firm commissioned to find Rutger’s next athletics director.

The short version goes like this: Rutgers paid an executive search firm $70,000 to find their next AD. After Julie Hermann was announced as the final candidate, it surfaced that former players had complained of her abusive behavior and that she had been at the center of at least two sex-based discrimination lawsuits at the University of Tennessee and Louisville.

According to the USA Today, Rutger’s contract with Parker Executive Search included the following background check: 

• Criminal, credit and motor vehicle investigations.
• Confirm candidates degrees.
• Conduct a NCAA sanctions review for past major infractions.
• Conduct media reviews for potentially controversial areas of concern.
• Have candidates sign a statement of accuracy of a bio.
• Reference checking for each candidate.


For the final candidates — which in the Rutgers search included Wisconsin Deputy AD Sean Frazier and Fresno State AD Thomas Boeh — Parker Executive Search says, “We speak directly with individuals who are in position to evaluate the candidates’ performance in recent years, references that will include both those supplied by the individual as well as additional reference contacts.

This is maybe a $500 background check – definitely not $70,000. Our experience, however, is that most executive search firms are unwilling to spend that much on a background, even when they are collecting a fee in the tens of thousands of dollars.

And staffing firms? As they say in New Jersey, fuggedaboutit.  (Assuming that The Sopranos is an accurate cultural representation of New Jersey.)

Most staffing firms run an instant criminal background check from an online database that costs them about $2 (and misses between 40% and 60% of the available criminal records).

Where the Rutgers background check failed, however, was in the research items that were not included.

A civil records search would have easily identified the two federal lawsuits. (The media search that was included in the background check probably should have identified those cases, as well, assuming that the local newspapers carried stories about the accusations against the coach.) Adding civil records searches to the background investigation on Ms. Hermann would have increased the cost to around $900.

Good investigative interviews would likely also have identified that a number of former players felt that the coach’s past behavior had been abusive. This kind of research is time consuming and expensive given her long tenure in collegiate athletics. The cost for that kind of research could easily approach $3,000 or $4,000 or more.

So, if done the Imperative way, the total background check for the athletic director of New Jersey’s flagship university might have approached $5,000. I’ll bet the search firm, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and the Rutgers administration now wishes they had spent the money.