Yahoo CEO’s Resume Blame Game: Is It the Headhunter’s Fault?

Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson – he of the phantom computer science degree that found its way on his official resume filed with the SEC – was either fired or resigned.

The question remains; whose fault was it that the resume mistake wasn’t caught earlier?

The now-departed Thompson said that exec search firm Heidrick & Struggles was to blame; somebody on the search firm interviewed him for a role with eBay years ago when the error originally occurred, took incorrect information, and that’s how it got in the system and on to his Yahoo resume.

Heidrick & Struggles claimed bulls**t and said no, somebody on our side didn’t make a mistake; “Based on information in our possession, this allegation is verifiably not true and we have notified Yahoo! to that effect.

As noted last week, there’s no doubt that Thompson himself should have caught the mistake earlier; introductions at conferences, bios for print, all sorts of things should have triggered alarms in Thompson’s head that he was being credited with something that he didn’t do.

Whomever presented Thompson to Yahoo for consideration, it’s clear though mistakes were made.

Using an executive search firm – and even a referral from a board member’s friend – is like managing most any other business relationships; what needs to be done, who is going to do, and how will it be done?

As somebody who has successfully retained Heidrick & Struggles on the employer’s side, as well as most of the other blue-chip firms  for over 50 high level executive searches, it means breaking down exactly what’s going to be done. For C-suite roles, the type Thompson has held, it can include things such as:

  • College degree checks; will the be verified for major, courses and grades, year received, or just year received?
  • Criminal history, including driving violations, verification; the county in which the person lived, the county in which the person worked, or all of the adjacent counties for either? (Conveniently there is no one database.)
  • Financial history; complete disclosure of all financial history such as loans, home purchases, bankruptcies, foreclosures, loans denied, etc.?
  • Work history; will the calls most be date and role held, or will there be actual conversations with a variety of people at each stop along the way to make sure that what you thing you have in a candidate is the same thing that people remember when they worked with them?
  • Personal references; will there be any referencing of people from boards of directors/ board of trustees who may know the candidate?

While there’s a tendency for people not in the recruiting business – and frankly a few in the business who should know better – to assume that the search vendor will do it all, that’s seldom the case. Nor should it be.

Recently I was considered as a candidate for the head of global talent acquisition role for Visa. Spencer Stuart did the search. Though the search firm has known me for years, they did a complete check of background including degrees and dates I received them. When it comes to the fundamentals of doing good search work – in this case the referencing by Spencer Stuart – there are no shortcuts. You either do it, and you don’t.

There a tons of reasons why some of the specifics (see list above) for searches at this level are done internally (where you may have better contacts and connections) and some are done by your search partner.

When this all shakes out it’s whomever was on point for the Yahoo board who bears the responsibility for the error. Scott Thompson should have know better. The board member should have known best.

Author J. Mike Smith is a executive, career, and leadership team coach, helping individuals, start-ups, teams and groups perform significantly better. Over the past 25 years as a senior business executive, J. Mike has worked with Fortune 500 companies such as Genentech, AT&T, and Visa. You can learn more about J. Mike at Life Back West.

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