Many years ago, when I was in college, I had a job at a large retailer. It involved all of the normal retail-y things: stocking, checking, unloading trucks, helping customers, etc. After working the job a couple of years, I was asked to start doing basic management things. One of the more interesting things I got to do was interviews, and part of that process was the background check and final decision.
In the ’90s, there wasn’t a whole lot more you could learn about a potential hire outside of a few reference calls, a background check, and at this retailer, a strange “personality test” that was garbage. Over the years as I did this, I became better at detecting red flags, body language, and other general concerns. I was able to hire many great people, including people I still am in contact with today and are great friends. However, there were times I unfortunately hired thieves, slackers, and just downright mean people. Despite having some experience hiring, I missed the signs, or lack thereof.
I remember one of my favorite interviews: It’s the late ’90s in the back of an old retail building. I walk out to meet my interviewee. He’s pleasant, decently dressed, and polite. The store was in the midst of some major maintenance in the main office in the back, so I ducked into the server room with my prospective hire. It was a loud room with a cooling system blasting, an old dot matrix printer screeching out reports, and the clacking of mechanical keys as an employee was furiously typing POs into the inventory system.
We went through each of my questions. Things like:
- How long have you been at your last job?
- What are some of your key strengths? Etc.
I was almost done with no indication of any problems when I got to the last question: What do you consider a problem you had at your last job, and how did you handle it? Now keep in mind, we are in a loud room, so we are in essence shouting at each other. He looks me right in the eyes and loudly proclaims,
“Sometimes when I didn’t like what my boss told me to do, I would just scream at him and tell him no.”
The furious clicking of the mechanical keys stops, and I hear the creaking of a chair behind me as the previously uninterested data entry employee must witness what she has just heard.
My face clearly betrayed me, and he went on making excuses for a bit about how he didn’t like doing certain things and the way he would avoid it was by being irate. No amount of explaining that I would be his boss and I might ask him to do things he didn’t really want to do could get him to understand the absurdity of his statements and behavior. We shook hands, and as he left, the wild-eyed keyboard warrior asked, “Was he real”?
Most interviews don’t go like this. Many times, that last question is answered with much less candor, and you’ll get a smart softball answer. In the case of our screamer, if he had said something benign, assuming the background check was passed, inevitably I would have been standing in front of a hundred customers while receiving the brunt of his rage.
Here’s the thing: a background check can tell you if we are dealing with a felon, a dive into some OSINT on our potential hire can determine if he’s a jerk, or a racist, or a serial complainer about his employer. Oh, I can imagine how that guy’s twitter would have read.
Fast-forward to today, and the concept of using OSINT to vet candidates has been hotly debated. While it is a tool that can be misused, in some cases, it’s a powerful insight into your candidate. I can’t imagine if what I said to my friends when I was a teenager was saved permanently online, yet this is the reality for a new generation and the rest to come. My point is to be thoughtful in your OSINT investigation. The off-color joke tweet you discover your candidate made when she was 15 is probably something to give some slack on. We’ve all been emotional kids and said and done things that require learning.
Today when hiring, OSINT investigations (“Due Diligence”) can lead us to great positives about our candidates and really help us separate them from the equally qualified on paper. Are you hiring for retail and see happy pictures of your prospective employee smiling with their coworkers and praising them? Are you hiring a Swift developer and discover a long history of tweets excitedly telling everyone about tips, tricks, and new developments in the community? These are the exact kinds of things that give us an edge on reaching our goal of hiring the best.
On the other side of the coin, OSINT can help us discover many negative things or simply things that need more information. Somewhat recently in vetting a potential candidate, I discovered by a quick search in SocialNet that the prospective employee wasn’t entirely honest with their background in the fields they had been working. Sometimes, an OSINT search can turn up very little, which is an indicator that our possible new employee values privacy and exercises good operational security. If that is what we value in our position, it’s another piece of excellent information.
We’ve spent some time talking about the strengths of incorporating this sort of OSINT technique into hiring, but there are many other places in the business world this can be useful. Are you making a decision to handle a merger or acquisition? Get out there and vet the executives. Are they impulsive? Are they cruel? Are they angry and unreasonable? In the business world, we sometimes get caught up in the entities and the products a company has to offer and how that can augment our current product line. This can cause us to overlook the possible incompatibilities in personalities and work styles that exist in this potential partner. At the end of the day, companies are groups of people working together to create something and not just the something. OSINT “background checks” can help us understand those implications.
Today has been a little long-winded, but this type of vetting is an invaluable tool in the research and understanding of possibly making a long-term relationship work with a person or company. The many OSINT tools at ShadowDragon can make this vetting process faster, repeatable, and more organized.