Private investigators are frequently called upon to find current and former employees of a company. These searches play a large role in investigations tailored to litigators and investors. Employees are often the best sources of information for insider knowledge of corporate culture, company structure and relationships, policies and procedures, and even potential malfeasance by individuals within the organization.
These searches are also hugely important for in-depth employment background investigations. Particularly for C-level and other high profile positions, potential employers should be encouraged to go beyond the few hand-picked, and often well-prepped, references provided by a candidate. Who better to shed light on an individual’s productivity, capabilities and work ethic than former colleagues?
There are a number of techniques and resources used by investigators to locate current and former employees.
The Internet – Looking Beyond Google
Company Website – This may seem like a no-brainer, but this most obvious source of information is commonly overlooked. Frequently websites contain management team profiles and information regarding the organization’s Board of Directors. Websites also may have links to press releases that often contain hiring information for key employees. In fact, on one occasion, I found a spreadsheet of more than one thousand current and former employees through s search on a company site. No kidding.
Archive.org – This website is one of the best tools around for comparing a company’s current website, particularly lists of executives or directors, to historical snapshots of the same site. Just find the company’s management page, then look at all of the historical snapshots of that page and you will find a gold mine of information.
Professional Organizations – Review professional organizations relevant to the field, some of which maintain online membership lists. At times even an online conference bulletin may provide helpful intelligence.
Media – Search historical articles in newspapers through their website or USNPL.com or more powerful fee databases like Lexis Nexis.
Social Media – More Than Just LinkedIn
LinkedIn – Of all of the social networks, LinkedIn is the center of the universe for business purposes with more than 250 million active members. The trouble is that LinkedIn has started putting some of that information behind a paywall, making it more difficult to access. There are literally entire websites dedicated to mining LinkedIn, so we will not go into too much detail, but here are some of the basics.
The first step in using LinkedIn is to check to make sure your privacy settings are correct. This may mean that you change your identity to private while conducting employee searches. You will also need to consider that a basic search often won’t yield sufficient information. If you’re seeing a shell profile, it may just be the “public” profile. You can often access more detailed information by either reaching a profile through the “People Also Viewed” section on another employee’s profile.
The best tip I can give you? Get a strong command of the “site” Google search command. This frequently provides links to more individuals than you can find through other sources.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest – Current and former employees may follow the company, comment on the company’s posts, or be included in photos or other posts by the company. In one recent investigation, the only information we uncovered to support an individual’s former position as CEO was the label on an Instagram photo.
Professional Licenses / Regulatory Agencies– Check with relevant licensing organizations, which may include employee information with license details.
Corporate Filings – Secretary of State records often contain lists of current and historical officers/directors and member/managers.
SEC Filings – Using Edgar or other online sources, SEC filings such as 8-K and 10Q reports may provide biographies for directors and executive management, press releases, and the names of other current and former key employees.
Litigation – Has the company sued a former employee? Has a former employee sued them? Are other individuals named co-defendants with the company in an action? Litigation documents may provide not only the identity of former employees, but also other critical information about the subject under investigation.
The above are some of the techniques that have proven to be invaluable to private investigators, but they also have relevant applications in human resources, recruiting, and competitive business intelligence. Using these easily accessible tools will aid in peeling back the layers and finding potentially useful contacts in nearly any type of inquiry or investigation.