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Oct 22, 2018
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Last week after a long day of sourcing I sat down at home to watch some re-runs of my guilty pleasure TV show, Catfish. If you haven’t seen the show, it’s a reality series that follows the journeys of couples who fell in love online but have not met in person. The stories have had a variety of endings over the course of several seasons. Some find true love; while others discover that they were victims of extreme deception by someone who lied about their true identity. It’s not uncommon to see an episode where a guy thinks he has been talking to a beautiful woman online only to find out it was a man who was manipulating others with fake profiles for any number of reasons. Throughout each episode, hosts Neve Schulman and Max Joseph conduct investigations to uncover the true identities of those involved and eventually confront the “catfish.” About halfway into the episode, I started to realize that many of the steps I take in my sourcing process to pursue candidates mirror those used by Neve and Max to investigate online personas.

They conduct intake calls

Every episode starts with a “hopeful” that has reached out to Neve and Max for their help to unite them in person with their online love. More often than not it is surrounded by the suspicion that the person they’re talking to is not the person in the profile pictures. They start the search by inquiring as to why the couple has not yet met in person. They dig in deep with open-ended questions to get as much information as possible just as a talent sourcer would with a hiring manager to accurately pinpoint where to initiate the search. The first question asked is always “have you video chatted with them if not, why?” The answer is always “no; they said their webcam doesn’t work.” Or “He said he’s too shy to video chat.” Next, they always ask “what does your online romance do for a living?” If the hopeful says anything like model or recording artist, this immediately arouses suspicion as these are the most common answers when someone ends up being a catfish. The probe goes on to other items like age, location, etc. Once Neve and Max are armed with all the information they sit down behind a laptop and get to work.

They scrape the web for online profiles and contact information

In every episode step one in uncovering the mystery of an identity is to take the profile pictures of the suspected catfish and drop them into google image search to see if it is linked to any other online profiles. This is usually a dead giveaway as to whether the hopeful’s online partner is the person in the pictures or if they stole someone else’s. As a sourcer, I have used this method countless times to find Linkedin profiles and other contact information for contributors to web developer discussion groups where they have a profile picture and username but no indication of their legal name. In addition to Google image searches, additional methods are used such as geo-targeting, reverse phone lookups such as Spokeo, and accessing public records.

They convince the catfish to tell their story

Every episode of Catfish has a confrontation with the person they have been investigating. This often takes a decent amount of persuasion even to get the catfish to agree to meet the hopeful in person. As sourcers we often are faced with the same challenge of just getting a candidate to respond to an initial attempt at contact. More often than not the catfish will reveal themselves as not being who they said they were online. When questioned about their motives for deceiving the hopeful online, the first reaction is often defensive or even combative.

As sourcers, so much of the focus is on tracking down the candidates, but once we finally find them, getting them to open up to us is an entirely separate challenge especially if they didn’t want to be found. Neve and Max always dig into why they felt the need to use someone else’s pictures, why they kept the lie going for so long, and whether they ever planned to come clean. Some of the catfish quickly divulge their stories while others took more time. There would be stories of how they may have been in a dark place when they created the fake profiles and enjoyed the attention they got from others when using the image of someone perceived as more attractive. Others would say that in talking to the hopeful under a false identity it helped them get through personal struggles by having someone to talk to and they didn’t want the friendship to end upon revealing their true identity. Sometimes fake identities were even created for malicious reasons to get back at the hopeful for past transgressions. Just as Neve and Max dig into the Catfish’s motivations, we must do the same with candidates to find out what truly drives them and what we can offer.

They conduct follow-up calls with the catfish and the hopeful

The conclusion of each story is always a follow up via Skype with both the catfish and the hope to see how they’re doing. Often the catfish has closed all their fake profiles and moved on to healthier pursuits like school or careers. The hopefuls are always asked if they’re dating anyone online or in person. On rare occasions, Neve and Max are caught off guard by seeing both the catfish and hopeful together on the other side of the Skype conversation to find that they have ended up with each other despite any deception or adversity. As talent sourcers, it’s always crucial to follow up with those we have pursued in the past to find out what they’re up to. They may not have been ready to leave a job three months ago, but things can change in a short amount of time, so it’s crucial to make a point to check in.

A list of the commonly used search tools on Catfish can be found here

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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