How Much Can You Learn About a Person Before Meeting Them?

Are you a Sherlock Holmes fan? Every reader knows Holmes rattles off several facts about a potential client’s background the moment they meet. They are amazed and ask how he did it. When he explains the logic, they often dismiss it as “Very simple, really.” You can learn a lot about a person before you meet someone for the first time.

1. Word of mouth. If someone is a referral, it is pretty easy to ask your friend “What can you tell me about them?” Another way of asking is: “How do you think I can help them?” When someone makes the effort to refer you, they have invested some of their social capital. They know the person has a need. They are emotionally invested in you helping to find a solution.

2. Online phone directory. You know the different online tools you can use for looking up a person’s phone number. Most of these sites will give you the street address. They usually provide an age range for the person. Now you have an idea of their neighborhood and approximate age.

3. LinkedIn profile. This is an ideal resource. You get the equivalent of a resume, including previous job history, hobbies and affiliations. Put another way, you have as much information as the person is comfortable putting online. Knowing their job and employer, you can take a guess at their income. You can also tell if they have been with one fitm forever or if they change jobs frequently.

4. Education. The person’s LinkedIn profile likely tells you about their educational background and the degrees they hold. If you visit their university’s website, you may be able to find details about awards or recognition they have earned. I checked myself out and discovered an award I earned in 1991!

5. Donor history. If your person is active in the local community, it is likely they are involved with some nonprofit or civic organizations. Charities often publish annual reports, available online. These usually list major donors, organized by giving category. The website is also useful for researching private family foundations. If you are seeking to build a clientele of people with assets to invest, philanthropists have money to give away.

6. This is a website useful for background checks. It assigns a score to your reputation and pulls together information from multiple databases. You might feel the information gathered borders on intrusive, but it’s an example of the depth of information available online.

7. Licensing status. If they are employed in a profession, it is highly likely they require a state license to practice. is a clearinghouse of 70,000+ online databases including licensing information my state. If you know their profession, you can look into their licensing information.

8. Disciplinary actions. If their profession requires a license, there is likely a public access database compiling a record of disciplinary actions. As a financial advisor, you know about FINRA and BrokerCheck. You can see if they had legal trouble in the past.

A few words of caution: Be careful how you use online resources for research. They usually have a Terms and Conditions section within the website. This usually spells out how the data can and cannot be used. Be aware “They know you have been there.” Follow these three rules:

  1. Only use the sites for the purpose originally intended by the website.

  2. Always read and respect the legal and privacy notices.

  3. Get approval from your Compliance manager before using these resources for research.

If you are an honest, decent person, you will be amazed at the amount of information about you that is available online.

Related: 10 Things Unlikely To Get Cheaper Over Time