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Should you hire someone with a bad reference?

I interviewed two candidates recently. One of the candidates really out shined the other. This person was quick to answer all my questions intelligently, seemed really passionate about the role and had the right amount of experience. However, when I followed up with their references, one of the former employees described the candidate as undependable. Capability and dependability are very important for this role. Would you still hire this person despite the bad reference?

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I would agree with all the other voices saying, trust your gut on this one. There may have been something in that other employment situation's culture that didn't make the person feel connected, or like they were needed. Conversely, he/she could be fantastic at interviewing.
If you do end up hiring them, the bottom line is that you need to keep your eyes open and watch for signs. Build the relationship slowly and don't give them substantial responsibilities until you trust fully that they will follow through with what needs to be done, especially if they will be dealing directly with clients.


The whole purpose of reference calls is not to confirm your current belief but are the checks and balances against your emotional pre-conclusions. They've saved my butt more than I can recall over the past three decades. There's no such thing as a perfect person, nor is there a perfect role, or a perfect boss, etc. Candidates give you the names of people they expect will give them a good reference. As a hiring manager (or in my case retained recruiter) it is your job to flush out the good, the bad and the ugly.

When you hear something negative from one source, do not jump to conclusions. If you hear the same thing from several people then the decision is easy.

Upon hearing something negative from one source it is incumbent upon you to explore the facts and determine the truth. You'd hate to miss out on an excellent employee because you went no further than the first negative comment you heard. Go back to the candidate, share some of the information on the issues of concern and ask for an explanation and the names of one or two others who are knowledgeable enough about the issues to discuss...then call them as soon as you can.

I've found it helpful to ask candidates (prior to executing the reference calls) if there is possibly anything of a negative nature that I'm likely to discover during my calls...and if so would they like to explain in advance. Honesty is best served when transparency exists...

Thanks, God is great who forgives all . But we hve no right to punish innocent by ignoring him/her on reference. Proper written selection process must be alloted for one month tudy then results would be dazzling. thanks

Anonymous User

Hi Brandie

Here are 3 issues to consider:

Accordingly to the FBI one of the signs of guilt is ready made answers to every question. Guilty people tend to be able to account every second of their life, movements, and remember everything, whilst innocent people have haphazard recollection of events with gaps that they have to be prompted to recall (sometimes with difficulty)

In a small company you need capable and dependable people as you do not have the luxury of covering for people who do not turn up for work with other staff. So if you cannot depend on your staff, you should seriously consider how you will cope if people are not turning up for work.

If you are not going to take note of the references then why do you waste your time taking them up? It is like asking for advice and not listening to it. The art of being successful is to learn from other people's mistakes rather than making them yourself. There are plenty of opportunity to make mistakes of your own, so don't be tempted to repeat other people's mistake.

In short, you should not take the person on unless you want to gamble with your business, sanity and money.

Hope this helps.


Hi Brandie ~

No one else seems to have asked you what the candidate's OTHER references had to say. You spoke to a former employee, who may be disgruntled for any number of reasons — or may be spot on. Have you contacted a former boss, peer, or someone who knows this person in a different business capacity (e.g., volunteer, serving on a committee, etc.)? If you've contacted several references and they're all congruent, your choice is clear. If they are very different, go with your gut.

Hope this helps.

sould we believe on reference of a person who select on behlf of us to a candidate . The why we are interviewing ? It is not justice. Well he/she is not a criminal.
So , we have some senseof humour.How innocent would get justice if forer boss was bad one might be gimne good friend!


I would absolutely not hire someone who has bad references. Many of us come across people who interview really well but are not a great fit for our team. The right reference will tell you who that person really is versus the picture they're painting when they try to impress you. For more on this, I would recommend reading either "Topgrading" by Brad Smart or "Who: The A Method for Hiring" by Geoffrey Smart. They both talk about a great referencing checking best practice called TORC (threat of a reference check).

If this is what one of there references says about them, imagine what other folks, who were not given as references, would say.

I hope that helps!


Hi Brandie,
I can tell you that I was hired by a company who had checked out my typical 3 references, 2 were good 1 not so. But I still got the job.
The problem with references are you are not always going to get the truth anyway, good or bad.

With my experience in interviewing and hiring, you need to reach your own conclusion, experience is one thing, but fit is more important.

If you have real concerns you can always call them in for another chat.
Usually that would be more related to fit, personality, responses to aspects like multi tasking, handling interruptions, pressure, stress, instructions, commitment to communication, etc.

You can also raise any concerns or negative comments without indicating where they came from.

Also consideration should be taken regarding why that person left that company, if they left let's say due to frustrations and or poor management, then maybe the candidate, became resentful, and deflated, which would of showed up in their responses, and behaviors.

For me I would back myself every time.


I agree with few people here. Go a little deeper in finding what caused this employee get bad reviews, why s/he did not delivered what was expected from him/her, how did s/he answered about this, how can s/he improve if similar situations come up, get to know a bout him/her through other people as well. Not all managers are good at everything and even the employee may have lost passion or interest in that project and wanted out.
Trust your instinct, if you liked the person and find s/he has potential, tell him so while sharing your main concerns on delivering results, showing organizational cultural respect and more. Good employees don't fit wherever they applied, but they can adjust their profiles when they find an open manager and professional figure they want to support.
Tell about your impressions of his skills and knowledge but also expressing your concerns, let the negotiation goes, let him/her talk, it is interesting seeing how do these conversations ended up. Reviewing together employee performance is a topic present in these conversations and helps keeping your eyes open.

Though we are employer so , we need more style to waiting out applicants for job.
No reference unless there is a big doubt. We need to provide a chance one among few. Else it would be very top to select one out of much many applicants.


It's a good question, and here's why. Sometimes a bad reference is nothing more than a bad attitude expressed on a bad day which can color perception and response. It's also interesting that the candidate listed that particular person as a reference if knowing that it might jeopardize his chances of getting hired.

The reference could be mistaken, confusing one former employee with another or the employee may have been unknowingly subjected to blackmail and is now being blackballed to prevent further hire.

That said, consider looking more closely into the matter. Ask the candidate what it was like working for the company and specify the person referred.

Perhaps the incidents referred to were real and correctly assessed. But was the lack of dependability a purely circumstantial situation? Perhaps a family obligation preventing the employee from availability. Performance impacting health issues or other handicaps. Most important is to determine whether the contributing factors have changed. This can be easily ascertained if more recent references are favorable.

A tip: Make sure your most favorable candidates understand the business process and marketing strategies. Those who have an appreciation of the business itself are most likely to make it shine. That said, take the time to review your companies business plan. If the company does not have one suggest writing one complete with mission statement, company objectives, and business process. Use the business plan to orient new hires and identify the kind of performance that achieves stated objectives. As a business plan archivist, it's my pleasure to assist. Please see my profile for more information.

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You didn't mention what the job was, but as someone who has hired a lot of sales and marketing personnel in their past career - sometimes when they sound too good to be true sometimes they are. Many times due to most having an outgoing personality - they can interview very well and are very personable, so it is important to look at other factors.

I am not sure how you got the reference to call, but we all know that most people provide references of where there was a positive experience, so if they provided the reference that it turned out poorly, I would question it even more as it tells you the person is not very in tune with what people think about them. On the other hand, if you were checking based off just a list of past employers and they didn't provide - you can find sometimes there is sour grapes in employer/employee relationships and could be a personal issue with that person. I would definitely have that as a potential issue.

If you really were keen on the person, there is one other step you can look into. There are companies (HR) that offer some additional type of checking which have "testing" questions which offer some further insight into the person and their personality which found were quite insightful as it is how they handle situations and is hard to "trick" as they are psychology tests.

Someone below said go with your gut and is what I find usually works best. If the other 2 references were fabulous and one bad and everything else was good versus a mediocre hire - you could still hire them and manage their 90 day probationary period looking for signs. If that one reference really started making you question the rest - then I would trust my gut there as well.


Hi Brandie. I think with a reference each case is different. How long did that employee work there. Would were their duties and responsibilities. Were they done on a satisfactory or better level. Did the customers or co workers like this person. Were they promoted or demoted when they were there Did they get a raise or cut in pay when they were there. Why did the candidate leave that job. Ask the reference and the candidate. When in doubt ask for 3 or 4 references. If they all say wonderful comments and one does not maybe it was a personality issue or something. If all the references say negative comments it is a easy decision. I would also ask them to explain what they mean by undependable and give specific details.

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