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?
Yes. Unless violence, theft or other MAJOR issues are involved, everyone needs to work and pay their way in life. Everyone has unexpected issues that can sometimes interfere with consistently great performance at work.
What helps with bad references is to look up employee reviews online like on Glassdoor employee reviews about what it was like to work at a company, if the workplace is toxic, poor management, hostile, or extremely high turnover, hirings, and firings. Sometimes there is customer dissatisfaction and a lot of complaints. Check with Better Business Bureau to get a fuller picture of what employees have to deal with in the workplace. There is a lot of office politics involved at times or just deliberate bad-mouthing, sabotage and blacklisting when employees are stuck accepting these jobs because they cannot get out. They can be great employees with the right job, strong management, and positive workplace culture. Give them the chance to prove themselves after a string of being stuck in bad jobs.
I personally had this difficulty about 1 year ago: a fantastic, well presented, enthusiastic person with the right experience wanting the role on offer. Perfect interview and first 2 references were glowing. They were so perfect, I felt like I should check that third one just in case. He was not happy with the employee at all. Didn't say much but spoke volumes. Decided to sleep on it, then hired her the next day. She is one of the best employees I've ever had and that third reference wasn't worth the salt shaker his words came out of. Some references really are just salty, dishonest backstabbers.
To go to your specific experience, did you ask for clarification on what the reference meant to be dependable? Each business has its own definition of dependable. For some its purely if the staff member attends their shifts on time and in full. For others, it's agreeing to copious overtime and canceling on family plans and holidays to work their days off, providing work outside of the scope of their position for free, etc.
When discussing "areas for improvement" such as dependability regarding a candidate, I like to discuss it as if the candidate practically already has the job. Phrasing such as "as candidates future manager, what is their main area of opportunity I should prepare for, and what methods have you found effective in getting the best out of the candidate in that area". It has thus far been 100% effective in weeding out references that cared about the training and ongoing success of their staff member and which ones were just bad-mouthing. It also helped know what their area of opportunity was and how to train them in that.
Hope this helps.
1) I would only hire them with a well defined probationary period. If you think the second candidate we ok, possibly just go with them.
2) Everyone should understand that when you are called to give a reference on a prior employee you may be open to liable for your "opinion". If you have document that you fired them for theft, that's one thing but "not dependable" that's another. For this reason you should only be able to find out if they were terminated for cause and if they are eligible for rehire. This could be state to state and perhaps no longer true. (HR Professionals please comment)
The undependable moniker may reflect the candidate's unhappiness in the previous role. You may want to try them out on a temporary basis to see if your gut reaction to the person is correct.
In some ways this is the mirror of not hiring someone with a great reference because your gut says no.
We interviewed a candidate who is really perfect and suitable with organization. Almost everyone wanted to hire him. When I did the reference check, everything was perfect. But, the problem started when I asked " Is there anything you would like to add about the candidate?". And the person reply " an incident where the candidate had an emotional lash out at work (threw his phone) after a phone call with his wife negatively affected his mood". Then everyone decided we will not hire him. Please make any comment on this.
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.
That is a good question and concern, but I would weigh all facts, and even ask them candidate why it could have been the environment, or personal issues, and if they are valid response, then it is up to you to make the decision if it would work for you.
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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I am a contractor. A contractor is employment at will. You can fire me at anytime without reason, and I can leave at any time without reason. I never give references. I give them an offer. Hire me for 3 month trial basis. If you don't like my work you pay me minimum wage. But if you do like my work you pay me the full market rate for my services. I have never been let go without out being extended beyond the first three months. My first job was only for a 3 month contract. they asked me to stay for 2 years. Other jobs i ended up working for 13 years. But, I alway start with a 3 month temporary contract. They alway ask me to stay. It;s what I say that counts. It's what I do day to day that shows dependability, and reliability. They always ask me to start working the next day. The trend these days is to outsource your work to a contractor so you don't have to make a permanent hiring decision.
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.
Ms Brandie, its ok to hire him. He did well in the interview. Regarding the capability and dependability, every job has this requirement and many of us don't fit the bill. Even without references, you can interview them. You have also stated that the reference is from a 'former employee'. This is enough to tell you why the reference has been mentioned as stated. Florence MacDonald
Dear Brandie ,
No way to trust on undependable candidate with bad reference for dependable job.
But can you trust on former employee reference who might have some personal remarks on this new candidate which could put you in injustice decision.
So , assign small project to this new candidate and sign him for small period like6 months to evaluate his/her performance apprisal.
Then God is great to bless all. Thanks.
Did the reference explain what the candidate was "undependable" in? Was that the reason the person is no longer with the company? I know that most, if not all, wont answer that question, but it doesn't hurt to ask anyway. Depending on what they come back with, the issue can be moot to your position requirements. How many references did you check? I usually had 3 done, just in case one was stellar, one was not great, the other either fell into one of those categories (thus making the decision easier) or it was a third area. In that case, I tried to get another reference to check. If two out of three are saying the same things, then there is a trend you can depend on, but remember my comment before about what recruiters/HR staff can say. Try to find someone in your network that the person worked for (use Linkedin to find prior employers which is one thing I do) and call to see if they can give you another aspect of the person and their work ethic. The last thing as an entrepreneur is to listen to your gut. There were more times than one when I relied on my gut about a person to hire (both good and bad) and it was almost 100% right. Good luck
In theory, you cannot give a bad reference; it is just one that is not positive, or is reserved; i.e. doesn't tell you much. To make out-right derogatory remarks is libel if the response is in writing, or slander if spoken. The latter of course is much harder to prove.
I think the question really runs parallel with the assertion that a person has been unemployed for a long time, or has a gap in their CV is incompetent as they (apparently) cannot hold down a job, or by assumption have not been seen as suitable for other employers so often that the person is unemployable.
There are a number of issues here, some of which I have had to face over the last 15 years. in 1999, I developed epilepsy which resulted in the loss of my driving license, and constructive dismissal by my employer (I was seen as too much of a risk to them. I had the seisure at their site, which whilst accept was near fatal, their attitude to me changed dramatically. In fact they could not get me out of the door fast enough.
We settled out of Court (albeit against my wishes, but on the advice of my Solicitor) as far as the unfair dismissal went, however the one thing I demanded was a reference on company letter head and signed by the (Legal) Company Secretary. This meant that if they were telephoned by a person requesting a reference, the company could not go back on its word. Further I could pursue them for defamation of charachter.
The above is a reference from the point of view of the person subject of the reference (employee).
I have seen bad references, or at least ones that do not tell me a great deal about the person, or are very candid. However when I have engaged the member of staff on a fixed term contract, they have been quite the opposite to the inference made by the former employer, or the person who gave the reference. In fact I would argue that she could have easily sued for defamation of character had she seen it.
Equally I have received references which are glowing, only to find the employee totally incompetent. In some cases this is because the person who have the reference did not actually know the person. This is particularly true of very large companies who have a Human Resources Department, and invaribly never met the person concerned.
I would argue that with the data available to us to day relating to people, and given the bespoke nature of jobs, generic terms like "lathe turner", "accountant", "manager" etc, become meaningless. To that end really a reference can only be a charachter reference; i.e. whether the member of staff is reliable and trustworthy, able to work to time tables.
Really I am not interested in whether the person is "a good time keeper" i.e. arrives on or before official start time etc. I just want to know whether they can do the job. Many references that I have seen have malicious over-tones and when compared to the interview of the candidate clearly contradict.
Then you have the issues relating to breaks in employment. The fact that someone has not worked for a period is not an indication of incompetence, as many employers appear to assume. There may be a genuine reason for the gap in employment which is perfectly valid. As examples nursing an elderly relative to their demise; or in the case of parent (male or female) taking time out to raise their new-born through to the age of 3 years.
The fact that they have been outside the work system for that length of time does not make them incompetent; which leads us to another issue. The dominance of computing. I note that increasingly employers are more concerned and put greater emphasis on computing software that the member of staff has used as opposed to the quality of their work, indeed knowledge.
As a consultant Credit Manager, I have come across some appalling accountancy systems, which were clearly never written for or by accountants. I have engaged someone who has been out of work for a long period of time to find that they are actually brilliant; it is just that the previous employer had a personality clash with the person that they were writing the reference for, and was malicious.
To conclude, I am wary of references relating to staff, and really see it as just going through the motions. After all, if I am any good at MY job as being a manager of staff then I should be able to ascertain the information and assess the person who is sitting in front of me, with my line of questioning and the answers received, whether they are fit for the job.
If the concern is security or integrity then there are special operations and referrals to the likes of the Criminal Reference Bureau and Police, indeed professional bodies.
As they say in (English) Law "take your victim as you find them".
What does your gut tell you? What is the reason the person left the previous job? Is it plausible? A reference can be deceptive based on "feelings". Perhaps give a second interview asking open ended questions for your peace of mind.
Ask the person about the bad reference. It might have been personality clash, or another reason (had an affair with their other half!).
And go for your gut feeling.
On the cautious side - is it not illegal to provide a bad review? Query why somebody would do that!
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 found myself in the same situation. For the first 3 months, everything was good but it went downhill after that. The number of excuses my employee had for not being at work was astounding. In any business - large or small - the work still needs to be done so it falls on the shoulders of the dependable employees to do it. Unless you can afford the absences that are sure to follow, I'd steer clear of this candidate.
Ideally no-but you could go in for a deeper ref check before arriving at a final decision
I think taking a human approach and looking at background and skillset instead of using gut instinct and FBI BS to determine if a candidate is a good fit is the best.
Too often people place the situation in such high esteem that they forget that interviewing is stressful. Work environments are different from one place to another and no one can account for the circumstances that can create a bad reference from that of a good one.
The option of trying someone out is always there...so try that. and if it doesn't work out...fire them...and even better try both candidates if possible and reposition if needed.
One bad reference...
Lets be realistic