Should you still hire someone with a bad reference even if they interviewed well?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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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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.
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 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.
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
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.
Best judge is you, yourself. If you feel you are competent enough to assess through your questions and his replies, hire him. Otherwise, positive references are sometimes not reliable, only his work will tell, its a gamble for every entrepreneur.
I would definitely give this person a change, but I would also confront this person with the reference and ask his opinion on this.
You have been great advice to your question. Where there is smoke there is fire.
Yes, some people might give a bad reference for someone, but they may have an ax to grind. See what others say about him, but most of all trust your gut.
If there is any doubt at all, do not hire!
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
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.
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".
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)