Hiring Wisdom: Do You Know the Truth About Checking References?

Photo by istockphoto.com
Photo by istockphoto.com

When it comes to checking job applicant references, you might reasonably think that a great reference means you’ll be getting a great employee.

You might also think a bad reference means you should cross the applicant off your list.

However, it’s often just as true that people who come with great references turn out to be duds on the job, and people with poor references could very well be great employees.

Here are a few reasons why an employer might give a bad reference on a great person:

  1. To try to keep the employee onboard and give the employer the opportunity to make a counter-offer.
  2. To keep the employee from taking his/her skills and experience to the competition.
  3. Because the former employer is holding a grudge against the employee who left (retaliatory discrimination).

Why bother with reference, anyway?

Here are a few reasons why an employer might give a good reference on a poor employee:

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  1. The employer wants to get the poor performer off the payroll.
  2. To avoid the potential legal liabilities of giving a bad reference.
  3. To “make up” for firing or laying the person off.

This begs the question, “Why bother?”

Even though you can’t count on references as a predictor of success on the job, failing to check them leaves you wide open to negligent hiring lawsuits. Even if former employers will only confirm “name, rank, and serial number,” you expose yourself to undue risk if you fail to meet due diligence standards.

This was originally published in the June 2012 Humetrics Hiring Hints newsletter.

Mel Kleiman, CSP, is an internationally-known authority on recruiting, selecting, and hiring hourly employees. He has been the president of Humetrics since 1976 and has over 30 years of practical experience, research, consulting and professional speaking work to his credit. Contact him at mkleiman@humetrics.com.