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Whats the deal with references?

October 18, 2013 at 12:44 pm


After you’ve reviewed an applicant’s resume, maybe had a phone interview, and sat down for a face-to-face interview, your next step is typically to check references.  This part of the process can seem tedious, time consuming, and unimportant.  I’m sure you are a great judge of character, and no applicant has ever fooled you into making a bad hiring decision.  But I have learned from my own experience that no matter how enjoyable the interview was, or how perfect the applicant is for the job, if I don’t check their references I’m going to get burned.

It’s almost as if that force that followed me around when I was growing up that made sure I never got away with anything rebellious, kept following me into adulthood.  Now, instead of getting me in trouble with my parents when I tried to skip part of a day of school, I’m running the risk of making a bad hiring decision that leads to angry managers and wasted money.  Every time I tried to cut a corner and skip checking an applicant’s references I would be completing termination paperwork on the employee a few months later.  I have learned my lesson (and you should learn from my example) and no longer skip this important step!

Is there ever a time when you should ignore a bad reference and hire them anyways?  Well….most likely, no.  But in a few circumstances you may want to think twice…

The negative things are protected by law. Reliability is important, no doubt. But, if the previous manager says, “Sue called out a lot,” you need to follow up with, “Did she say why?” If it was due to a disability, or legitimate intermittent FMLA leave, you need to disregard that at your own legal peril.

The bad things were a long time ago. Did you ever do something stupid? Were you once clueless? Did you walk out mid-shift at Burger King at 18? Well, so did some of your applicants, but hopefully they grew out of it–just like you did. If it was 10 years ago, it probably shouldn’t be relevant as long as things have been good since then.

Categories: Human Resource Consulting.