Reference checks are an essential part of a thorough background screening. Contacting your candidate’s previous supervisors and colleagues can give you valuable insight as to who they are and how they perform within a role. You might learn your candidate has phenomenal work ethic, creative new ideas, and makes an excellent team player. On the other hand, references can also reveal negative aspects of your candidates. You might hear that your candidate doesn’t work well with others or tends to slack off when left alone. As with any part of a customized background check, it is important to handle this negative feedback carefully. You can still make the most of the situation with these tips for dealing with a candidate with a bad reference.
Take It With a Grain of Salt
A bad reference should not mean an automatic disqualification. Whenever you hear unfavorable information about a candidate, you need to take the time to evaluate it and learn more. Keep in mind that you do not know the actual relationship between your candidate and their reference. The feedback could stem from a personal conflict rather than a professional one. The reference might hold a negative bias about your candidate that influences their review. You should also ask yourself whether the feedback focused on a specific event or a pattern of behavior. A single mistake is less concerning than any bad habits your candidate might have.
Get the Candidate’s Side
One of the most important steps to dealing with a candidate with a bad reference is to get their point of view. While you should try to keep the source of the feedback anonymous, talking to your candidate gives you both sides of the story. This gives your candidate a chance to dispute any false claims or explain misleading information. Even if the negative feedback is true, your candidate can still prove that they have learned from their mistake and are ready to move forward and do better in the future. While reference checks are important, your candidate’s response to them can often prove even more valuable.
Get Another Perspective
Consider contacting an additional reference from the same employer, or if conducting a professional or social reference, contacting another person of the same caliber. This can provide an additional perspective on the candidate, and in the case of an employment reference, may disclose more information about the environment in which the person was working. When conducting employment references, it is also important to contact Human Resources or the appropriate department holding employment records. While they may not be able to provide any specifics regarding the candidate’s job performance, they are sometimes able to tell if the person is eligible for rehire or they may be able to disclose information about why the candidate left.
Follow the Adverse Action Process when Applicable
If the negative reference in your background investigation influences your decision on hiring the candidate, be sure to follow the adverse action process. The Fair Credit Reporting Act dictates that certain steps must be taken if any information in a background investigation is used adversely against a job candidate—including references.
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