I had the following case recently. I applied for a small startup and they did a reference check, but they did not do it based on my provided references but based on a random check via common network. Based on our common connections and the structure of the feedback it was not very difficult to figure out who approximately have they asked for recommendations.

And then I realized that usually I have a very good relationship with the colleagues I work directly , but I rarely shy away from a conflict when I feel I have grounds. Basically the recommendation was not given from a person I have worked directly with I have been supervised by or who has worked directly under my supervision. I was trying in that particular project to press agile development methodology when the whole project was one big waterfall which earned me many enemies in the face of the rigid hierarchical structure with all sorts of manager to something positions. While trying to introduce agile I stepped on a lot of toes who were resilient to change and wanting to preserve their status in the project which would have been affected into the less hierarchical agile.

So this kind of raises the question. If you are done a random background check if you enter conflicts at the workplace the chance you will end up with bad reference increase. If you shy away from conflict then you will get a good reference , but this will not necessary mean that you are a good worker it would mean you conform well to the organization.

Presenting you own reference on the other hand also kind of does not do anything. Obviously a person always chooses the people he likes best that he know they will put him in good light.

So how do you crack this problem? How do you check references in a way that can actually provide you with meaningful feedback ?

  • @Joe Strazzere Good point. The question is two fold. First is how to find the balance between constructive conflict so that it does not affect you in the future and at the same time not been conformist. The second aspekt is how do you ensure the integrity Of the references when they are random. After all you may be stumbling upon people that have Worked indirectly with the employee in question.
    – Pesho
    Jun 7, 2020 at 10:49
  • @Joe Strazzerre also if you take a manager with a strong driving personality the chances that 50% Of the people will like him and 50% will dislike him is high. At the same time most people will know him and can comment on him within the project But most probably relativly fem people have worked directly with him. So making random reference from within the project may have high subjective faktor.
    – Pesho
    Jun 7, 2020 at 10:55
  • 1
    I'd suggest splitting this question into two as the two points you raise are largely unrelated. Jun 7, 2020 at 12:38
  • @Joe Strazzere it is a typo «fem» is «few»
    – Pesho
    Jun 7, 2020 at 16:14

1 Answer 1


You assume that if your reference said "I never had a conflict with this person" that the company will hire you, even if it doesn't make you a good worker but just a foolish conformist. And you further assume that if your reference said "I had a lot of problems with this person" that the company will not hire you, even if that might be because you were trying to do a good thing and bring positive change.

Both your assumptions are wrong. Reference checking is not "so, should we hire this candidate?" and the reference says "yes" or "no" and it's binding. Reference checking is getting more information about you. They have learned that you worked for a positive change, and that perhaps you did so in a way some people didn't like. They can use that information to help them decide if they want you in their company.

If you are now interviewing and hiring people, your questions about how to get good references are just the sort of thing you need to think about. References supplied by the candidate are more likely to be positive, it's true -- but some candidates have a different version of "positive" than I do. They may not value what I value. References you find yourself through mutual contacts may give a more objective opinion, but that's not guaranteed.

If you're not hiring, and you're still looking for a job, I would say you learned something really important in this experience. If you have conflict with people it can hurt you. Even if you don't list them as references or think you have to work with them in the future, you can get a reputation as a person who is hard to get along with or hard to work with. You can call this a "strong driving personality" if you like, but plenty of firms aren't interested in hiring a person who can't get along with others. There are those who can lead change without conflict and they are more likely to be hired when change is needed. And for firms that don't consider themselves broken and don't think they need to be changed, why would they hire someone who pushes others around and causes conflict while trying to change something management didn't ask to be changed? That may not be how you see it, but when you think about the references other people will give about you, it's useful to imagine other perspectives on what you've done.

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