My partner recently applied for a job and was offered it - which she accepted. Today she received a call saying that after speaking to her references they are withdrawing the offer. After some investigation, we found out that the new employer actually spoke to someone who she did not provide as a reference but who she had previously worked with. Does anyone know if they are allowed to do this?


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  • Do you mean is this legal? The question is off-topic if that is the case. Is this in some industry that has their own set of hiring practices? – user8365 Feb 15 '15 at 13:00
  • @JeffO Yes I suppose I am asking about if this is legal, if this is off-topic then is there some better forum where I should be asking? Thanks. – Matt F Feb 15 '15 at 13:06
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    I think most people would tell you to get a lawyer. For this site, you could ask if it is a common practice. I included a reason for an employer not to disclose this in my answer. – user8365 Feb 15 '15 at 13:16

Employers are allowed to speak to anyone they wish. Indeed, non-references are usually more valuable as the potential employee will only provide positive references.

The bigger question is whether other people are reliable and, if someone does have a negative opinion of you, how to fix that perception. Unfortunately, that is something that probably cannot be answered in a post like this.

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  • Ok thanks, we just weren't sure on why they did that. Just out of interest do you know if they have to let us know who they spoke to or what was said? The are saying that it is confidential, but we can't think of any reason they would give a bad reference so would like to clear it up. – Matt F Feb 15 '15 at 12:59
  • @MattF - Someone can give a "bad" reference and not really know it. In some places a logical, linear thinker who is very detail oriented may not be a good fit when a more creative-type is needed. – user8365 Feb 15 '15 at 13:02
  • @JeffO Sure that makes sense, the job role is exactly the same for the new job and also the previous job where the reference came from. As far as I am aware the reference is not exactly on honest person so we just wanted to know what exactly was said as it has obviously cost my partner her new job – Matt F Feb 15 '15 at 13:08
  • @MattF - I don't know about this case, but it could be a corporate culture clash and not necessarily job skill related. – user8365 Feb 15 '15 at 13:12
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    @Jan Just curious, how do you know it's a free country? :-P – Diego Sánchez Feb 15 '15 at 21:42

This is a practice called "blind reference check" where employers contact members of the candidate's professional network. It is usually done today by selecting contacts on linkedin, but it could be done the old-fashioned way by using professional contacts the employer keeps in touch with.

This kind of reference check lies outside of typical HR channels and has the benefit of giving "candid" information but the drawback is that people may just say whatever they want with virtually no consequences for exaggeration, bad sense, or outright lying. The onus is on the employer to perform these checks properly with some sophistication. Obviously the employer botched the process at the start by making an offer before checking all references.

FWIW, If the bad reference came from a linkedin contact (possibly even a second degree contact), it might be worth it to try to figure out who it was and sever that connection in case it happens again in the future.

Blind reference checks are only going to get more popular and that requires people to be careful about "curating" one's linkedin contacts. Employers also need to get better at approaching these types of checks and not take everything at face value.

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    This is good advice. Your professional network should only include people where there is mutual respect. This only prevents the situation when somebody contacts somebody from your network where that mutual respect doesn't exist. They can also contact their own network, you can't prevent that,a situation described in the original post happens in some industries where there are only a few players in the market. – Donald Feb 15 '15 at 17:38
  • "Oh, they let [$candidate] out? That's great news! I didn't think he was eligible for parole until next year." – HopelessN00b Feb 16 '15 at 3:01
  • Your answer is good, but blind reference checks are spam to the reference and unethical. – daaxix Feb 18 '15 at 5:12

There's nothing you can do about someone talking to anyone else about your work experience unless there are legal and industry specific rules of confidentiality (medical and legal professions). Also, your online presence (SO sites, Facebook) is fair game. If you had contact with people as a business partner or met them at some conference, there's nothing you can do about their opinions/impressions of you either.

This is why it is important to not just get permission from your references but do a little coaching about the positions you're looking for and some points of emphasis. You can't push too hard on this and make them feel like you're asking them to lie. They may have worked with you when you were less mature, so instead they may reflect on how much you have improved since then instead of how clueless you were when you started out.

I doubt they will ever reveal the source. It was a mistake to indicate why they chose not to hire this person in the first place. This is why they shouldn't make an offer before a reference check; otherwise it's pretty obvious afterwords that something went wrong in that area.

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  • Thanks, this answer was useful too but I can apparently only mark one as the 'correct answer' – Matt F Feb 15 '15 at 13:19
  • @MattF - Thanks for the complement. I'm glad it could help. – user8365 Feb 15 '15 at 15:42
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    I wonder whether you can launch a slander action against a John Doe, then subpoena the identity and the content of the reference? It works (sometimes) for copyright violation ;-) I hope I'm joking, and that merely "not getting hired" isn't sufficient grounds to assume there has been a slander. – Steve Jessop Feb 16 '15 at 21:43

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