First time poster to Workplace. I am a Developer with about 5 years experience. My previous position(at ToxicInc) had been very toxic for my handling so I switched to a better company(BetterInc)before working there for 7 months. Needless to say my Team Lead (TeamLeadJack) @ ToxicInc wasn't very fond of me.

During my job search I came across a very unique situation while dealing with a big consulting firm (TechSystemsInc). This is widely known notable corporation that places candidates at positions that fit both their client needs and the candidates. I came a across a recruiter(RecruiterJoe) from TechSystemsInc thru a Job Network site and continued my conversation with him regarding a specific position he was working on. He asked for my Resume and references before landing me a phone interview. I happily provided the references(ReferenceColleagueTeamMemberAtToxicInc and ReferenceTeamLeadAtOtherInc), and within a couple of days they were checked out. Eventually, the Recruiter told me the position was filled and we will try to get you other opportunities as they come along.

A couple of weeks pass, ReferenceColleagueTeamMemberAtToxicInc contacts me to apologize as he had slipped mentioning my TeamLeadJack and passed his contact to RecruiterJoe. ReferenceColleagueTeamMemberAtToxicInc tells me TeamLeadJack gave an average review for you, after both of them had a conversation. I told ReferenceColleagueTeamMemberAtToxicInc that I never gave TeamLeadJack's contact, nor asked him for a reference.

From what I understand, only designated references should be contacted which I had provided, Correct? Unless this becomes a sales pitch behind my back to TeamLeadJack, again sounds shady but legal. As a candidate who burnt a contact, what should I be doing in a situation like this. Pleasantly speak to RecruiterJack about finding out, Or take the high road. Mainly, for future circumstances, does providing references early matter? I have usually been accustomed to references being checked after a face to face has been completed. What should I do as a candidate ?

closed as off-topic by Philip Kendall, gnat, Chris E, jimm101, paparazzo Sep 20 '16 at 21:56

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  • 2
    3rd-party recruiters will use any tactic they can to gain access to someone they can sell their services (in this case, candidates) to. It's basically social engineering. ReferenceColleagueTeamMemberAtToxicInc shouldn't have given up TeamLeadJack's information to RecruiterJack in the context of your reference check, but RecruiterJack will take anything that's offered to them. There's no value in you trying to find out "how" this happened and the only thing you should take from this experience is to not rely upon ReferenceColleagueTeamMemberAtToxicInc as a reference anymore. – alroc Sep 20 '16 at 19:16
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    "From what I understand, only designated references should be contacted which I had provided, Correct?" - No, that's not correct. Anyone can be contacted who might help the company make a decision about hiring you. Your permission isn't required. – WorkerDrone Sep 20 '16 at 19:22
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    @WorkerDrone "Your permission isn't required." - this is absolutely untrue, by law in some jurisdictions. Please do not make blanket statements when they are not universally true. – user53718 Sep 20 '16 at 19:32
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    So long as no anti-discrimination laws for your locale are violated, there is nothing wrong with the recruiter finding out all he can about you. His reputation as a recruiter is also on the line, so he has an interest in only recommending the best candidates. Is checking third-party references without notification a stinky thing to do to a candidate? Yes. Illegal? maybe, maybe not. The recruiter has to balance whose opinion matters more to him - the employers that come back over and over again and pay commissions, or a possibly one-and-done candidate? – Kent A. Sep 20 '16 at 19:32
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    @Nij, while we don't usually get into legal topics here, I would love to see a citation for where it is illegal to ask for a reference without your permission. – David K Sep 20 '16 at 20:11

First, in a free country, there is not much you can do to prevent people from speaking to each other, if they really want to. So we are talking about conventions and customs, not about enforceable laws.

So you can't prevent people from asking around about you. Very often, the most useful and informative references are the ones who were not provided by the candidate. Recruiters and hiring managers are trying to actually find out about you: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Two things you can do, as a candidate:

  1. Request that the recruiter/manager not contact references until after an interview. It is extremely common that candidates don't want to spread the word that they are looking for a new job, until they feel good about the opportunity. Most recruiters and hiring managers will respect this, and will find a way to work with your request, if they are enthusiastic about your candidacy.

  2. Find a way to proactively contextualize potentially unflattering information. At the interview, explain that your tenure with ToxicInc offered some great opportunities to work with some terrific people, but that you could not see eye-to-eye with your supervisor on (insert something that is both true, and relevant to what would make you ideal for this job).

The ideal candidate might be someone who gets along brilliantly with everyone, and who is adaptable to any culture or organization, and who has never had a dispute with anyone. But most people understand that even some very good people are not universally a perfect fit for every situation. If you can find a way to put the suboptimal relationship with Jack in a context that shows how it would not be a problem at TechSystems, then you can potentially still use those references at ToxicInc. And a true, believable, and complete picture at the interview, is always better than having the recruiter find out surprises from the references. Cause then they wonder what else you didn't tell them.

  • The second piece of advice is what I'll probably use. Being upfront will not only keep me in the clear but also clarify the situation with contacts in the future. – JeffJeffery Sep 22 '16 at 14:31

The company interviewing you may call HR at the prior employer to verify you worked there. They may call any other resources they know of, eg a friend who also worked there, to ask their opinion of you.

They are not obligated to limit themselves to the references you supplied. On the other hand, outside of the HR confirmation of employment (perhaps), nobody is obligated to answer the interviewing company's questions.

Of course if the previous employer is too small to have a real HR department, this gets muddy, and the odds of your current management finding out that there has been an inquiry go up.

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