9

Our company is currently hiring for a position and we have interviewed half a dozen applicants. We decided to further pursue just two of them and call the references they had listed on their resumes.

One of the applicants, let's call him John, had two references. I called both and the first (his previous job) spoke highly of him while the second was surprisingly negative in their assessment of his previous performance. I have never encountered an outright negative reference before (usually, if a reference has anything unflattering to say, it's mixed in-between many positive statements), and I would assume that John is not aware this particular reference has few good things to say about him. We have ultimately decided to hire the other candidate, not John, primarily due to factors outside his reference, though the negative reference also played a part.

However, I was wondering whether it would be appropriate to warn John of his rogue reference? From our interview, and from his other positive reference, John seems like an excellent guy who would work hard, so it's hard to say why this other reference speaks poorly of him. Is it ethical and appropriate for me to, when I call him to inform him we will not be offering him the position, mention the negative reference so he can change it for future job applications? Or should what the reference said remain confidential? I would not divulge specifics.

The reference did not ask me to keep the conversation confidential or give permission to share, nor did I mention anything relating to that.

13

Is it ethical and appropriate for me to, when I call him to inform him we will not be offering him the position, mention the negative reference so he can change it for future job applications? Or should what the reference said remain confidential (I would not divulge specifics regardless)?

My personal ethics tell me that unless a reference gives me permission to share names or details of the discussion then I am not free to do so. I do feel free to tell the applicant that a bad reference was one reason for rejecting him or her though. And I have actually done that.

I was once checking references for an applicant to a Manager's position. The first few references were fine, although rather sparse and non-committal. But when I checked the final reference on the list it was terrible.

I ended up speaking to the applicant and said that one of his references hadn't spoken highly of him at all. He immediately knew who it was and what they would have said (I never confirmed that it was this person, nor what was said). The applicant admitted that his reference was correct.

I ended up passing on this applicant as much for the poor judgement of not checking in with his references before using them as the for bad things that were conveyed. I'll never understand why this candidate used a reference that he had to know would be terrible. I'm guessing that he felt nobody would actually check.

  • 1
    If I were the one giving the reference, I sure wouldn't want anyone to go back to the candidate and tell them "Mel Reams said such and such so we're not going to hire you." I would want to give an honest reference but I also wouldn't want to deal with an angry job seeker. +1 for not sharing details without explicit permission. – Mel Reams Mar 8 '17 at 1:54
7

No you shouldn't, this is company information, unless there is a business reason behind letting the applicant know, then there is no reason to give them confidential company information.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy