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Does one bad reference mean you ditch the candidate?

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HC Online | 28 Aug 2013, 12:00 AM Agree 0
Conventional wisdom says a bad reference is an immediate red flag, but should you be slower to judge?
  • Glenda May | 28 Aug 2013, 03:13 PM Agree 0
    If you get a poor comment, you need to probe for evidence just like you probe the candidate for specifics. I don't even like the term referee 'check' - it sounds as if we have made up our mind and just need a tick or cross. Your conversation with the referee is not a chat - it is a structured job-focused interview. I like to make an appointment first rather than "have you got a couple of minutes?". This says I am serious. In the intervening time I will email them the job or at least the key selection criteria so that they can reflect and prepare their responses. Of course a good candidate will have contacted the referee and briefed them as to what achievements s/he would like the referee to verify. Your job is to get a balanced report. As most referees are not keen to offer negative comments, try the following:
    "Could you rank the KSC from strongest to weakest?"
    "What would you have liked X to improve on more than anything?"
    "What was on their development plan?"
    and of course "Would you employ X again?"
    And then follow up with probes for specifics.
    Listen to the non-verbals: the hesitancy, the qualifiers ("well I would if...) and the lack or abundance of enthusiasm.
    I have even had surprisingly helpful responses to this question "Is there anything I haven't asked you that I should have?"
    If you get conflicting reports from two referees, you must go to a third. Something is going on!
  • HW The Ethicos Group | 30 Aug 2013, 04:54 PM Agree 0
    Unless you know (and trust) the integrity of the provider of ANY referee report or testimonial, negative or positive, you would have to be crazy not to go behind the report and talk with the provider in a structured way, against the KSCs... As an Appeals Tribunal member for ten years (state and Cwth - APS) I discovered many examples of false reporting, usually provided to get rid of a so-called 'poor performer', but in fact to make life easier for a poor manager.

    Providing a false report is of course a breach of most Codes of Conduct, and may amount to official misconduct. Unfortunately, too few false reporterts are disciplined.
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