Backdoor Reference Checks

I love being a recruiter in the residential building products industry! I enjoy the connections I have made with people, I like the vibe of the industry and I enjoy the individuals who work in it.

The industry itself is vast, but at times the different niches and channels can seem more close knit. It seems like when you get into certain product mixes or locations, everyone knows almost everyone else. That is pretty cool in a lot of ways! I am from a small town; I live in a bigger town now and love bigger cities where you can still find those neighborhoods that feel “small town.”

One thing that comes up in a small town is that everyone knows everyone's business in addition to just knowing everyone. Sometimes, in the residential building products industry, the same can occur. And one thing that happens in those situations is backdoor reference checks.

What Is A Backdoor Reference Check?

A backdoor reference check is simply searching through your own sources to get an “insider view” reference on a candidate.

Let's say you review a resume for a candidate that currently works at a company where you know someone. You think their resume looks good, but you want the inside scoop on the candidate before you decide if you want to interview them. You pick up the phone and you call your acquaintance and ask. It turns out they haven't actually worked with the person, but they offer to ask around and get back to you.

Or maybe you take it a step further and call all your contacts at each of their previous jobs.

On the surface, these might sound like smart calls: you could find out what you need to know and potentially save time if they aren't worth an interview.

Why You Shouldn't Do Backdoor Reference Checks

For starters, you just violated that candidate's confidentiality. That's a risk on several levels – it could be a legal liability and if the candidate finds out, you've certainly hurt any good-will they might have felt about your company.

Anything you gain by a backdoor reference check could be handled by asking the right questions during the interviews.

You've potentially set your company up for some legal action if the candidate finds out. Also, what happens when your acquaintance starts asking around where the candidate currently works? Do you think it will take long for someone to realize that candidate is applying elsewhere?

Is their current job in jeopardy now?

Why Backdoor Reference Checks Aren't Worth It

  • You won't know the difference between truth and gossip.
  • You don't know the relationship. The source may not have worked closely with your candidate – or may have a personal dislike of them.
  • The source may not have the experience to judge the candidate properly. What an accountant feels about a salesperson may not have that much actual bearing on how they do their job.
  • Loose lips. Candidates don't appreciate the breach of confidentiality and aren't likely to view your company positively.
  • Doing a backdoor reference check demonstrates distrust. Not a good way to start out a new working relationship.

In short, checking backdoor references is one of those ideas that looks brilliant on the surface, but isn't worth the risks when you look closer.

Skilled interviewers can get a much better picture of a candidate's skills, strengths, and weaknesses by asking the right questions, trusting their instincts and trusting in the candidate.

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