I recently had an incident.  We got an assignment from a client because the hiring manage, who is a good friend, insisted that the company human resources department use us.

Within a day, we found a perfect candidate.  He breezed through the company.  We were asked to obtain references.  I personally knew each of his listed references and called two others who I knew he had worked for.  All of them were stellar.  At one job he was cut back when his account was lost.  The hiring manager asked me to double check to insure that he would be a good hire and that there were no issues.  I recalled two of my references and they were both positive.  Both reassured me that his termination had nothing to do with performance.  I called another person I knew at the company. It turned out that she was his group director (which I did not know).  She, too, reassured me that he was a good guy.

Then I got an email from my hiring manager friend telling me that her HR director called the recruiter at this particular employer and this human resources person said, "Well, if we let him go, then he was not a keeper".  This HR person was not even with the company when our candidate was employed there.  She did not check any paperwork, but merely gave that response.

The HR person told the hiring manager that they should not take a chance on this candidate.

I think this was partially because she did not want us to make a placement and partially because she liked the idea of making an outside recruiter look bad.  Is there anything that can be done?

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Paul - it sounds like that HR person is incredibly irresponsible and unprofessional to issue that type of comment. Even if the former employee had some kind of "issue" without having a complete understanding of the exact circumstances of their departure or performance prior to that, a vague remark doesn't seem like a valid reason to rule them out.

If all else is favorable about this candidate, why would this other party''s opinion be given more weight than what ever else came out of your screening process? Unfortunately, there are people out there that seem to get a thrill by interfering with things like this and it isn't necessarily simple to know what their agenda might be. I'm aware of several examples of people making completely unfounded disparaging comments about someone else in an effort to influence perceptions about their reputation. 

I would press for specifics if there is any possibility that the hiring decision could be based on that one piece of information. If you haven't already done so, I would share as much as possible with the hiring manager about the reference feedback you obtained. To be fair to the candidate, they should evaluate all of it objectively and consider the source as well as the context of the working relationships involved. Finally, unless there is some rational reason (illegal activity revealed) to prevent this person's placement, I would hope that the company is taking a balanced view of the situation. 

Good luck! ~KB 

Paul,

Challenging an unfounded bad reference is warranted, particularly in a case like this, when an HR rep gives an off-the-top-of-their-head negative assessment of an employee termination without researching the facts.  What is even more vexing is your hiring manager’s HR department recommending against the hire based on an unsubstantiated comment.  Haven’t they ever excessed employees for reasons unrelated to performance? Your challenge would be on the premise of “performance”.

Options & Problems:

You can politely, and forthrightly, challenge the decision to reject your candidate because your challenge would be based on a questionable reason for rejection and on the strength of your candidate’s qualifications and fit, and the “stellar”… ”good guy”…and “that his termination had nothing to do with performance” statements you gathered from reliable references regarding your candidate.  Hopefully your reference sources will stand by their recommendations. 

However the questions now become, “Is it too late to do anything about the situation?”  And, “What have you done so far to give us a better perspective of what your options really are?”

I ask because once hiring management shuts a candidate down you’re pretty much done in trying to get your candidate resurrected for employment consideration, particularly if HR gives your candidate a  thumbs-down.

Unless hiring management hates HR (can happen) they tend to follow HR’s advice because they assume HR did adequate follow-up in the matter to justify their advice.   Also, your problem is magnified because now you’re actually going up against two HR entities recommending against your candidate.  And when challenged HR will circle the wagons in their defense.   And unless management over-rules HR (can happen)—the odds are not in your favor. 

Thanks, Kelly.  I appreciate your thoughts.

Kelly Blokdijk said:

Paul - it sounds like that HR person is incredibly irresponsible and unprofessional to issue that type of comment. Even if the former employee had some kind of "issue" without having a complete understanding of the exact circumstances of their departure or performance prior to that, a vague remark doesn't seem like a valid reason to rule them out.

If all else is favorable about this candidate, why would this other party''s opinion be given more weight than what ever else came out of your screening process? Unfortunately, there are people out there that seem to get a thrill by interfering with things like this and it isn't necessarily simple to know what their agenda might be. I'm aware of several examples of people making completely unfounded disparaging comments about someone else in an effort to influence perceptions about their reputation. 

I would press for specifics if there is any possibility that the hiring decision could be based on that one piece of information. If you haven't already done so, I would share as much as possible with the hiring manager about the reference feedback you obtained. To be fair to the candidate, they should evaluate all of it objectively and consider the source as well as the context of the working relationships involved. Finally, unless there is some rational reason (illegal activity revealed) to prevent this person's placement, I would hope that the company is taking a balanced view of the situation. 

Good luck! ~KB 

Valentino: I am afraid you are right.  It has become a dead issue.  Just makes my blood boil.  I think the back story is that the client's HR person did not want to use us in the first place and this just added fuel to that fire. 

Valentino Martinez said:

Paul,

Challenging an unfounded bad reference is warranted, particularly in a case like this, when an HR rep gives an off-the-top-of-their-head negative assessment of an employee termination without researching the facts.  What is even more vexing is your hiring manager’s HR department recommending against the hire based on an unsubstantiated comment.  Haven’t they ever excessed employees for reasons unrelated to performance? Your challenge would be on the premise of “performance”.

Options & Problems:

You can politely, and forthrightly, challenge the decision to reject your candidate because your challenge would be based on a questionable reason for rejection and on the strength of your candidate’s qualifications and fit, and the “stellar”… ”good guy”…and “that his termination had nothing to do with performance” statements you gathered from reliable references regarding your candidate.  Hopefully your reference sources will stand by their recommendations. 

However the questions now become, “Is it too late to do anything about the situation?”  And, “What have you done so far to give us a better perspective of what your options really are?”

I ask because once hiring management shuts a candidate down you’re pretty much done in trying to get your candidate resurrected for employment consideration, particularly if HR gives your candidate a  thumbs-down.

Unless hiring management hates HR (can happen) they tend to follow HR’s advice because they assume HR did adequate follow-up in the matter to justify their advice.   Also, your problem is magnified because now you’re actually going up against two HR entities recommending against your candidate.  And when challenged HR will circle the wagons in their defense.   And unless management over-rules HR (can happen)—the odds are not in your favor. 

Additional to the comments others have made I'd suggest finding out if the HR bod who gave the off the cuff reference is a member of a relevent professional body (here in the UK that would be CIPD) and flag it up to them as a professionalism concern.  Professional bodies rely on the professionalism of their members for their existance and income.  Giving an off the cuff negative reference like that feels very unprofessional.

Thanks Stephenbooth: My sources tell me that the HR person who gave the off the cuff comment is not even full time.  People who work with her tell me she is awful.  I strongly doubt that she works with a professional organization.  She is, according to three or four sources at her company, very unprofessional. 

stephenbooth.uk said:

Additional to the comments others have made I'd suggest finding out if the HR bod who gave the off the cuff reference is a member of a relevent professional body (here in the UK that would be CIPD) and flag it up to them as a professionalism concern.  Professional bodies rely on the professionalism of their members for their existance and income.  Giving an off the cuff negative reference like that feels very unprofessional.

Paul - Your specific situation, I'm sure you'll handle to the best of your ability.  Many people gave some good advice here and I have a feeling you know what to do.  However, on a  larger scale, this speaks to all of our surprisingly bad experiences with certain HR people.  Strange how people are sometimes.  Downright irresponsible.... and this person was a TEMP?  WTH?  Some people are stupid.  Plain and simple.

In this case Paul if the deal is totally dead, albeit i seldom do it, i would give strong consideration to letting my candidate know exactly what was said by HR person at the company he worked for.  I think he should have the opportunity to address this with his previous employer should he want to do that.  If this goofy person is making off the cuff statements like this she will do it again.  Based on his other references he should not be knocked out of future jobs by that kind of comment.

 

If you think the deal might be able to be resurrected at all i would recontact any of the references you checked with that same company.  Tell them that you have run into a situation that perhaps they might need to be aware of since they gave this candidate an outstanding reference.  Explain that an HR person who was not there and did not know him made a sidebar comment that resulted in the candidate being turned down for a job.  The other alternative might be to contact someone higher up in HR with the reference providers company.  Ask them for a reference check and explain that one of their people assumed that if this guy was let go he was not a good employee, your understanding is that he was let go due to his major account being lost and you would like to clarify the comment made by the recruiter and quote the comment.

 

It may not make any difference and HR may cover their butt but it sure might result in some training about references and side bar comments if a recruiter ,who is a temp, gave a backdoor reference that resulted in a person not being hired in a new position.

 

I had one somewhat the same once where an internal recruiter with my hiring company (very young) had worked previously at the same company as my candidate.  The internal told the hiring manager that although she did not know the candidate directly she had heard that she was a bitch.  Hiring manger got nervous so i gathered up all the references i could find, all were all good.  I then wrote a reference report entitled -"Comparitive Reference Report"  "Positive References "were listed first in detail with names, numbers etc.  When i got to the "Negative References or Concerns"  it said, Arlene did not know her personally but heard she was a bitch, does not know exactly why that was said or by whom but indicated it could be a concern.  I have addressed any concerns with interpersonal skills with references above but cannot find any concerns.  Perhaps if Arlene can remember who made that remark i can contact them to see what the issues were.

 

My candidate got hired.  When pressed about her comment the internal finally said that perhaps it was someone who worked for this candidate who got mad at her for something.

Fully agree, Joshua.

Joshua Lee said:

Paul - Your specific situation, I'm sure you'll handle to the best of your ability.  Many people gave some good advice here and I have a feeling you know what to do.  However, on a  larger scale, this speaks to all of our surprisingly bad experiences with certain HR people.  Strange how people are sometimes.  Downright irresponsible.... and this person was a TEMP?  WTH?  Some people are stupid.  Plain and simple.

Hi Sandra:  I haven't yet determined if it is dead or not. It should become clearer by midweek next week.  I was planning on calling the HR Director at the offending person's company.  She will of course deny and defend, but the message will get through.

Sandra McCartt said:

In this case Paul if the deal is totally dead, albeit i seldom do it, i would give strong consideration to letting my candidate know exactly what was said by HR person at the company he worked for.  I think he should have the opportunity to address this with his previous employer should he want to do that.  If this goofy person is making off the cuff statements like this she will do it again.  Based on his other references he should not be knocked out of future jobs by that kind of comment.

 

If you think the deal might be able to be resurrected at all i would recontact any of the references you checked with that same company.  Tell them that you have run into a situation that perhaps they might need to be aware of since they gave this candidate an outstanding reference.  Explain that an HR person who was not there and did not know him made a sidebar comment that resulted in the candidate being turned down for a job.  The other alternative might be to contact someone higher up in HR with the reference providers company.  Ask them for a reference check and explain that one of their people assumed that if this guy was let go he was not a good employee, your understanding is that he was let go due to his major account being lost and you would like to clarify the comment made by the recruiter and quote the comment.

 

It may not make any difference and HR may cover their butt but it sure might result in some training about references and side bar comments if a recruiter ,who is a temp, gave a backdoor reference that resulted in a person not being hired in a new position.

 

I had one somewhat the same once where an internal recruiter with my hiring company (very young) had worked previously at the same company as my candidate.  The internal told the hiring manager that although she did not know the candidate directly she had heard that she was a bitch.  Hiring manger got nervous so i gathered up all the references i could find, all were all good.  I then wrote a reference report entitled -"Comparitive Reference Report"  "Positive References "were listed first in detail with names, numbers etc.  When i got to the "Negative References or Concerns"  it said, Arlene did not know her personally but heard she was a bitch, does not know exactly why that was said or by whom but indicated it could be a concern.  I have addressed any concerns with interpersonal skills with references above but cannot find any concerns.  Perhaps if Arlene can remember who made that remark i can contact them to see what the issues were.

 

My candidate got hired.  When pressed about her comment the internal finally said that perhaps it was someone who worked for this candidate who got mad at her for something.

And this is why I hate references. First, who is going to list a reference that is NOT going to say great things. Secondly, if you get a back door reference, you can't necessarily trus the source. The folks could have a "made up" opinion of someone based upon something they heard, or they may not have gotten along with the candidate, etc. etc. etc.

Only once did I get a "bad reference" and it was in error. I was calling the candidates former manager and the secretary picked up. When I told her what the call was in reference too, she voluntarily offered info basically stating the candidate was crazy. The manager didn't say anything negative but I didn't get a positive vibe. I advised the hiring manager to "pass" on the candidate. (I wasn't 100% sold on the candidate but the manager was.) Well, manager hired the candidate and yes, after 4 mos, we let her go. She was crazy.

Tiffany: You would be surprised by the number of times I have called a reference that a candidate gave me and they have actually been negative.  But I hate references, too.  Mostly they are meaningless.  As recruiters, we all know that someone who was wildly successful in one environment, may be totally inept in another.  There are too many factors that influence performance.  We know that success breeds success and we can determine a candidate's penchant for success during an interview.

Tiffany Branch said:

And this is why I hate references. First, who is going to list a reference that is NOT going to say great things. Secondly, if you get a back door reference, you can't necessarily trus the source. The folks could have a "made up" opinion of someone based upon something they heard, or they may not have gotten along with the candidate, etc. etc. etc.

Only once did I get a "bad reference" and it was in error. I was calling the candidates former manager and the secretary picked up. When I told her what the call was in reference too, she voluntarily offered info basically stating the candidate was crazy. The manager didn't say anything negative but I didn't get a positive vibe. I advised the hiring manager to "pass" on the candidate. (I wasn't 100% sold on the candidate but the manager was.) Well, manager hired the candidate and yes, after 4 mos, we let her go. She was crazy.

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