Should You Ignore a Bad Reference?

reference check

Any reference check is going to naturally dig through a lot of information about a candidate. It is important to realize that former employers are not sources of absolute truth. In other words, all information should be taken with a grain of salt during reference checking.

You may not personally know any of a candidate's references, so why should you take them at their word? Of course, nobody wants to hire an employee who commits sexual harassment, and likewise, an employee who may have embezzled from his last company is always bad news.

A good reference check eliminates the possibility of hiring unwanted individuals. Extremely negative information should be good enough to throw out a candidate's application, but there are also times when the information that a reference provides should not be taken at face value. When using an online service like RecruitCheck, it can be far too easy to dismiss people based on insignificant information.


Understand Why an Employee Was Bad

People change jobs for a reason. For instance, a candidate might have made a lot of mistakes as an accountant. This sort of menial work is not for everybody, and number errors can be quite common when a person is bored stiff. That employer would naturally have bad things to say about such a person as a result. If they are applying for a job outside of accounting now, then it may be wise to ignore that reference. The reference checking process might turn up positive assessments of this candidate in other areas.


Bosses Sometimes Want to Be Smarter Than Their Employees

Look carefully at the reasons why a former employer commented poorly on a candidate during your reference check. Comments like, "she thought she was so smart taking on all those projects," or, "she thought she knew how to use the software better than management," might actually be compliments in disguise. Employees that are more capable than their bosses sometimes get fired.


Some Negative Things Are Protected by Law

It is easy to dismiss a candidate who skips out on work too much, but did your reference checking service bother to ask why they missed work in the first place? Some employers do not care why employees miss work, and they will fire them regardless of whether their reasons are legitimate. If a candidate missed work due to a disability or FMLA leave, that would not be an appropriate reason to call them lazy. This negative information should be disregarded during the reference check process.


Some Things Happened Long Ago

Some negative information may turn up from many years ago during the reference checking process. While it is up to your discretion to use this information against a candidate, a modern outlook would eschew its use. Forgiveness is important. If the negative incident happened many years ago, it may be time to forgive and forget.


Give People a Chance

Reference checking should not be about finding the people who are 100 percent perfect. Nobody is truly perfect. Furthermore, there are many good reasons to ignore a bad reference. Ultimately, the decision to dismiss a candidate can be quite arbitrary. However, as can be seen from the above examples, there are many circumstances in which it is inappropriate to give credence to a bad reference.