Question of the day: How do you manage a candidate who is currently employed but reluctant to give references?

Follow up to today's RBC Daily:

Question of the day: How do you manage a candidate who is currently employed but reluctant to give references?

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Providing references is part of the job hunting process.  A candidate who wants a job will have to figure out how to provide real references (I have had candidates provide a reference of a person who they go to lunch with but have never worked with of for; when that happens, I ask for another reference).  Under Sarbanes/Oxley, references are considered mandatory.  By providing references, a candidate keeps some control over the process.  If they do not provide references, it could be worse and the hiring company may just go out and call people at the current company who the candidate does not want called.  I explain this to candidates and 99% of the time they figure out who can be called.  And since there is "honor among thieves" there is rarely a problem.  I have actually never seen a candidate not give references, eventually.

I would refuse to work with any candidate that refused to give me references.  They know up front that during the interview process I will be checking employment references.  They also know that I need 3 of them.   Sometimes when a candidate has been employed at one company a very long time, they may have a problem providing 3 of them, but they do come up with somebody.  Usually, it's a person who they worked for/with that has left that company.  But if someone REFUSED to give me references, I would refuse to work with them.  Period.  That's a red flag to me. 

I actually just had this happen to me today for the first time ever.  He told me "I am choosing to not participate in references" He went on to say that he's proven him self through our interview process and our assessment that he's qualified and capable. He did not have to provide references to his current employer nor the one before that. I didn't know what to say. So yes, this can go either way - he's extremely confident in his abilities and worth or he's hiding something. And unfortunately I've gotten so cynical and distrusting in this job that I tend to lean toward the hiding! 

@Tracey,  I would have told that arrogant ass that I certainly respected his decision.  I would be happy to let any employer know that he had chosen not to participate in references and see if they wanted to participate in offering him a job without references.  If so i would be in touch.   thank you and good luck with your job search.

 Whether he is hiding something or not, the attitude of not participating in references would convince me that i did not want to participate in representing him.  As he is capable of finding jobs without providing references then he should be able to find a job without using a recruiter.  To me that is right up there with the candidate who refuses to put dates of employment on his resume or company names or any of the other information that normal people know is needed if they are looking for a job. I am running into a few who are trying to use their Linkedin profile for a resume.  Nope sorry, not this kid.  I am not going to play silly games with candidates.  My clients won't either.  When there is an accepted and universially required process of doing anything those who think they don't want to do it that way can go play in the street.  It's not my job to try and change what works because a bunch of loonies are sitting around changing things for the sake of change.  Tell him to stuff it and find a candidate who is serious and has his ego in order.

 

I can understand why candidates who are employed are concerned about references being contacted before they receive an offer conditional upon a background and reference check but most will provide three if i give them a guarantee that i will not reach out to their refs without letting them know first.  We can normally figure out two or three people who are no longer with the current company or someone they have interacted with on the outside who could comment.

 

References don't mean much to me because i never had a candidate give me one that said anything bad.  Verifying dates of employment and position is an entirely different matter.  If they will not consent to that, i wish them well and say adios.

@Sandra:  I have actually had candidates give me references who, when I called, said to me, "Why would he give me as a reference.  I fired him."  In one case, a reference told me he had fired the candidate twice.  When I asked why, he told me the candidate was no good!  The fact that the candidate gave him as a reference told me all I needed to know about the candidate.  Doesn't happen often, but it does happen.   Can't make this stuff up.  By the way, your response was right on, as always.

It would be interesting to know why a person is reluctant to provide references. For instance, if perhaps they have been burned in the past by a company (or recruiter) not being respectful of their privacy and confidentiality and contacting references prematurely - to kick the tires vs. concurrently with extending a legitimate offer.

I do know that people that have worked at the same job for quite some time seem to have more trouble releasing names than those who may have been more mobile. Especially if the people they would list as a reference are still also employed there.

Either way, it can be awkward if a person is regularly interviewing and their references are contacted repeatedly for different positions. The candidate may tire of asking that favor of their references. Or, at some point it becomes tougher for the references not to leak info about all of this activity to others. 

I've seen people get uncomfortable when they are required to provide specific references, like a recent former boss. I think in some cases even if a person was a super star performer, relationships with bosses are not always smooth and simple, so that can be a touchy subject. It doesn't automatically mean there are red flags, it might be that the two have not stayed in contact after parting ways or the relationship was strictly about work and not one where either party would reciprocate providing a reference for the other. 

Based on the above, it might make sense to probe further into the reason for reluctance, but it it is outright refusal maybe time to move on... 

Where I work, nobody waits for references.  They back door check before they even see the candidate.  

As a recruiter, I would first try and understand why they are reluunctant as there could be good cause. 

 

I always set the expectation up front letting them know that I am going to need to speak with 3 to 5 work related references (people that they have either worked for, or with or had reporting to them).  They need to reach out to these people first and let them know that they might be hearing from me, so when they do they are already expecting my call.  In addition, I share with them some of the questions I might be asking. 

 

I think when you come across as demanding, they tend to not be cooperative.  Reasonable People with Reasonable Information make Reasonable Decisions.

 

When all is said and done, if they still won't, then you can part ways.



Karen Boyd said:

As a recruiter, I would first try and understand why they are reluunctant as there could be good cause. 

 

I always set the expectation up front letting them know that I am going to need to speak with 3 to 5 work related references (people that they have either worked for, or with or had reporting to them).  They need to reach out to these people first and let them know that they might be hearing from me, so when they do they are already expecting my call.  In addition, I share with them some of the questions I might be asking. 

 

I think when you come across as demanding, they tend to not be cooperative.  Reasonable People with Reasonable Information make Reasonable Decisions.

 

When all is said and done, if they still won't, then you can part ways.

From my experience, a candidate who refuses or "can't" get you any references ("Oh, he's no longer in the country and neither is she") is a huge red flag. I tell them up front that it looks bad on them and that if they can't produce a list then we can't move forward.

For the parents out there. Imagine screening a Nanny and she refused to give you references. Uh, yeah. Get out of my house, asap. 

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