I have received a little feedback from recruiters and have experienced this myself. Backdoor Reference Checking... Has it happened to you? I know there are few out there that have run into a situation where the ideal, and I mean perfect, candidate was on the line. Résumé checked out, references were clear, all interviews were stellar, final face-to-face went well and then, the bottom dropped out and your candidate was washed out of the mix. What do you do?

Here's a story, you tell me what you think and how you would react... it's all true, by the way.

The CEO of a client company contacted the recruiter. He told the recruiter, "I want a self-directed hunter, a Sales Rep with one to two years experience and a successful track record. And I want him to come from one of these four target companies." The recruiter took the challenge and the very same day, found a candidate that had everything the client wanted: two plus years, over quota and working for one of the targeted competitors. The résumé along with recruiter's notes were sent to the CEO via email; a negative reply came back after the CEO had a discussion with a "trusted advisor" who thought the candidate had been let go from the target company one and a half years earlier. This wasn't true, the recruiter verified it.

The recruiter pushed back with the truth on his side. An interview took place and the CEO liked the candidate. A follow-up interview with the Operations Manager ensued, as well as an on-site interview in Chicago with one of the Sales Reps. The client company Sales Rep sent an email to the recruiter that he cc'd to the CEO and the Ops Manager; he thought the candidate was great and a solid fit for the company. All seemed right in the world.

But..., the Operations Manager contacted the recruiter (after the last extremely positive interview) and said, "We have decided not to move forward with the candidate." The CEO has left for Europe and is now unreachable. However, this is not a recruiter that takes this type of "no" without an explanation. An email was sent with details of the search and perfect candidate delivered to a tee, "Please shed some light."

The Manager's weak explanation was that this candidate would only be successful in a larger company environment. This is exactly the type of candidate the CEO asked for - hmm, a contradiction, it would seem. The answer hangs out there somewhere but the recruiter has indicated that, depending on how the CEO responds, this client company may become a source company. One is left to think that the "trusted advisor" stunk up the deal. Is the $18K flat fee, a contact in writing, just an un-fillable pipe dream? Should the recruiter empower himself and end the relationship directly with the CEO? Would it make a difference if this type of thing had happened before with the same company?

Are "backdoor" references or "trusted advisor" references just something recruiters have to deal with? Is there a better way? Can you prevent this from happening or prepare for the occurrence?

Please share your thoughts or experiences.

I'll keep you posted on this stunk-up search...

by rayannethorn

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"Life" happens. So in the end they decided not to hire the guy. Get over it.

Seems just a "bit" fishy so check back in a few months to make sure they didn't hire him after the fact. But what are we to suggest here - that this recruiter force the client to hire the guy "because this is exactly the type of candidate you asked for"?

P.S. Get over it.
Unfortunately they are something you have to deal with. You just have to hope that the info from the "trusted advisor" is valid and the client company is smart enough to verify it through a couple different channels, not just one source who may have some personal reason to sabotage the person's candidacy. It sounds like they did this by allowing the recruiter to refute and provide evidence of this untruth.
Why I would cut ties with this client is the inexplicable reasons for the rejection. It is clear the recruiter supplied a candidate that met all the strict criteria and then interviewed very well. They were then rejected for reasons that directly contradicted what they said they were looking for and confirmed this was that person in the interview process. Why would you ever want to spin your wheels searching for a company that operates like that?
"There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip" is an old English proverb. A Latin form is found in Erasmus's "Adagia," I.iv.1 ("Multa cadunt inter calicem supremaque labra") which appears to derive from an epigram by Palladas in "The Greek Anthology" (X, 32). It can mean that between the time we decide to do something and the time we do it, things often go wrong.

The proverb supposedly comes from a Greek legend, in which one of the Argonauts returned from his voyage, and went home to his winery. He called for the local soothsayer, who had predicted before his voyage that he would die before he tasted another drop of his wine from his winery. As he finished saying this, he raised a cup filled with wine to his lips, in toast to the soothsayer, who said a phrase corresponding to the English proverb in reply. Just then, he was called away to hunt a wild boar that was approaching, and died in his attempt to kill it.

Too much drama for me. That's why I'm a sourcer. You guys keep the big bucks.

By the way, I'm picking up that there may be something the candidate "said" in the interview that prompted this:
The Manager's weak explanation was that this candidate would only be successful in a larger company environment.
Maybe this candidate thinks he's negotiating? Maybe he said something to lead the manager to think this? People get all sorts of stinkin'-thinkin' ideas goin' on. Stinkin'-thinkin' can strike at any time.

My two cents and I could be completely off-base but there are several components to this mystery and the candidate is a big one.
As stated by the others it happens and will happen again.

I would perform a closing session with the client before cutting any relationship. I would need to know some "real' reasons why the person was not hired and quite honestly I feel entitled to this feedback. If the company or CEO is unwilling to share the information that may be the clearest indicator to sever the relationship. I try to educate clients that specific feedback on resumes, interviews, etc... provides me with exactly what I need to source effectively and I will expect it from them

I'm not sure I have a better way besides probing candidates with questions like: Do you know of the company? Have you had any interaction with them? Are you aware of anyone from your previous firms who may be working there? I will do a quick LinkedIn search to see if I find anyone in common.

Look forward to the ending
As long human beings make hiring decisions, backdoor references will happen. It is human nature to ask, "what do you know about this person?", human nature to dish out the dirt, and human nature to listen attentively to see if it validates your original impressions.

Sadly, there is no hire for this recruiter today. As Jerry and Bill say, move on. In the moving, however, I might be inclined to have one final conversation with the CEO (after the dust settles) to calibrate what he asked for and what you delivered; the biggest mystery in recruiting happens when a hiring manager gets exactly what they asked for and decides that it wasn't really what they wanted after all.
Honestly, what it sounds like to me is that there was a story there that you don't know about, and someone at this client does. Because they heard negative things on the candidate they may not want to dish the details to you, but odds are that's what happened. Better to have it happen now than after they start and you make a bad placement.

l actually think backdoor references are a good thing. They happen often and sometimes help and sometimes hurt, but when they hurt, ultimately they help, because your goal should always be to place a great candidate. And as we know, sometimes appearances can be deceiving.
Hmmm...it must be in the air. I had a similar situation today. I found the perfect candidate, HR interview went well, phone interview with the hiring manager went well, was just onsite Monday and met with the SVP, the group he would be managing, a manager he would be consulting with. Initial feedback from HR was positive. All along they stressed that the ideal Director would not be overbearing with the group he manages, they're very independent bunch of researchers and just need guidance. The whole time the feedback was, Wow! This guy is great, he's the best we've seen so far, the hiring manager is impressed, the team likes him, the SVP likes him. Yesterday they asked to confirm the salary information. Today they're offering the job to someone they had onsite yesterday. They loved my candidate but he was "too autonomous" as a team leader. WTF????

I want to scream and punch a whole in the wall, smoke a pack of Reds, drink a bottle of scotch and then shoot holes into something. Seriously? But what am I going to do? Everyone's right, I can't force the client to hire my candidate. I want to think there's something wrong with the process but there wasn't. Last week they said no one was in the pipeline or anywhere near where my candidte was in the process, this week they're hiring someone else. Sometimes people lie, sometimes your client isn't good at conveying what they truly want, sometimes your client doesn't know what the hell they want until they see it.

My advice would be try to turn a negative into a positive. When the CEO comes back, give him/her a call and ask if he has another position in the company for the candidate. Ask the candidate to write a thank you letter that will re-enforce his/her interest in the company and a future there and follow up here and there...and also do what Jerry said.
And sometimes after such a situation the candidate calls you up at 10PM, drunk off his arse, and says in a slightly belligerent, accusatory, and whiny tone, "That outcome was not what I expected. Why didn't they hire me? I think I deserve that job. whaaaaaa whaaaaa whaaaa!!!"

Really, Steve McQueen? Thanks for validating my client's decision. Drunk dial your buddy, not your recruiter! BOUNDARIES! When that happens you *know* you have dodged a bullet.

/shakes head at nuttier than a fruitcake 300K guy who looked oh so good before he looked really, really, bad.

There are no guarantees in life, my brethren. Let us all sigh in unison, and go pick up the phone.
References are an interesting issue. Of course, the candidate is going to provide you with references that he/she has already pre-qualified to give a glowing endorsement. Experienced recruiters know that if they request reference sources from a candidate and he/she is reluctant to provide them this is an automatic red flag.

So what about backdoor references? Most industries are more inbred and incestuous than one might think and it is not uncommon for people, especially execs, managers and salespeople to be well networked in their industry. As such, hiring managers will at times inquire about the candidate through their own network and quite frankly have every right to. Unfortunately, sometimes the backdoor sources have their own agenda too and it's not always in your candidates favor. What do you do? If you have a good relationship with the hiring manager he should confidentially share with you what he's found out about the candidate as your primary relationship is with the client, he's the one that's paying you after all. You can remind him/her of this and also that if in fact there is something about the candidate that is less than favorable you'd like to know it as it may effect whether or not you wish to represent this candidate in the future. You may also be in a position to repudiate the negative referral.

As for the threat of telling the client that they may become a source, this may make you feel good, but doesn't enhance your status in anyones eyes.
References - front or backdoor -can go both ways. For instance, we had a candidate who's references were GLOWING (even the ones that he didnt provide, but were garnered through "trusted advisors.") He turned out to really really suck. Like, wish we'd never hired this guy, ever, make-your-life-miserable, drama queen, high-maintenence, zero ROI. It's like that old saying "Opinions are like....everyone has one." References are the same. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut, and your gut sometimes is going to be wrong.
MY TWO CENTS: This CEO heard something about your candidate is not interested in giving you the details - it's a small world.

But, ALWAYS keep the relationship with both client and candidate. Sometimes these things have a way of working themselves out too.
Rayanne, I’m curious what has been told to the candidate and how you or the recruiter will prepare them for this meeting. Also, was anything done to revive/save the candidate?

This sounds as if the candidate is definitely strong for the role and possibly the "trusted advisor" isn't as trusted.
"look them in the eye", that’s classic, definitely a direct question coming out in this meeting.

Good luck

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