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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Just curious how this ended up? My experience with cases like this is that they rarely end up well for candidate or recruiter. Just checking. Thanks.
This has happened to me a few times - a "trusted advisor" could be anyone and likely you will never know - I would probe the candidate and find out who they might know who is inside the client company and push to find out what information they have - also, I agree with that you should get some A+ c-level references quick for this guy - maybe even call them and ask if they would be willing to take a call from the client company - sometimes these conversations, though not controlled, help to lead to a better outcome...interested to see what happens though...
Well after you get the bleeding to stop after you've sliced your wrists and then changed your mind about "ending it all" because of the situation, yes, you need to move on. But..........AND........however......let's look at it this way. Perception is truth. Right? Right! But is perception usually ALWAYS wrong? Yes! It's one person's opinion or fact that requires they search out any type of corroboration to use as a filter to be right. It's human nature. We dig up what we think is dirt, find out it's "loose" dirt, so we go out hunting for ANYTHING to compare it to, for, against, in order to beef up our original perception of what we "heard" about someone. It's nasty and it's petty and it's truly small minded.

As an in-house recruiter, whenever someone on our staff comes to me with their "dirt", they better have facts to back it up versus hear-say or perception because I promptly kick them in the ass after they get a lesson on true perception rather than the opposite. It's also a liablity issue to character reference someone as "insider trade information", then not hire them based on what you think is the truth, then risk having them find out which gives them the means and the reason to file suit for defamation of character. It's not worth it.
If we stick with the facts and only the facts it just makes life so much easier!
He didn't get the job, so technically, he wasn't a "perfect" fit. Move on and find another candidate.
Sounds to me as if you had a cultural fit issue with this candidate. If I am reading this correctly, there was one conversation with the client and one candidate submitted. I wouldn't take those odds. Your odds of placement were not that strong and your position was not strong from the get go. You didn't have your backup candidates for them.....

Now, if this is the first time this has happened to you, then you are one VERY LUCKY or VERY NEW recruiter! :) BTDT. It's not easy, but the reality is is that your client (the CEO AND The Manager) have to work with the new employee for the long term and if something doesn't sit right, it doesn't sit right. There is most likely more to the story than what you were told AND if it is a vendor whom they work with...... then the client will take their word. There may have been some issues and the candidate was pulled from the sales account etc.... we recruiters don't always hear the FULL story. Bottom line, sounds your candidate did not overcome the objections in the interviews, no matter how well they seemed to go.

I personally might have taken a different approach from the beginning and worked with not only the CEO, but the Manager as well since it seems like he/she was at least partially the Hiring Authority. I would have found 2 or 3 more candidates who fit the role to a tee and 10% above and beyond so that there was strength to the search. I probably wouldn't have pressed for the ONE candidate. The client is is your client, not the candidate. I hate thinking that the candidate is "just one candidate" but that is the reality in our business. Frustrating? Definitely. Reality? Yes.

As for moving onward, a couple of my top clients are relationships that started similarly. You have the benefit right now of having their ear and being able to develop a strong relationship. Once that true partnership is established, you will then be in a better position to influence the hiring process. I personally would tread carefully on this one and take the long view of the client. Then make your decision whether it is worth pursuing a relationship.

Building relationships and long term partnerships are the cornerstone to our business. You can take the approach of a one-off job to place or a long term highly profitable relationship with a client. Remember, you can always maintain a connection with the candidate, and maybe use him as a MPC. That way if you are back-doored, you will know it without sneaking around. As for inference about the client turning into a source company, I feel that is poor form.
Dear Rayanne -

When I was an HR exec, I had a similar experience. I had an Excellent candidate that was presented to me by a trusted recruiter. The person had worked for a competitor. After asking around the word on the street was that the candidate had demonstrated some poor judgment in a romantic entanglement with a married coworker. She was dropped from consideration.

Unfair and unjust but I agree with Jerry. Life happens, Do your best and don't get married to any one candidate no matter how good they may seem to be. Always provide alternatives. That's what we're paid for.


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