What Do You Do When An Applicant Gets A Bad Reference?

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  • Consider who the reference is coming from. The applicant could have just had a horrible boss.
  • Don’t hire the potential employee. If you believe what the reference says and you don’t want to hire the employee, don’t do so.
  • Tell the potential employee that they received a bad reference. If you have the time to do so. Let them know that they received a bad reference and who it came from.



Picture this…You’ve found the perfect applicant! They nailed the interview, they seem like the perfect fit for your company, and their past experience perfectly aligns with the position you’re interviewing for. But wait…just as you’re getting ready to offer them the job their references come in, and their past employer did not have good things to say.


“But this applicant is perfect! They checked every box!”


Yeah, but they have that bad reference…so what do you do?   


Common Reasons For Bad References    

I bet you’re wondering “Why would someone have a bad reference? You get to pick your references so why not just pick someone you know will say positive things about you?” Yeah, I thought the same thing. But bad references are actually more common than you would think.


A lot of people ask old bosses, or old coworkers to speak on their behalf and use them as a reference. They are under the impression that their reference will only say positive things about them. But when the reference is on the spot and has to tell the truth, well, that’s exactly what they do. They tell the truth. It’s not that their goal is to be spiteful or hurtful, they just have to tell it how it is.


Maybe the employee really wasn’t a good fit, or maybe they actually sucked at their job. So would it be better to just not ask for a reference? Ignorance is bliss, right?


Is It Better Just To Not Ask For A Reference?

To ask or not to ask…a question that high school boys are faced with every prom season. But what about when it applies to a potential employee and wanting to know about their work history? Well, just like what I would say to the high school boys, I’ll say to you. It’s totally up to you! But there’s going to be consequences if you decide to ask, and if you decide not to. But in this blog, we’ll just focus on whether or not if you should ask a potential employee for a reference.


So what’s the risk when you don’t ask for a reference? You don’t have the opportunity to learn about their past work history other than what’s listed on their resume, you won’t find out what kind of employee they are until you hire them, and you don’t get to learn anything about their past. When you don’t ask, you’re taking more of a risk. Sure you can find out as much as you can from your own perspective through their resume and an interview. But you won’t get to know about their past and what they were like in their prior jobs.


But when you do ask for a reference, you get to find out their work history, what kind of employee they are, and you usually get to hear some pretty positive information about your potential applicant…usually. When you’re hearing all the positive information about your potential employee it validates what you think about them. That is, unless they don’t receive positive information. Then you just dodged a bullet! But that makes me think of another question…”I love this candidate, and I want to hire them. But they have a bad reference. How much weight should I put into a bad reference?”  


My Top 3 Reasons Why You Should Ignore A Bad Reference    

You ever ask a random person that you don’t know about how good a movie is? Sure maybe you listen to them, and decide to not see the movie, but do you ever just want to see the movie and decide for yourself? Well maybe have that mentality when dealing with a bad reference. So with that being said, check out my top three reasons why you should ignore a bad reference.

1. They could have had a horrible boss. We’ve all seen the movie “Horrible Bosses” right? If not, here’s a random person you don’t know telling you the movie is actually pretty good. But hey ignore me and see it for yourself. You can’t always fully understand the situation or why someone’s boss is giving them a bad reference. Your potential applicant’s prior boss could have been horrible and the relationship just didn’t work. Take that into consideration when hearing a bad reference from a prior boss.



2. Maybe the bad things from the reference were from a long time ago. We’ve all been young and trying to figure life out. Sometimes people made a mistake when they were just trying to figure things out. It happens all the time, trust me.


3. The bad things aren’t so bad for you. Maybe the things that made your potential employee bad at their last job could make them the ideal employee for you. What do I mean by that? Well what if the employee is changing fields? A terrible accountant could make for a great marketer. You never know


Overall, you shouldn’t always disregard a bad reference. There are times when someone gets a bad reference and there may be specific reasons that  justify or at least explain the situation. Sure you can listen to critics i.e. references and trust what they have to say…But when you do that, how would you ever know for yourself?      


Should You Tell An Applicant When They Receive A Bad Reference?

Now this one is tough. It really could go either way, but what it comes down to is if you have the time. Sure, some would say there’s a moral stipulation with this. If you have the time and you’re able to tell the applicant, it’s best that you do so. Come on, you have to help the person out, right? Well, yeah, but do you really have time to do that every time an applicant gets a bad reference? Maybe, but if you don’t it’s okay! Sure it would be great if you were able to tell everyone who got a bad reference who gave it to them and what they said, but sometimes you just don’t have the time. If you decide not to hire the potential applicant you now have to start the hiring process all over again. You now have to rush and find the next applicant who does have a good reference. But if you do have the time…then, hey, why not.


Next time you receive a bad reference, from an applicant, think of this blog. Consider how outdated the reference’s information is. Maybe the bad reference won’t matter and that applicant will be perfect for your company. Heck, maybe just have them back in for another interview so they can explain the bad reference. If you really like the candidate that’s definitely an option to look into. A reference can definitely serve as a warning, but consider the boy who yelled wolf…he sure wasn’t right all the time.  


Closing Thoughts 

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