Great Scott!!! The new-hire we thought would make us look golden to senior management, just turned out to be a total dud!

If only we had a DeLorean so we could crank that baby up to 88 mph, go back in time…

…and implore our younger-self to do just a little more due diligence.

But since since we haven’t invented time travel yet…

Let’s use the next best thing McFly:

The backdoor reference check

Notice I said “backdoor.” The problem with contemporary reference checks is that they have long since lost value in the recruiting process and have become nothing more than a “check the box” exercise.

Let’s face it. The reference list given to you by a candidate is no better than a list of paid endorsements. Their references have been told what to say, and will always put the candidate in the best possible light.

Sure you might get an occasional negative comment, but they’re usually only slightly negative as to make the reference seem more legitimate.

What started many years ago as a practice to validate a candidate’s experience and accomplishments, has become over the years a zero-value, time-wasting exercise.

This is why most hiring mangers don’t take them seriously anymore.

Why else would they tell an outside recruiter to do a couple references for the file, AFTER the hiring decision has been made?

Considering that nearly 1 out of 2 hires made are mis-hires…

(And that is legitimately true…look up LeadershipIQ’s huge study on this)

Why wouldn’t you want to give yourself every possible edge in the interview process?

Because regardless of how flawless the candidate interview performance was, reaching out to relevant external observers that haven’t been proper by the candidate will put you in a better position of assessing whether the candidate will be successful.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t call the references given to you by the candidate. But take everything they say with a grain…no a BOULDER, of salt.

Instead of relying on what the candidate gives you, run a quick search on LinkedIn, and track down the candidate’s past direct managers.

Call them, confidentially of course, and ask them to assess their past employee’s experience.

Because these people weren’t expecting a reference call, nor were they prepped with talking points, I guarantee you’ll get an infinitely more honest and useful response.

…and with the advent of LinkedIn, it’s becoming more and more easy to find the key references you want to talk to.

I’m often asked “Are back door references are ethical?”

Would asking a mutual acquaintance for their opinion on a candidate you’re interviewing be unethical? Not at all. With LinkedIn, our professional world is shrinking.

There’s a better than even chance that you know, or at least are connected to, people who have valuable information on your candidate.

But even if you cannot find a mutual connection, reach out anyway. Just don’t forget to stress the confidential nature of the candidate’s job search, and of the call itself.

Just keep in mind however, particularly with passive candidates, you cannot put them at risk with their current employer. Meaning, do not call the candidate’s current employer.

It should go without saying, but sadly I’ve seen it happen, and it’s not pretty.

And before you ask; yes, backdoor references are 100% legal.

So make those backdoor references on every hire, so you don’t have to travel back in time to save your hide…

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour… you’re gonna see some serious ____.”

~ Dr Emmett Brown, Back To The Future