As expected, there are mixed reactions when people are asked if it is fair play to “go off the reference list.” If candidates for positions provide the names and contact information of their references, is it appropriate to contact individuals who may not be on the reference list? It depends.
What does it depend on?
- Your motives. Are you going off the reference list to eliminate the candidate or to find dirt on him? Are you seeking additional and objective assessment of the candidate?
- The candidate. Is his candidacy confidential? If it is, touch base with the candidate before contacting individuals on or off his reference list.
- The off-the-list references. All of us know people who would sing our praises if given the chance. On the other hand, all of us know people who would badmouth us and throw us under the bus if provided the opportunity. This is no different for the candidate. If you go off the list, determine in advance how much weight the off-the-list references will carry compared to the on-the-list references. The key is to be fair.
Realize that most candidates – if they are smart – will include only references who will speak positively about them. If you are leaning in the direction of going off the reference list, here are a few tips.
- Request the names and contact information of three to five references in the position advertisement. Include a sentence that indicates you reserve the right to contact other individuals (who are not on the reference list) for an additional fair and objective assessment of the candidate’s work performance.
- Tell candidates – when you reach the point of checking references – that you are going off the list. Don’t be surprised if they withdraw their candidacy. Therefore, consider the risk before you contact them.
- Tap into the knowledge of the on-the-list references for information about off-the-list references. Make this request of them: Please provide the names, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of others who can provide a fair assessment of this person’s work performance and work ethic. Some of them may comply, and others may not. However, you will lose nothing by asking.
- Give a lot of thought to the process of selecting the off-the-list references and put yourself in the candidate’s place. Administrative professionals (assistants, receptionists and secretaries) tend to be the most connected individuals in organizations and thus they might serve as excellent off-the-list references or even provide the names of other off-the-list references. Check the candidate’s past and current employers’ websites for possible names as well.
- Guarantee confidentiality throughout this process. Some off-the-list references may not be comfortable talking with you. Assure them that the information will remain confidential – and then put steps in place to keep this promise.
Do what is best for you and your organization. But always be sure it is professional, fair and ethical.
How do you feel about going off the reference list?