4 BIG Red Flags from your applicant’s reference list


You’ve narrowed down your potential hire to two or three qualified applicants.

Usually, this is the part of the interview process where you request that your candidates furnish  a few great references. After speaking with two or three references and asking them  specific questions, you can usually gain a more tailored perspective on the candidate and make a more informed decision.

But what if the list seems… off to you?

Instead of a list of former bosses and colleagues, you may find a list including people seemingly unrelated to the candidate (or maybe worse, actually related to the candidate!). To help you identify these potential red flags, we will walk you through the 4 most common  types of references you should be wary of.

1. Employers are from 10+ years ago

Sometimes applicants are unable to list their current employer because they are looking for a  job under the radar. This is a well­ known occurrence to hiring managers and should not cause  much alarm.However, if an applicant cannot come up with an employer from the past ten years, you might want to pay attention. If this is a dealbreaker for you, confront the candidate.  It is also a possibility that the candidate has been at the same company for ten years or that her company has a policy against references. If this is the case, suggest that there may be a former supervisor or colleague who could speak to the candidate’s experiences.

2. Applicant didn’t list any former bosses or coworkers

Assuming the candidate has not worked at the same place for her entire career, this should also  raise red flags. Even if an applicant cannot porvide her direct supervisor’s information, she should have a former colleague somewhere along the line that can provide some positive feedback.

There are several approaches you can take in this instance.

● You may ask the candidate outright to provide more relevant former co­workers.

● You could allow the candidate to provide someone akin to a boss. Perhaps the  candidate has a supervisor from volunteer work or a specific mentor.

Ask for these kinds of references if they cannot furnish any former bosses or coworkers. However, I recommend that you proceed with caution!

3. Reference did not expect the call from you

Yikes! This is a BIG red flag.

Every candidate should take the time to alert their references as to a possible call. After all, they  are doing the candidate a big favor by lending out their time.     When a reference is not expecting a call, it often means that the candidate is not putting the  appropriate amount of care into the application and interview process. This shows a gaping hole in attention to detail and appreciation for other people’s time. A candidate that shows this kind of disregard from the beginning is unlikely to work well in a team setting or appreciate assistance from others. At the very least, it would behoove the candidate to let the reference know beforehand so that  they have accolades to provide!

4. Reference are nervous or hesitant on the phone

This is also an awkward one.  If you sense hesitation from the reference or a resistance to answer certain questions, you might have trouble in your hands. Take this opportunity to dive deeper.
A good tip is to ask this reference questions that may relate directly to the resume the candidate  provided. You can use this opportunity to fact­check. Make sure you don’t have a “fake reference” in your hands or someone who is posing as a former colleague ot boss. It happens!

Additionally, if the reference simply stumbles over a question or two about whether the  candidate works well with others, do not ignore it. This is a rare opportunity to ask follow­up  questions in order to get an authentic answer, even if it’s not the positive one you were seeking.

4. Things to keep in mind

It is important to remember that throughout this process you may call anyone you want. You are  in the driver’s seat. Even if a candidate does not provide a former manager’s name, you may request their name or email id. If the candidate still refuses, it would be wise to inquire as to why.   Special circumstances may always apply in these situations. Don’t immediately give up if an  applicant cannot provide the details of her most recent boss. Give the candidate a chance to explain their choices in references. They may have been more strategic than you could have ever imagined!

Want more tips? See what the future of recruitment looks like and could mean to you.

Any other strange red flags or warning signs you’ve come across when speaking to references? We’d love to hear!

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