Pitfalls of Backdoor Reference Checks and How to Avoid Them

The more you know about a candidate, the more likely you’ll be able to ensure that the candidate you hire is a good match for you and your business.

While it may be tempting to utilize your full network to get the whole story on a candidate, there are a few things you need to be careful about when conducting backdoor reference checks.

What is backdoor reference checking?

Backdoor reference checking is the process of learning about a candidate using references that were not submitted by the candidate. Though professional references provided by a candidate are great, they almost always offer glowing reviews of the individual—not giving you the complete picture you need.

In Hawaii’s tight-knit communities, a backdoor reference check can be as simple as calling an old colleague, a mutual acquaintance in the industry, or asking a cousin about someone they may have worked with.

Employers are well within their rights to approach any reference they deem fit, and likewise, those giving good faith job references are provided immunity from potential claims of defamation of character under Hawaii state law. But it pays to be cautious—if you’re relying on references not submitted by the candidate, you could potentially expose your business to risk.

Pitfalls to avoid in conducting backdoor reference checks

Avoid checking references without a candidate’s consent

Best practice is to get a candidate’s written consent to conducting reference checks beforehand. This applicant release is often included on the application form, along with other pre-employment disclosures. While it may be legal to conduct backdoor reference checks—and even potentially worthwhile—doing so with authenticity and transparency is important in beginning the employer-employee relationship in an honest, straightforward way.

Never ask for information that could be used to discriminate

Most employers know that interview questions that can be used to discriminate against individuals based on their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, age, or disability are illegal under federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Prohibited Employment Policies/Practices and Hawaii state law. However, many do not know that discriminatory questions asked during pre-employment inquiries, even informal ones, can also expose your business to liabilities. Make sure you are as careful to avoid these types of questions in a backdoor reference check as you would be in a face-to-face interview.

Don’t forget to assess the credibility of backdoor references

When you’re relying on someone your candidate hasn’t suggested as a reference, you run the risk of being fed inaccurate or incomplete information. If you are going to conduct backdoor reference checks, ensure that your source not only worked directly with your candidate, but also has the experience necessary to effectively judge a candidate’s performance.

It may be tempting to hop on LinkedIn and start cold calling a candidate’s first and even second-degree connections. In fact, in 2016 alone 60 percent of employers used social media to screen their candidates. But there’s a better way.

For nearly fifty years now, ALTRES Staffing has provided painless employee placement services to hundreds of Hawaii companies. That means we not only recruit candidates for you, but we also ensure that they are screened, vetted, and reference checked before they are even presented to you for consideration—saving you valuable time and money. For more information, call us at (808) 591-4940 or fill out our online contact form!