How to Deal with a Candidate with a Bad Reference

How to Deal with a Candidate with a Bad Reference

How to Deal with a Candidate with a Bad Reference

Once you’ve found a candidate that has impressed you through the interview stage, it’s time to do your final checks. Before you offer any candidate a position within your organization, you want to ask for a reference. Most organizations ask for a reference from two individuals, including the candidate’s most recent employer. A reference is a way of making sure that a candidate’s CV checks out. You can make sure that they’re not misrepresenting their responsibilities at a previous job. It’s also an opportunity to find out more about the work ethic of the candidate.

References are an essential part of the hiring process – but how do you handle a bad job reference? You might have a candidate who looks like the perfect match until their former employer raises some red flags. Before you decide to reject their application, there are a few things to consider. Dealing with a candidate who has received a bad reference requires both patience and professionalism. 

[Read More: Informal Reference Checks

In this post, we’ll explain how to deal with a candidate with a bad reference, explain what to do if an employer gives a bad reference and whether you can tell the candidate.

How to Handle a Bad Job Reference 


When you reference a bad reference from an employer, you might feel like you’re back to square one. After spending weeks going through the hiring process, it can be discouraging to receive a bad reference. You don’t want to make a decision based solely on the reference without doing your reference. There are a few steps you should do if an employer gives a bad reference.

Examine the Reference 

Receiving a bad reference for a candidate is always a surprise. The candidate has gotten to the final stages of the hiring process because they’ve impressed you. References are usually a final step to give you extra peace of mind that you’ve chosen the right candidate. You can handle a bad job reference by examining it in detail. 

It’s worth taking a step back and objectively looking at the reference. You shouldn’t treat it as an automatic disqualification for the candidate. You have no idea what the relationship was like between the two parties. It may be a personal reason behind the bad reference, instead of any professional misconduct. There may also be a negative bias towards the candidate due to them leaving the organization.

[Read More: Reference Check Questions

If the reference revolves around a single incident, it’s worth considering whether that is the catalyst for the bad reference. Do your due diligence and take an in-depth look at the reference and any contributing factors. If you sense that it’s a personal reason and not a professional issue, you can take the reference with a grain of salt.

Speak to the Candidate  

You might think that you shouldn’t tell the candidate about a bad reference. While you should keep the source anonymous, it’s worth asking for their side of the story. You can explain that there are concerns about an aspect of their application and former employment. It also provides an opportunity for the candidate to show that they have grown as an individual. They may admit that the reference is factual and explain how they've taken active steps to address the issue.

Follow Proper Procedure  

Depending on where your business operates, there may be workers’ rights around unfair references. Some countries and states have legislated for former employers to only be able to confirm that an individual was in their employment. If you have decided to not conclude with hiring the candidate, you’ll want to make sure you follow a proper procedure. This process includes allowing the candidate to tell their side of the story. Don’t end the hiring process automatically when you receive a bad reference.

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3 Tips on How to Deal with a Bad Reference 

1. Hold Another Interview 

If you’re still interested in the candidate but understandably feel cautious, it’s worth hosting another interview. You can have another conversation and raise the concerns mentioned in the bad reference. It can provide an extra opportunity to assess the suitability of the candidate. The way the candidate responds to your questions could give you peace of mind that the bad reference isn’t an accurate reflection of the candidate.

2. Get Another Reference

Most candidates will provide you with two references. It’s best practice to request two references so that you always have a second port of call. If the candidate hasn’t provided one, it’s worth reaching out to them to ask if they can provide the information for another former employer. You can use the second reference to see if the same concerns are raised by another employer.

3. Invest in Reference Screening

Learn from this lesson and invest in reference screening. At Crosschq, we offer an in-depth reference checking system with analytics that help you source and screen candidates during the hiring process. 

No one wants to deal with a bad reference. It’s a curveball that can be thrown your way during the final stages of the hiring process. You want to remember that there are two sides to every story. An employer could give a bad reference out of malice. Using our advice and the three tips above should help you figure out what to do if an employer gives a bad reference. 

While it will take patience and a little time, it’s worthwhile looking into the bad reference. You don’t want to miss out on a potential candidate because of a malicious bad reference. At the same time, a bad reference should raise a few eyebrows and make you take a closer look at the candidate.

At Crosschq, we’ve reimagined reference checking and offer robust talent analytics to help you build a diverse, winning team. If you’re worried about how to handle a bad job reference, our team is here to help. Our Talent Intelligence Cloud™ platform allows us to source, screen, onboard, and help you retain the best candidates for your team. We also offer pre-hire candidate assessment and reference checks.

To find out more about Crosschq, request a free custom demo here.

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Lucas Sonini

Contributing Writer

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Topics from this blog: Talent Acquisition