The Worst Reference Check Ever

Business by on June 27, 2008 at 6:46 am

Although I haven’t written on reference checks yet, I feel that they are an essential part of the hiring process. They should always be conducted by the hiring manager, and should rarely follow a script.

When conducted well, they provide an unmatched opportunity to learn about the candidate in ways that you simply cannot in an interview.

Some companies have HR do the reference checks. These conversations rarely provide insight about the candidate. I’ve always had better conversations with the hiring manager, and have always felt that the HR personnel were simply checking boxes.

The worst possible way to do a ref check is over email. The email exchange below was with an HR rep from a well-known Valley startup. If this exchange is indicative of how they are hiring, I’m pretty frightened of their long-term prospects.

Hi David, I’m the recruiter for XXXXX and we are considering XXXX for a role on our XXXX team. He gave me your contact details as someone who could share some insights in terms of his past performance. Would you mind commenting on the below?

I really appreciate your help

Candidate Name: XXXXX
Position considered for:

Reference Name: David Naffziger

Professional relationship to candidate:

Dates worked together and where?

Please briefly describe his/her role?

How would you rate the candidate’s overall performance?

What were his/her strengths or greatest achievement?

What were areas for growth/improvement?

How did he/she get along with team members?

Describe his/her communication skills written/verbal?

Would you choose to work with him/her again?


I initially presumed that they wanted to talk on the phone, but after a quick exchange I learned that they did in fact want me to write an email recommendation.

A seasoned reference would never say anything negative in email because it could expose him and his company to a lawsuit. You’ll only ever get positive comments in an email reference.

My response:

I’ve worked with XXX for XXX years and recommend XXX wholeheartedly and without reservation. I’ve never done an email reference and I’d prefer not to fill it out via email.

If you’d like to gain a deeper understanding of XXX and why I feel he is a stellar prospect, I’m more than happy to talk on Monday.


I then received this choice bit back from HR:

That’s fine, I’ll let the hiring manager and XXX know that we will delay moving forward until then. Also I would be happy to copy your responses onto the the below which is what we are asked to include in a packet for our executive team. We have a similar system to Google where we review a number of candidates at once.

Kind regards


I think that was an attempt at a guilt trip.

The person that I was giving a reference for did get the offer and fortunately turned it down.


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