My 4 Reasons For Conducting Backdoor References

Backdoor references are references obtained from others than those given to you from the candidate. Backdoor references are more common now that we have Linkedin to rely on, but I had a few bad hires prior to that. Here’s why I conduct backdoor references when possible:

Reason #1

Bethany was a sales hire. She was referred to me by a former employee. Her resume and references claimed she was awesome. But Bethany had a secret. She was also an all-night rapper performing at club venues. She slept at her desk and faked her sales appointments. Wish I had Linkedin for backdoor references back then.

Reason #2                    

Mike was a nice guy with 2 previous years at 150% of his sales quota. How was I to know that he hated cold calling and his last job he was managed by his Aunt? He was handed leads and spoon fed the best accounts. Wish I had Linkedin for backdoor references back then.

Reason #3

Jim was quiet but he worked really hard. One day he brought a loaded gun to work and showed the other employees. ‘Nuff said. Wish I had Linkedin for backdoor references back then.

Reason #4

Joel was a senior tech guy. He was a big talker and was in way over his head not knowing how to do his job. He was very manipulative. I did have Linkedin and could have avoided that hire. It’s on me and I learned my lesson.

For those of you that don’t remember the days prior to Linkedin – reference checking was a different animal. Typically entry level candidates were not an issue but the more senior the position, the more important it becomes to conduct backdoor checks.

Conducting references today is a breeze with public profiles and connections. References are all out in the open now. I made mistakes back then but now there is no excuse.

Always adhere to your legal obligations before conducting backdoor references. For example.

  • Get the candidate’s written consent first (If they say no this could be a red flag).
  • Unless the candidate tells you its ok, don’t contact someone at their current employer or someone that may know someone there.
  • Don’t cold call/email strangers on Linkedin for references. Get an introduction first then call and speak to them discreetly.
  • Take all references with a grain of salt and consider the overall feedback from everyone.

The moral of the story is that with Linkedin each one of these hires might have been prevented. When a candidate gives you their references, they are likely fine – but why not go the extra mile and check around to be sure before issuing that offer letter. Preventing a bad hire is far less costly and time consuming than dealing with a bad hire that may be very costly.

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Jonathan Samuels

Hey I’m Jonathan. I created The Sales Club ( and love talent acquisition! I have 20 years of recruiting experience and innovation. I like to work out, watch silly TV shows and maybe have a slice of pizza to break up my healthy eating habits. I hope you enjoy my blog page. Please share them with your friends!

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