Front-door referrals rarely serve any use. "Yup, I checked his references," says the HR Manager. This is a sure path to employee hell. We dodged a bullet recently when after getting glowing front-door references, we dug deeper and found a back-door reference that tipped us off to a likely problem.

Front-door referrals also serve little use in high technology markets like software. At TempWorks we get requests for referrals all the time. Who would give out a negative referral? Actually, I interviewed a bright sales person once who suggested responding to referral requests from prospects by offering either a positive or negative referral. He maintained that doing so establishes the sales person as a true partner helping the prospect out with due diligence. We courted this sales person too slowly, and he took another job - I'm curious if anyone has ever tried his technique.

Front-door employee referrals have grown even more useless over the years as employers have learned the hard way not to fess up on the weaknesses of former employees. This has led to some clever sleight-of-tongue by enterprising HR managers responding to reference checks:

For the office drunk:
"I feel his real talent was wasted here."
"We generally found him loaded with work to do."
"Every hour with him was a happy hour."

For an employee who is not worth further consideration as a job candidate:
"I would urge you to waste no time in making this candidate an offer of employment."
"All in all, I cannot say enough good things about this candidate or recommend him too highly."

For a dishonest employee:
"Her true ability was deceiving."
"He's an unbelievable worker."

Specialy thanks to my brother Doug in California for these gems. Doug is an IT Asset Manager (aka Negotiator) for the state of California. He has years of experience in the recruiting industry and has run both recruiting and temp companies.

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