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Hot Take Hump Day: Backdoor References

Let's talk about Backdoor References in an interview process.

Backdoor references* can end up blowing up in your face. If you're an employer, just don't do it.


  1. Confidentiality. I've had excellent candidates withdraw with anger, sadness, and disappointment after they've been backdoor referenced by an employer. What they hoped was a privileged conversation has now been shared with multiple people outside the "circle of trust" in the interview process, which could compromise their current employment, reputation, and opinion of your company.

  2. Bias. By backdoor referencing, you may not know the questions to ask to elicit a strong reference with facts based findings. Someone could give a bad reference because the candidate stepped on their foot in the elevator and didn't apologize 10 years ago (true story, ask me about it). Their bad reference could be personal, not professional/based on the work product of your candidate. Alternatively, even if they give a GOOD reference, see above point about breaking confidentiality. Is it worth the risk?

  3. Relevance. With a backdoor reference, you could run into an “apples to oranges” issue. While the reference has a small chance of being an accurate representation of the candidate, more likely your backdoor referrer is only considering the environment the candidate was in vs. where the candidate is going. Things like vertical, size of team, company goals, etc can be different. See points 1 and 2. Again, is it worth the risk?

Simply put, backdoor references are not good practice. There’s a better way to do it.

If you’re a hiring manager who needs references checked, please reach out to your recruiter or HR professional, who is trained to approach reference checking in an unbiased, confidential, and relevant way.

Follow Arch Advisory Group and Kristin Taylor, CDR for more !! Hot Take Hump-Days !!

*“backdoor references” are unofficial references, gathered from sources that the candidate does not explicitly provide.

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