Objectivity in Reference Checks – A Twin Edged Sword

Background verification entails the credibility of an ex-employee, sufficed by a former employer. The report is drawn collectively on the data supporting capability and eligibility for the role with the new employer. Christopher Ketcham, in Truthdig, explained how objectivity is quintessential for an information provider. Else it runs a threat of ending up being viewed as an opinion rather than a fact. The authority is supposed to be the ‘all-seeing eye’. Consequently, there are two outcomes of this process. First one is to support the credibility of the employee, and the second is to establish an organization as a judicial and responsible employer. Let’s look at these two cases from our community where this ‘objectivity’ comes under the scanner. These twin edged issues are as shared by our members.

Employee’s woes

“I am working in a pharma company (X) and I have a total experience of 8 years. I attended an interview in one of the pharma companies (Y) I cleared telephonic rounds with the HR and the technical team. Few days ago, I had attended the technical interview. On the same day, I was asked to meet the MD, post, which I was sent for the medical test. After clearing everything HR informed me that, I have been selected, and they will send a verification letter to my manager. After getting feedback from the manager, they will send the formal offer letter to me. Few days later, they wrote a letter to my manager sharing that they have selected me, and they need some verification regarding my salary, efficiency, teamwork, decision-making, etc. My manager replied to that and received a confirmation letter from the HR.

The problem was that after waiting for many days I still didn’t get any letter from them. Each time I would speak to the HR of the new company, they would say that the MD was traveling so they had put the offer letter on hold. They further affirmed that they would call me when it was ready. The other candidates who got selected with me had already received their offer letters.

The problem that I am facing now, is that in my current job, my manager is not allocating any work to me. He believes, I have got another job. I fear this will affect my appraisal. I don’t know what to do now kindly help me with this.”

Pin pointing on the fundamental issues

  • Rapport with the reporting managers: The relationship with the reporting managers comes under the hammer. The stigma of an attrite in the team, is difficult for the manager to deal with. Retention strategies may not work, all the time. It takes a mature manager to set aside the current goals and build on a relationship which can contribute to the alumni. Re-hiring saves the organization’s cost to groom or train employees internally.
  • The two-way expectation management: The difference in the view towards the employee life cycle creates a gap. It’s obvious that not every employee can be promoted to every role within the organization. This will trigger the talent to look beyond the organization. Hence the employee life cycle management needs to couple the duration an employee is likely to spend. Rewiring the organization with building a talent-pipeline can avoid the crunch. Such as, if an employee who can effortlessly find the errors in the coding or any job delivered would best be suited for quality. In absence of such an opportunity for that talent within the organization, would lead to career progression in other firms. Here, the strategies should be set to allow the employee to leave and work with other firms grooming those skills, so that once there is an opening for such a role, that employee could be re-hired. This can be established, only when, there is an open discussion and trust building between the employer and the employee.
  • Perception of productivity: Few managers would weigh productivity with the amount of jobs delivered. Whereas, for some, it’s the difference created. During the performance appraisal interview, a manager of mine had once asked me, what have you done. I ended up sharing the itineraries of my activities for the last six months. He tagged them with the process and then asked me, what had I done to them? It was a Buddha moment for me, as post that moment, delivering has been coupled synonymously with bringing in a change. Take a moment and imagine, how this manager’s feedback would look, had this been a reference check report. It wouldn’t have reflected any productivity.
  • Settling old scores: Emotions may trigger actions that set the infernal loop. It becomes an obvious result to settle scores through any possible measure. This may further be substantiated by data from the past events to build up on the evidence.

Looking glass for the job seekers

  • Stay focused on merit. At the end of the day, no matter how much a background verification report is prioritized, nothing can replace merit. When you can excel over every other candidate vying for the same role, nothing can stop you.
  • Include a list of seniors and leaders to vouch for your credibility.
  • Create a visibility through associations in forums and contributions. A reporting manager is likely to offer his view about your capabilities. Creating a visibility will offer more opportunities to showcase your capabilities such as leadership and delivery.
  • Finally, align yourself to the process. Prepare for the best and worst case scenario. If you are in a job where you are likely to receive a negative feedback when you leave, share that during the interview, and offer the new employers a more credible sources of reference check, such as any MD or a CEO you have worked with. Find out an accomplished leaders who can vouch for your capabilities.

Employers’ row

“If an employee working at my company leaves or gets fired. He may apply to some other company. The HR from that company may call us requesting for a reference check. What should  be disclosed to? Should I disclose why that person was being fired? The employee was fired because of his poor performance. Hence, we have shared, that if he could not perform here that doesn’t mean he can’t perform anywhere else. Please share what statement should be issued for the feedback?”

Points to ponder for the employers:

  • In case an employee is fired due to any fraudulent activity. Appropriate actions should be initiated. This may sometimes include a newspaper announcement of the fraudulent activity. This entails a series of legal actions. Until and unless such a grave crime is committed, its pertinent to review the  feedback statement, to be offered during reference check.
  • Background verification is a process which includes data validation. This requires maintaining objectivity when it comes to performance feedback. Any emotional statement received from a former employer, should be kept in mind but not taken as a deal breaker. It’s obvious for a reporting manager to be angry with someone who is leaving his leadership and seeking greener pastures. Stay focused on what happened rather than what the manager feels about it. An opinion or a view is bound to be subjective.
  • A performance issue can get triggered out of many concerns. A learning curve of an employee gets centred, whereas, there are greyer areas to it. The failure can be due to a range of issues, including the misfit of the talent to a gap in knowledge sharing, training and mentoring. Often there are gaps in identifying the capabilities during the recruitment. An employee, who has been selected for fund raising may require working in a culturally sensitive area. No matter how efficient the employee is, the cultural factors would account for his downfall.  Ergo, sharing it as the employee’s failure would lead to incomplete analysis. Now, for a moment imagine, if this employee gets selected by a competitor and is the right source in a particular role, where he performs well, how would the feedback of the former employer appear then!
  • The report generation may take time. This will put the offer on hold. This can often lead to the ultimate loss for the both the candidate and sometimes the companies. In a competitive market, when candidates are seeking a change, they will continuously apply to different companies.

On a pre-emptive note, decision making requires a host of information. Reference check acts as the bone marrow to the backbone of credible hiring. A responsible attitude towards the information shared, will bring in a balanced view. Please let us know how you are balancing this sword!

  • Harshali

    Actually its two side of coin in reality where you be in any position..things are never smooth. Their is always trouble….Why people cant take as open hands and understand that people cant be monotonous with their job..there are many reason to explore and find creditability in the market. People now should take this their is always a new day for everything and should be acceptable in positive way.

  • Thank you Harshali for your thoughtful comment. You made my day! The purpose of this article, was to brain storm and strike a win-win situation for both, the employers and employees. The background verification is suppose to add credibility both ways. The benefit goes hand-in-hand for both the parties!

  • Jijo

    Nabomita, Very good article. You have made a good analysis of the situation and given a meaningful conclusion too. I really like the colour of your language. Keep it up.

  • Thakyou Jijo. Your appreciation, inspires me to work harder. Reference check is sure to touch a middle ground. I am in search of that Utopia, along with many others, who are seeking similar solutions!

  • Patuporn

    That’s why we keep everything very confidential, good topics and need more idea.
    Sometime the ref. check is not trustworthy, that’s my opinion.

  • Absolutely. There are numerous cases when a ref check gets fished. Thats how we suggest it, to contribute as a variable to the decision making and not a deal breaker.

  • Pelgrim

    I can not understand why a serious company has to check the background of some one selected.
    Doesn’t the recruiters have any trust in their own capacity to select some one ?
    Can’t they take any risk ? Remember : an new employee who resigned also takes risks. Has he to hire a private detective to get information ?

    And more important : do you know any responble having time to answer on a fair way ? I personnaly know two HRM that systematically gave a negative feed-back to get rid off any check and two others that always give a very positive feed-back for the same reasons.

    From expérience, I know some employees known as at least “difficult” but “perfect” in certain situations. If I had to give a feed-back, what would it right to give ? Explaining those complex situations ? I don’t want to, You give or too less or too much information.

    As HR, are you really objective ? You give a negative feed-back and keep your good employee – for a while- just to get the time to search another employee to replace that bad boy !
    Or, you give a positive feed-back and thanks God, your employee is gone ! you don’t have to fire him ! no huge amounts to pay !

    I know it seems shocking. “Unluckily”, it is realistic.