6 Ways to Conduct a Backdoor Reference Check

By Abby McCain - Nov. 14, 2022
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Recruiting qualified job candidates is a difficult job. An interview can tell you quite a bit about someone, but you can’t truly know how they’ll perform until they’re in the thick of it and not trying so hard to put their best foot forward.

To combat this, many people choose to conduct backdoor reference checks before hiring a candidate. In this article, we’ll explain what backdoor reference checks are and the different ways to conduct them, as well as some of the benefits and legal considerations of these checks.

Key Takeaways

  • Backdoor reference checks are performed outside of the list of references the candidate provides.

  • Social media, LinkedIn, and Google searches can all be helpful in conducting backdoor reference checks.

  • Backdoor reference checks are only legal if the candidate has given written permission for you to perform reference checks outside of the list they’ve given you.

What Is a Backdoor Reference Check?

A backdoor reference check is when a recruiter obtains information about a candidate from a source other than the references specifically listed on the candidate’s resume.

Reaching out to the candidate’s past coworkers and supervisors used to be the only way to conduct a background reference check, but now the internet has opened up a wide variety of additional options.

6 Ways To Conduct Backdoor Reference Checks

  1. LinkedIn

    The easiest way to begin is with a LinkedIn search and seeing what connections you might have in common with the candidate.

    Just remember that it’s possible the candidate may not have worked with all of their connections, so don’t just immediately call your common connection and ask for information. Do a little digging to see what kind of experience they have with the candidate or to find people who have had more experience with them.

    Many people also now have recommendations or endorsements on their LinkedIn profiles.

    The professionals who provided these for your candidate are often great people to reach out to, as they’ve already put themselves out there to serve as a reference for this individual and will likely be willing to provide you with even more information about them.

  2. Social Media

    Social media can be a powerful source of information when you’re trying to figure out what a candidate is all about. The way they interact with people online and what they post about can give you insight into whether or not their true personality lines up with what they presented in their interview.

    When you’re perusing a candidate’s social media, pay attention to who they’re connected to as well. For example, are they connected to someone you know on Facebook? Are they a regular commenter on someone’s blog?

    All this information can help round out the candidate and show you where their interests truly lie.

  3. Google Search/Websites

    Many people have a personal blog or online community they are a part of. These sites can give you a host of information on the person as well as provide potential points of connection.

    A quick Google search can also help you find any notable accomplishments or red flags the candidate might have on their record.

  4. Alumni Groups

    Alumni groups are an excellent source of secondary information about an individual. A person’s reputation within their college, especially if they graduated recently, will say a lot about them as an individual.

    Look for alumni they may have worked on projects with or are still in contact with. You can get information about alumni groups from LinkedIn, university websites, or Facebook.

  5. Face-to-Face Meetings

    A time-tested backdoor reference check strategy, face-to-face meetings allow you to read body language, which can tell you a lot about a reference’s true feelings or experience with the candidate you’re considering.

    If you know of someone nearby who worked with your candidate, try to set up a quick coffee meeting with them.

    Just make sure you explain what you want to talk about when you extend the invitation and that the individual isn’t a current coworker of the candidate — you don’t want to accidentally be the one to tip off their manager that they’re looking for a new job.

  6. Other Connections

    When calling the references provided by the candidate, don’t forget to ask, “Who else worked with the candidate that I might be able to talk to?”

    This will likely bring up a host of people that are quality sources of information. In addition, if the person you’re talking to is too close to the candidate to be fully honest, they may be more than happy to put you in touch with someone else who can be.

Tips for Conducting Backdoor Reference Checks

Here are a few other pro tips for conducting backdoor reference checks:

  • Get blanket permission from your candidate to get reference checks on them. This is standard practice and must be in writing (email is okay).

  • Never contact anyone at the candidate’s current place of employment unless they have explicitly specified that it is okay. You don’t want to be responsible for letting the cat out of the bag that they are looking for a new role.

  • Ensure the person is a credible reference source, and take their words with a grain of salt.

    There are many reasons for a bad reference check: personality clashes, cultural clashes, and micromanaging can all leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth but have nothing to do with the candidate’s actual performance.

  • Assume that the person you contact will get back to the candidate. This is an important layer of accountability for making sure that you get the candidate’s permission to conduct reference checks. It’s also a good reminder to be tactful in what you say or ask about the candidate.

  • If you’re a recruiter, only pass on to your client information that would also be happy to pass on to your candidate. It is illegal to pass the information you have gathered about a candidate to an employer and then refuse to give the same information to your candidate.

    This helps to avoid situations where a candidate is rejected but they are unable to find out why.

Why Would You Want To Conduct a Backdoor Reference Check?

Backdoor reference checks are particularly useful to assess two things: a candidate’s personal traits and their past work performance.

These checks help you answer the question: “Are they really as good as they seem, or are they just good at interviewing?”

Just remember that people change and some personalities just never mesh, so take the findings of your backdoor reference checks with a grain of salt and never use them as the sole base for your hiring decision.

Backdoor reference checks are legal as long as the candidate has given written permission for you to conduct reference checks.

However, if the candidate has asked you to only contact the references they’ve provided, you cannot conduct backdoor reference checks.

Abby is a writer who is passionate about the power of story. Whether it’s communicating complicated topics in a clear way or helping readers connect with another person or place from the comfort of their couch. Abby attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she earned a degree in writing with concentrations in journalism and business.

Author

Abby McCain

Abby is a writer who is passionate about the power of story. Whether it’s communicating complicated topics in a clear way or helping readers connect with another person or place from the comfort of their couch. Abby attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she earned a degree in writing with concentrations in journalism and business.

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