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Keeping it Positive During a Reference Check Could Backfire


We’ve all been told if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it. But according to a new survey of professionals by Korn Ferry (NYSE: KFY), that advice, at least when giving job references, can be problematic. While 25 percent of professionals surveyed admit they will only give positive references and not share unfavorable thoughts, 86 percent indicate that offering only glowing feedback about a person during a reference call could hurt their own career if the person did not perform well once hired.

The survey also showed that while 54 percent of respondents believe it’s more appropriate to give a bad reference for a job candidate than it was five years ago, half (51 percent) say they will only agree to be a reference if they have good things to say.

“Most people are fearful of giving anything but positive reviews during a reference check, believing it could harm not only the person, but their own reputation. However, that’s not likely the case,” said Bill Gilbert, Korn Ferry Head of North America Professional Search. “Our survey found that 97 percent of respondents have never gotten in trouble for sharing negative information during a reference check, and if constructive feedback is shared and the candidate is hired, it could help the employer create a tailored development program that addresses the feedback.”

The majority of survey respondents do not believe a negative reference necessarily takes a candidate out of the running. Ninety-three percent say that if candidates received negative references, they would still consider hiring them if they were a good fit for the role.

When asked about their own experiences, nearly a fifth (18 percent) of respondents say they believe they lost a job opportunity because of a negative reference.

The survey also revealed a lack of consistency in the reference checking process, with nearly a third (31 percent) saying they only check references some of the time.