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7 Steps to a Successful Backdoor Reference Check

By Danny Boice | Trustify 

When you ask a candidate for references, the smart candidate will give you the contact information to former co-workers and managers who have seen them at their best, who have favorable opinions of them. Unfortunately, this does not provide the complete picture.

Backdoor reference checks avoid this situation because you are contacting individuals that weren’t listed. These could be former co-workers, managers, and clients who worked with the candidate and can share their experience. This shows what a person is really like – not just the best attributes listed in a resume or a LinkedIn profile. 

How to Do a Backdoor Reference Check
Commonly known as a backdoor reference check (or off-sheet reference check), it refers to obtaining information about a candidate from a source other than those referrals specifically listed in the candidate’s application. These can provide candid insight on two things – personality traits and past performances – from people who haven’t been hand selected by the candidate. Here’s how to do your own off-sheet/backdoor reference check:

1. Get Permission. Backdoor reference checks should only be done with the permission of the candidate (more on that later). Be sure to get written consent from the candidate to contact people other than the references named on their resume before you begin. 

2. Search LinkedIn Profiles. Searching LinkedIn profiles can uncover a lot of details that may not have been included in resumes. On the candidate’s LinkedIn profile there is a link for “See Connections” in the header. Sometimes you need premium access, or to be connected with the candidate already, but clicking on that link will give you a list of those people in their network who could provide insight on how the candidate interacts with co-workers or even former clients.
LinkedIn profiles also include additional features, such as endorsements, which basically say “Yes, John knows QuickBooks and Bill, Mary and Sue agree.” Recommendations are an opportunity for people in the candidate’s network to leave what amounts to a memo version of a letter of recommendation. These individuals are putting their reputation at stake endorsing and recommending this candidate, and would be good people to talk to about the candidate’s character. 
You can connect with these people through the messaging function in LinkedIn, or directly if they have their contact information listed as part of their profile.

3. Search Other Social Media Platforms. Social media can provide insight to a candidate’s personality and people in their circle. Check out Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. accounts to see what their personal and professional interests are, or potential posts about previous employers.

It is also a way to contact people in the candidate’s personal network, not just their professional network. Feedback about the candidate from people they know on social media might be a little more positive than the contacts you could find on LinkedIn and may have less insight into what the candidate is like professionally.

4. Search Google (or Any Search Engine). Use the search bar of your favorite search engine and do an internet search. Try the following search terms

    • Just the name
    • The name in quotation marks, which can help filter the results
    • The name and some details (Josie McCoy + Guitar Player)
    • The name and a pseudonym (is there a nickname or a maiden name?)

5. Search the Dark + Deep Web. Searches of the Dark and Deep Web will uncover more. The dark web may include forums or chat rooms as well as information of illegal activities including drug use, child pornography, human trafficking, political protests and more. Accessing the dark web requires an encrypted browser. The deep web is anything on the internet that is not indexed by a search engine, websites that cannot be found through traditional searching methods, or anything protected behind a password or paywall. Earlier this year I wrote a post on how to do Dark and Deep Web Searches here.

6. Find Their Alumni or Professional Associations. Alumni or professional associations are another great resource. Is your candidate active fundraiser in their alumni association? Have they offered to be a mentor to current students? Is your candidate someone who has spoken at a professional conference? Did they help organize a table top session or secure a guest speaker for a meeting? If they’ve listed these kinds of activities in their resume or their LinkedIn profile, reach out to people working at these associations and verify their participation in the activities they’ve listed.

7. Ask the Questions: Once you’ve got these people on the phone, just work through the regular set of questions you’d normally ask references. Be sure to give the person space to answer and ask probing questions where necessary.

Are Backdoor Reference Checks Legal?
Yes – there is no federal law stopping you. However, there are state laws concerning reference checks and it will be safer if the candidate has given you written consent as part of the application process. 

Why Bother to Go to the Trouble of a Backdoor Reference Check?
The costs of hiring the wrong candidate can add up:

  • The average cost for a bad hire (i.e. one that isn’t a fit for your company’s culture or is just a bad candidate) can reach 30% of that individual’s salary, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. You can calculate an estimate here.
  • You lose revenue if you make the wrong hire and let them go. On an average, it takes 52 days to fill a position. The average employee is worth one to three times of their yearly salary. (You can calculate that estimate here). Add in the cost of the hiring process – interviews that take time out of a normal workday for managers, resources used by human resources – and it gets very expensive.
  • If a bad hire is let go, employees who take on the additional work can burn out. This can cost anywhere between $125-$190 billion annually in healthcare spending alone. That’s not even taking into consideration the quality of work, missed opportunities, etc.

In sum, it’s expensive to make a bad hire. In previous posts, we’ve discussed the background check process and how results from database searches or official recordsdon’t paint the whole picture of who a candidate is. 

Improving your hiring process is through backdoor reference checks can provide insight into personality traits and past performances – things a candidate may not include in a resume or a provided reference.

Compliments of Trustify , a member of the EACCNY