What Does a Neutral Reference Check Say?

Let’s say you have a pretty strong candidate for a position and upon checking references, you talk to someone who says they can only confirm the dates the person worked and job title. What can you do with that? Does it have a sort of unspoken meaning in the HR world for good or for ill? How can you interpret a neutral reference check?

  • Less-than-stellar performance. Most companies don’t want to badmouth former employees, either because it simply stands as an unwritten (or sometimes written) rule of business diplomacy or because the employee giving the reference doesn’t want to have a negative reference come back to haunt them. To suss out whether neutral actually equals “don’t hire,” ask questions about whether they’ve seen the person in action and what they think of his performance. You may even ask, “What’s one position you would not hire this person for?” and see what response you get. Monitor tone of voice as well — that may tell you what you need to know without probing deeper.
  • Company policy. Some companies have a policy that they will only give out the absolute basics no matter the performance: dates of employment and title, no more. This comes from state labor codes warning about giving misleading statements, as well as avoidance of possible lawsuits over the distinction of what is considered “truthful” information. Bear in mind that if your company uses this policy, you may inadvertently harm quality employees whose interviewers don’t get the real picture of them as candidates.
  • What can you do? First of all, stay above board; avoid leaving a message to call back only if the candidate is worth hiring. See if you can speak to a former manager or different reference who will give a more detailed response (if not bound by company policy). Don’t assume that means the worst, either. You may also want to talk to someone at PrideStaff who can give you information on vetted candidates without the veil of neutrality.

Neutral reference checks can have different meanings. If you want to really find out about your candidates, use multiple references and contact the Thousand Oaks recruiting professionals at PrideStaff for quality staff.

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