Should one bad reference mean you ditch the candidate?

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When references say candidates are poor employees or had problems in the company, prospective employers tend to toss the resume out without a second thought. But should they?

“I think they are quick to dismiss. Culture makes such a difference,” says Vertical Elevation CEO and founder Carol Schultz. “The biggest issue is having a clear alignment between a company’s talent strategy and business strategy.”

Schultz says anything from a mismatch of personalities to “sour grapes” can be behind a poor reference. A bad reference sees the candidate dropped in a split second, while a glowing reference could mean an immediate offer. However, neither of these situations individually indicates whether or not the candidate is a good fit, Schultz says.

Companies need to look at the overall drivers of the individual and decide whether their skills, talents and personality fit with the company’s culture and business strategies, rather than assuming that someone who was a poor fit at one organization will be a poor fit at another.

Instead of dismissing a candidate after a bad call, Schultz suggests knowing exactly what you need from an employee in terms of skills, culture and other esoteric factors. Once your talent strategy is aligned with your business strategy you can ask specific, pointed questions to determine whether the applicant would be a good choice.


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