How to Investigate Negative Rumors about Candidates

QUESTION: A client company likes a candidate and wants to make him an offer, but they heard from someone in the industry they should not hire him and will share with me, who they spoke to or what they said. They want to see other candidates even though they loved this candidate and almost made him an offer after the first 2-hour interview. Any ideas how to turn around their thinking? – Chris, Atlanta, GA

ANSWER: That is a great question, Chris. So what would I do in that situation? First, I would try to find out from the client, even though you do not want to tell me why not to hire this person, what was the reason? Then I always try to find three or four other references that might be able to disqualify that.  

For example, say you find out, they said Joe is lazy and does not have a good work ethic. Who knows if that is true or not? What I would want is references, not just the references that this candidate would give you because they are going to be a little tainted on the positive. I would try to dig around and ask for his references but then I would ask each reference, “Who did you work for at this company?”. It is a little work, but I would always try to find three or four references where I could really dig deep on the issue of why they are being coached not to hire him.  

So let us say the issue was work ethic, I would call the reference and explain what I have heard. I would not say “he has been accused of.” Just do not even talk about a negative reference. What I want to really dig into is what are your perceptions in his work ethic. I would try to come up with three or four things that they came up with.  

After I do a complete reference, I would then call the candidate and tell him truthfully about the conversation with the client. Explain that the client will not share who they heard this from, that it is not in writing, but was verbal. Then secondly after that I might ask the candidate if anyone have a vendetta against them. 

The company may not want to share any specific information or if the company agrees to tell you why, but whatever you do, do not go back to the candidate and tell him that. What you can do is go back to the candidate and say that you need more references without revealing anything.