Hi Manager Tools,

Recently my company has hired people who bombed the technical part of their interviews on the strength of their internal references.  I was wondering what manager tools' views are on how to get the most signal from references and when they should override the results of the normal interview process.

I understand the pov that interviews are high volatility.  But my two cents is that a reference shouldn't be able to boost someone from a clear no hire to a hire.  Especially, if the person is vouching that the person can master a new technical skill that they have not been exposed to previously.

And of course, how do you know if the reference is being misleading is a whole other can of worms.

markbyantaylor's picture

I'm picking up on where you say "internal reference".  Would I be correct in saying that this is a reference for an employee of the organisation looking to move to your team?

If so, always be a little cautious.  Not every manager is ethical.  If they have a problem employee, it seen as easier to "move" them within the organisation rather than resolve the problems properly.  Certainly happens in bigger organisations.

I suggest that if your gut is saying "no", but the reference is glowing then I would agree you are right to question it.

That being said, I wouldn't dismiss the application out of hand.  If possible talk directly to the manager providing the reference (face to face would be best) - talk through their reference and your concern about the interview and the employees ability to perfom the role.  The employee maybe a true star, just comes across poorly in interview.  Hopefully from sitting with the manager you should get an idea if the reference is genuine.

If you think it is genuine then certainly talk to the employee again - express your concerns and see if they can offer additional to support the abilitites.

A good way to root out "problem" employees is to see if the employee & manager are prepared for the role to be on short term secondment.  If all goes well then you take on full time.  If not, then back to the original manager.  Note that sometimes it simply isn't practical for an organisation to do this - so a (polite) refusal isn't necessarily a negative.

With regards to the ability of an individual to pick up a technical skill; I would say that a reference could indicate future likelyhood based on previous sucess.  For example, I am exceptionally good at understanding legacy code - even if it is in a programming language I never seen.  I'd probably go as far as to say that I'm the best I've ever seen at it.  I've done this a number of times in the past, picking up a system in a new language (to me) like PHP, Foxpro, classic ASP.  This experience tells me that I should be able to do the same for Objective-C (language used for iOS) - I've never tried it or been exposed to it, but experience tells me that I will (with the assistance of Mr Google) be able to pickup and maintain legacy code within a short period.

Hope this helps.


ygreif's picture

Thanks for the reply.

It was an internal reference for an external hire.

I suggested that we do a follow up interview to address the concerns of the no-hires--which is common practice in my company. However, the pro-hires thought it was unnecessary and were more senior so I concluded that the battle would do me more harm than good and said I was 100% behind whatever they thought was best.  I suspect its a cultural thing where Americans ask for your opinion but don't really want it.

yellowfir's picture


I would like to provide some input from the candidate's perspective, based on a recent episode.  My interview went poorly, and I am hoping that the strength of my recommendations will outweigh the one-shot interview.

My DISC profile straddles line between S and C. I normally give my peak performances when I have time to consider my responses.  So I always get nervous during face-to-face interviews.

There were additional, complicating factors.  The hiring company arranged travel for me, but my flight got delayed by several hours.  Due to noise at the hotel, I was only able to get about one hour's sleep before the interview.  And because the person ahead of me was also delayed, the HR rep advanced my interview by 45 minutes (meaning that the process was rushed, in order to get back on schedule).  Of course, I would not mention any of these things to the hiring team, lest I be viewed as complaining.

If I am judged completely on the interview, I doubt that I will get this job.  If the interviewers contact my references, I stand a good chance.  From 2007-2010, I coordinated with a different team from inside the hiring company (as we worked to resolve data transaction errors).  Because that group saw the high quality of my work product during a sustained amount of time, I would say that they have a better understanding of my capabilities.

When applying for the job, I was loath to include any references besides the ones specifically requested.  I was able to mention during the interview that I had interacted with others inside their company.  I am hoping that the hiring managers contact my former compatriots - or else my application is probably doomed.  The HR rep will let me know by the end of the month whether I get the offer.