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EP 1051 Is it normal / ethical for a potential employer to contact my ex-coworkers to ask about my work even though they are not the references that I had provided?

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This is a question I received about checking references that were not provided.

"Is it normal and ethical for an employer to check the reference with my ex-coworkers, even though they are not the references I provided?"

Understand, most employers know that the reference you gave them is "canned."  If you give them a bad one, you are a moron.  They or assuming you are not a moron so they want to get something real.  So who should they call?  They might call someone they already know who works in the organization to check your reference.

For example, there was this 1 consulting firm that I did work with for years.  They did business development and consulting work with organizations worldwide for many years.  If this was affirmed. There was no longer client and they were interviewing someone from this firm, they might contact someone that they already knew and ask if they knew the person and what they thought.

If they heard something critical or something. He gave them, "cause for pause," they might dig a little deeper before hiring the person. If they heard something positive, that was the reference and they brought someone on board. This was someone that they knew and trusted.

If they are doing what is nicknamed, "secondary sourcing (asking your reference. If there is someone else that they know who can attest or comment about your work)," that is considered smart because speaking to your primary reference is never going to go anywhere beyond a prepared answer from the reference and will get something unrehearsed from the secondary individual that is much closer to the truth.

I can debate the use of the term, "ethical."  Who decides ethics?  What is unethical about what they are doing?

"But I didn't give the reference to them?"

I am not aware of any ethics organization that will consider that a violation.

Is it normal?  No!  Employers, like people, are lazy.  They often take the path of least resistance.

Is it smart?  You bet it is!  What they are able to do is find out more of the truth that you will ever give them, then the references will never give them, so there are no surprises.

These people can also be a tiebreaker when there are references that might be lukewarm.

I also want to remind you that if an adverse reference result in you not being hired, you are entitled to, a copy of a receive a report under the Fair Credit Reporting Act of the references so that you can respond to the allegations or statements that were made. That will be sent to the employer.


JeffAltman, The Big Game Hunter
JeffAltman, The Big Game Hunter

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching and life coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1000 episodes,“ Job Search Radio,” “and his newest show, “No BS Coaching Advice” and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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