We're looking at a candidate who has 20 years of experience (largely consulting) who we're thinking of hiring.

Our hiring manager thinks we shouldn't check references saying things like "It's not prudent to check references for someone with over 20 years of experience. They're mainly intended for younger candidates with a limited track record" and "It's a little bit like asking for GPA. It's not something you do for people with that much experience. It's partly offensive and partly not all that useful."

I personally disagree with him and don't think we should make exceptions for any candidate.

Do you do reference checks regardless of experience? If so, what are some arguments in favor of it? If not, why not?

Slight modification

Thanks for the replies - I'll select an answer soon but I'd like to get some more input.

His argument now is that somebody who has had many years of experience and been promoted more than once does not need reference checks because their history of promotions tells you that they are a good employee, and the references they supplied would most likely be people who promoted them. Arguments against that?

  • Do you expect that the numbers listed for these references are not just other consultants who your candidate would do the same for? I hate to be cynical, but...
    – corsiKa
    Dec 6, 2011 at 8:15
  • Do you mean people explicitly identified as references, contacting previous employers/supervisors/coworkers/subordinates, or a bit of both?
    – Thomas Owens
    Dec 6, 2011 at 18:31
  • 1
    When I phrased the question I was referring to people the candidate identified - but maybe cold calls to previous employers would be more effective Dec 6, 2011 at 19:35

5 Answers 5


I believe reference checks for more experienced candidates count more than for inexperienced ones.

Firstly, the fresh out of college or inexperienced hires do not cost or impact your organization at joining as a person with 20 years experience would - in all likelihoods he would be getting in a reasonable important position.

Secondly, the inexperienced new hires are relatively new in their careers and their behaviour and habits can be more easily moulded - may not be so easy with an experienced candidate.

When hiring, the information you get through interviews and evaluations on-site is a thin slice. Checking with reference (listed or otherwise) is where you can really get the 'real' data. Either way, most of the hiring at any level is preferred to happen through references. It, in my opinion, just becomes more important at a more experience level.

  • 1
    Adding to your Slight Modification: Getting a reference check is to evaluate the person's suitability for YOUR organization only. These are another set of data points that you would like to have to make YOUR decision. What may be seen as advantageous or preferable for some position or promotion in the past, may be a negative indicator in YOUR situation. It's all relative. I would just like those data points available and then let me make sense for them.
    – Ather
    Dec 7, 2011 at 12:08
  • On another note, a hiring manager or recruiter trying to obstruct a reference feedback coming through is a negative indicator in my opinion. If what the referees have to say is positive, why not allow that feedback to come through?
    – Ather
    Dec 7, 2011 at 12:09

Yes. A reference check can include checking for a history of non-desirable behavior like theft or creating a hostile work environment.

  • @andrewtweber 1. you can check if he made anything up. 2. A reference also gives you insight into how the person works and what it's like to have them be part of your company. When hiring, particular a senior person, you want to make sure they fit into your culture/work environment and not just that they have the right skill set. Dec 7, 2011 at 11:52

Does your hiring manager believe that 20 years experience guarantees a high performer? If so, get a new hiring manager.

  • Thanks. In his defense, we're a small company and it's not his chief role or what he was trained or educated for. He's now saying that somebody who's had many years of experience and been promoted doesn't require references because their promotion(s) indicate that they are good employees. What would you say to that? Dec 6, 2011 at 21:19
  • 1
    Promotions happen for many reasons than just performance. You have a 50% chance of hiring correctly from interviews. You need to use every tool and method available to improve your chances. Assume only to your detriment. Dec 6, 2011 at 23:29

One question. Have you ever given a prospective employer a number to call that you thought would be a bad reference?

References are for praise as far as I'm concerned. If you want to see if they are a criminal force a professional background check and drug test.

Other then that no matter how many checks you put in you really won't see what type of person they are for about 2 - 4 weeks of actual work.

I also agree with sharptooth. Give them tests as part of the interview. Easy and extreamly hard and sit behind or close to them so you can monitor there reactions. This will give you the best information if you know how to read people fairly well.

Good luck


Definitely you have to perform basic checks regardless of the CV length. He might have been just sitting pants all those years.

A similar example: recently we interviewed a guy who had at least 7 years of software development in C++ on his CV. We rolled in FizzBuzz - he spent three minutes and solved it incorrectly. Now if he was writing in 5 languages at the same time, that could be forgiven. If he spent 10 minutes but did it right, it could be forgiven as well. Yet he was only writing C++ and he couldn't solve the simplest practical task in reasonable time with reasonable quality. This simplest test tells more that an hour of interview talking.

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