Should you hire someone with a bad reference or who has been fired?

Making the right hiring decisions for your company is critical to ensure the future success of your business. Employees hold the future of your company in their hands, so what happens when you think you have found the perfect applicant, only to discover they have been fired from a previous position, or their reference is less than glowing?

There are two sides to every story

All references are subjective, and not everyone would fire someone for the same reasons. If a candidate openly tells you they were fired or to expect a bad reference, they have proven that they are at least on some level, trustworthy and honest.

Listen carefully to how the candidate explains their side of the story, and give them credit when they show reflection or how they might behave differently in the future, this indicates growth. Everyone makes mistakes, those that learn from them are unlikely to make the same mistakes again, and could be preferable to someone who has never made a mistake and doesn’t understand the consequences.

Read between the lines of good (and bad) references

Focus on the position you are recruiting for when reading references. What could be considered a problem for one employer might be a bonus for you, and vice versa. Towing the line and keeping quiet might have been wonderful in a previous employment, but you might require someone who thinks outside the box and is proactive.

It is essential to request more than one reference so that you can compare each one. A bad reference could simply be a result of a personality clash, either between the employer and employee or within the team. Everyone is different.

Beware of outdated references. A reference from 10 years ago cannot be considered relevant to someone’s current work ethic. Particularly when someone has had a long period outside of work (due to having children for instance), recent references may not be available, and older references might not be entirely accurate.

Trust your gut

Ultimately, employees are at the mercy of their working environment, so their employment history and references on paper might not necessarily be an accurate reflection of their skills and strengths, more a reflection on company politics.

Look past the application form and references and ask yourself whether this person could be an asset to you going forward; do they share your company vision, will they fit in with the rest of the team and what can they offer you?

Good hiring decisions can be reinforced with correct pre-employment screening, which ensures that a candidate is trustworthy and has a legal right to work. But after the paperwork is done, it comes down to your own instinct as a hiring manager, and shaping your team as you see fit.

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