Beware ‘Blind References’


At a CEO workshop earlier in September, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings reportedly told the audience that his company relies heavily on references when hiring new employees.

According to Business Insider, Hastings said he spends time picking through applicants’ connections, calling the ones he feels might provide the best insight into a particular candidate’s thinking and workflow. There’s just one catch: He doesn’t call the candidate’s listed references, but connections he finds on his own, by poring through social networks and other online sources.

While Hastings’ habit isn’t common within the tech industry (“I think that the reference checking thing is not as thorough as you would think,” he told the audience, referring to other companies’ hiring practices), it raises an interesting point for any tech pro pursuing a new job: Your prospective employer might not call your listed references, instead opting to pick through your personal network to find people and information you haven’t had time to curate.

That makes things a little more complex for your average job-hunter. It’s not just a matter of cleaning up your social profiles to present your best image (although you should definitely do that); if your prospective employer calls a contact with whom you have a negative relationship, you risk losing any chance of landing the job. If you’re still employed at a company you’re looking to leave, and that prospective employer calls someone linked to your current firm in some way (such as a contractor with whom you’re also friendly), that could also lead to significant problems.

So what should you do? Fortunately, not many companies follow Hastings’ “blind references” tactic—but before applying for a particular job, conduct a Web search to see if HR staff at the firm do something similar (Glassdoor and online forums can prove valuable resources in this respect). If they do, it’ll pay to reach out to a wider circle of your personal contacts, to suggest they might be getting a call.

4 Responses to “Beware ‘Blind References’”

  1. Rich in name only

    I can understand, to a degree, why employers look at an applicant’s presence on social networks. They can learn about their personality to see if they’ll fit in to the company’s culture and the team they’ll be working with.

    HOWEVER, calling ‘3rd party references’ that aren’t on an applicant’s resume goes too far. It’s hard enough for IT applicants to get noticed through having the right keywords on their resume to HR who know nothing about IT deciding on which resumes to hand over to managers. After all that to get rejected because someone called your ‘friend’ on Facebook who you only occasionally talk to and hardly knows you is not only unfair to the applicant, but does the company no good either.

    I also consider it to be a privacy issue as well. While companies should have a right to hold employees accountable so they aren’t tarnishing their name when the employee isn’t working (they are paying the employee’s bills after all), they do NOT have the right to infringe on the employee’s family and personal life.

    Calling people who aren’t listed as references is an infringement of this privacy. If some stranger who is obviously not with the police or FBI were to walk up to you and start asking questions about your friend, it would not be a comfortable situation. The applicant would also be a bit surprised and rightly so.

    It doesn’t matter if the company has hired them or not, this invasion into the private life an individual is just plain WRONG. When an employee is hired they agree to follow the rules of the company and do the work they are asked to do (their job). They are NOT giving their whole life to them.

  2. When I graduated from college in 1979 all I had to do was write a resume, and look in the help wanted section of the newspaper. I mailed out a hundred resumes without one interview. I learned that the jobs postings I wanted were the ones that wanted the applicant to apply in person. Now I’m supposed to have a Facebook, Twitter, or other social media account because possible employers may want to check out my Facebook page in order to decide if they want to interview me. Now I find out employers will be contacting people that I communicate with on social media, and use them as references? What is going to be next, HR hiring hackers to hacking into our computer devices to check out the websites we visit?

    What strikes me as funny is the futility of all of these things. Store employees are still stealing more from their employers than the customers are stealing. Employees are still getting involved with drug problems after being hired. And managers are still hiring people that they later regret hiring.