I'm Sabotaging My Employees' Job Searches Through LinkedIn Connections

Last Updated Nov 22, 2010 7:25 AM EST

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I have several recommendations from co-workers listed on my LinkedIn profile. As I'm currently shopping my resume, I'm assuming that they are being contacted by recruiters to verify employment and dig for any issues. It would explain some of the recent resentment I'm experiencing at work and some non sequiter comments from the people who made recommendations.
This leads me to question the value of a recruiter contacting people at my current employer.
If I want to get rid of a problem employee and a recruiter calls me looking for dirt... I give them a glowing recommendation. Having a problem employee quit to go to another job is much easier than firing them.
But if I have a stellar employee (and will be unlikely to be able to quickly and cheaply find a replacement), I say as little as possible. Falling back on a line like "our corporate policy is to refer employment verification requests to HR" works well enough that I'm not burning a bridge with a recruiter I may one day use.
I don't bad mouth them (I do believe in karma), but I will withhold any information that could result in my stellar employee finding it easier to get out... at least until I have a couple of options lined up. Then I'll help them in any way I can.
How much are "informal" reference checks used by recruiters? How much credence are they afforded? Does anyone take into consideration that the easiest way to retain an employee is to bad-mouth them to recruiters (or the converse, the easiest way to get rid of a problem child is to give them a glowing review)?
Oh, so you think you're not burning any bridges with recruiters? Well, illusions are often more pleasant than reality, so dream away. You see, a good recruiter (either in house or a professional headhunter) makes their living based on their ability to match candidates to jobs. They can't do that? They don't get paid (headhunters) or keep their jobs (in house recruiters). So, when you give a glowing recommendation about Stella and the headhunter send her to an interview and she (horrors!) gets the job, and it turns out that she's a completely incompetent idiot, the company blames the headhunter. And do you know who the headhunter blames? You.

That's right. We don't forget. It's a big deal, especially for a contract headhunter. They have to maintain their contacts and make good placements or the company won't ask them to search for the next candidate. And, so they do not like it when people lie to get rid of their problem employees.

I do know this happens, and so do other people. I've been the victim of it one time--not as a headhunter or a hiring manager, but as a coworker. The new employee was actually an internal transfer whose boss had spoken glowingly about him. Oh boy. I have never, in all my days (including when I worked fast food), worked with someone so dumb. My boss tried to send him back to whence he came, but the old department didn't have any "available headcount." Jerks. He was terminated, but it took a year before everyone was willing to sign off on the termination.

So, where was I? Oh yes, discussing how you are a bad manager.

When you attempt to undermine employees career progression by spouting the line about "company policy" blah, blah, blah for your good employees, it gets back to them. Oh, not immediately, but it does get back to them. Instead of undermining your good employees and lying about your bad ones, how about you work to develop your bad employees so that they can take the place of your good employees? And, if you stopped tolerating bad employees (either by fixing or firing) your good employees wouldn't be itching to leave so often. Good people do not like to work with slackers. It's annoying.

Now, a reputable headhunter/recruiter will not call a direct manager for a still employed person, so I'm not sure why you're getting these calls, unless it's not apparent on these people's LinkedIn profile that you're the boss and not a co-worker. If the headhunter is calling you and saying, "I'm looking for someone to do X, do you know anyone that might be interested?" (and I've gotten those calls), you can just say, "I'm not aware of anyone who is looking right now," if you don't want to recommend someone. Recommending someone who would do a lousy job will come back to bite you. Always be nice to the headhunters, as one day you will need them.

So, how important are these "informal" checks? Well, it's part of the reason why I recommend networking rather than blindly applying for jobs. Personally, I think most reference checks are a waste of time. Why? If I don't know the candidate and I don't know the person providing the reference, how can I possibly judge the validity of any statement? You've just said you'll lie to stack things in your favor. You're not alone.

But, before a recruiter or headhunter presents a candidate, they want to know who they are recruiting. And they use tools like LinkedIn to do that. So, it matters who you are connected to. For this reason, among others, I don't accept LinkedIn invitations from people who I haven't actually had a relationship with, be it business or friendship. I don't want a headhunter contacting me asking about John Doe and the only thing I can say is, "Well, he reads my blog. Or at least he said he did when he sent the request." It makes both of us look stupid.

It's okay to ask the recruiter if they plan to do any reference checks prior to a job offer being forthcoming. Most will say no, but some will go ahead and do the informal checks of which you speak. Your job is to be honest, no matter what.

And as for companies that have those policies of merely confirming dates of service and titles, well bully for you. Most managers are ignoring that bit of advice anyway, and those that are obedient and do follow that advice look like they are trying to give a bad reference without giving one. It helps no one in the long run.

And be careful who you ask to write references on LinkedIn. I wouldn't ask a current supervisor to write one. I would assume that these people would be the first ones contacted for a "soft" reference check. If I'm not comfortable with letting that person know I'm looking for a new job, I'm not going to have that person write a reference.
Photo by Benn Sutherland, Flickr cc 2.0

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