When a long-term employee passed away, we suddenly had a hard-to-fill position in our company. We advertised, and when we got an acceptable candidate, offered him the position before completing reference checks.

He’s already worked four days for us.

What we’re learning from his references makes us worry we’ve selected the wrong candidate. Several describe him as arrogant, abrasive, and a superstar who believes his own press releases and doesn’t care who he ticks off.

We’re stunned. None of this behavior showed up in the interview. He was confident, but courteous and professional with us.  

We’ve talked about this as a management team and have decided to give him a chance, as he quit his former job and moved across the state to work for us.

What do we need to do now?  


Tell him what you’ve learned.

Many talented, high-performing employees got where they are, for good or bad, by demonstrating ambition and singular focus. This can give them a Darth Vader personality in which they move forward to create success, not caring who they walk over in the process.

You can’t afford this.

When you share what you’ve learned, notice how he takes the information. If he listens, asks questions, and says, “I don’t want to have those flaws. If I do, I’ll work on them,” great.

If he gets defensive or badmouths those who gave him negative references, cut your losses now. You can’t afford to hire and retain someone who ticks others off and doesn’t care when others point out his flaws. Negotiate a reasonable financial settlement with him to cushion the financial loss you’ve created for him.

If you manage this well, however, you and he can create a win/win. Your new hire effectively communicated with your interview team. Let him know you expect him to continue what he showed you and the other interviewers.

Outline your company’s values and your expectations for him in terms of cooperation, communication, and team-play. Let him know you won’t be able to retain him if he runs roughshod over his peers, employees, or customers.

Give him materials that widen his perspective, such as the Arbinger Institute’s Leadership and Self-Deception, Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, and my own Managing for Accountability.

Finally, stay in touch with this situation and don’t wait until problems erupt to intervene. Your company and new hire have a chance–don’t waste it.

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One thought on “Revealing Reference Checks

  1. This is great advice, and a reminder that is better to complete reference checks before hiring. If I were the hired candidate, I’m afraid I might wonder about the organization that hired me–are they looking for a way not to keep me on; are they that disorganized and flighty; and more.

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