Managers concerned positive references could backfire

A quarter (25%) of professionals only give positive references even though 86% feel this could hurt their career if the person in question doesn't perform well

The Korn Ferry survey also found that while 54% of respondents believe it’s more appropriate to give a bad reference for a job candidate than it was five years ago, 51% said they will only agree to be a reference if they have good things to say.

It also revealed that the majority of survey respondents do not believe a negative reference necessarily takes a candidate out of the running, with 93% saying that if candidates receive negative references they would still consider hiring them if a good fit for the role.

However, when asked about their own experiences, nearly a fifth (18%) of respondents said they believe they've lost a job opportunity because of a negative reference.

The survey also revealed a lack of consistency in the reference checking process. Nearly a third (31%) said they only check references some of the time. Employers said that they were more likely to give a candid reference if they knew the person enquiring, with 46% of those surveyed stating this.

Bill Gilbert, head of North America professional search at Korn Ferry, said that despite respondents' misgivings it was unlikely that giving negative feedback would harm their reputation. “Most people are fearful of giving anything but positive reviews during a reference check, believing it could harm not only the person but also their own reputation. However, that’s not likely the case,” he said.

He said that feedback given in references could be valuable in creating training programmes tailored to individual new hires. “Our survey found that 97% of respondents have never gotten in trouble for sharing negative information during a reference check, and if constructive feedback is shared and the candidate is hired it could help the employer create a tailored development programme that addresses the feedback.”

The Korn Ferry research took place in August and September 2018 and surveyed more than 2,000 professionals.