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> People talk and things come out and shit happens, but deliberately going behind someone's back for back-channel references is just plain unprofessional, if not unethical.

It's not unprofessional or unethical.

> The back-channel reference check is an unprofessional show of power-- like waving a gun around at work-- because it takes social access to get any information out of it

For it to be a show of power, such an action would have to involve "showing" something. It's actually an attempt to avoid hiring bad employees -- that's the benefit people get.

> (people don't just offer candid opinions up to complete strangers).

This merely raises the threshold of badness before they might offer negative information. If their coworker was bad enough, they would. And do.

> What's communicated by the back-channel reference check is "your colleagues are more loyal to me than to you".

The miscommunication is on your end.

(Also, your former colleagues don't owe you or some potential employer "loyalty.")




Michael O Church once lost a job due to a "back-channel reference check", so that explains why he's so hostile to them.

Also, in the USA, there are rules limiting what you can say about a former employee. By giving a negative back-channel reference, you and your employer might be susceptible to a lawsuit. However, actually suing a former employer for something like that is probably a bad idea, because (1) it'd be hard to prove it (2) it would make you even less employable when other people find out about the lawsuit.

If I ever am in a position to do hiring, I probably wouldn't do it, because I'd trust my judgement more than someone else's.


> Also, in the USA, there are rules limiting what you can say about a former employee.

You can't defame former employees but you can say true things about them. State laws, generally speaking, do not prohibit you from saying (true) stuff about former employees, in fact some have clauses protecting you from defamation lawsuits. At the most basic level it's a 1st amendment right, the Constitution doesn't have a secret section on employment law.


Many employers have a policy of only giving job title and dates of employment, to prevent any possible lawsuit. However, if you say it with sufficient disgust in your voice, it'll be obvious that you're giving a negative reference.

Even if what you are saying is true, that still doesn't mean it can't lead to a lawsuit.


Anything can lead to a lawsuit.


Michael O Church once lost a job due to a "back-channel reference check", so that explains why he's so hostile to them.

To tell the whole story... "you should see the other guy." :)

I did eventually get my revenge. Six months later when I had the money, I hired a PI to figure out who gave the bad back-channel reference (it wasn't even someone I worked under) and found out that he was sleeping with one of his subordinates. Had the news dropped at his work, to his wife, and at his kids' school on the same afternoon. God works through people.

By giving a negative back-channel reference, you and your employer might be susceptible to a lawsuit. However, actually suing a former employer for something like that is probably a bad idea, because (1) it'd be hard to prove it (2) it would make you even less employable when other people find out about the lawsuit.

A termination lawsuit makes you less employable. I don't know that the same holds over a bad reference, because pretty much anyone would sue someone who damaged their careers in such a lasting and petty way. Getting fired is something that happens to everyone and while most of us aren't fired in an illegal way or for illegal reasons, most people will be fired in an unjust way at least once in a 40-year career, so the prevailing attitude (right or wrong) is that a successful, competent person will just dust himself off and find another job. Bad reference issues are much less common and most people (the rhetorical "reasonable man") would agree that you have to do something permanent and brutal about that.

Wrongful T lawsuits are dangerous to your career because (a) every company or manager will have to fire someone, given enough time, so it's far from clear that your opponent did anything wrong (b) they bring a lot of dirty laundry (on you and the company) into the public, and if there's no dirt on you, they make something up, and (c) your odds of winning aren't good unless you can easily prove discrimination.

When you sue over a bad reference, you're suing an individual (not "an employer") and you're also suing over something that would lead pretty much anyone to lawyer up, so the air about you isn't "he got let go and sued his company" but "someone tried to fuck up his reputation and he fought back".


Michael, while I usually enjoy your rants, getting revenge like this is insane, and admitting to it on a public forum attached to your real name is a whole 'nother level of crazy. No personal offense intended, but I would never ever in a million years hire or associate personally with somebody who did what you did.


All I can say is that I hope you're never in a position where you have to do "insane" things to protect your own life or career. It's an experience that I wouldn't wish on another person.


Thanks, I hope I'm never put in the position that I would have to do such things to protect my life and career, either.

Admittedly, I don't know much about what actually happened in your situation, but does hiring a PI and going after someone 6 months after the fact protect your life or career? How, exactly? You say you had money (presumably through employment) at this point. Why not just move on and forget about that episode of your life?

That's the sort of vindictiveness that would make me afraid to associate with a person.


The PI didn't actually cost that much. I helped out someone he cared about. That's another story.

The person was able to hurt me because he, through a certain station, had the credibility that made what he might say about other people (such as me) matter. His opinions would be taken seriously. After taking a hit, I fixed the problem. It wasn't about vengeance. It was about doing just enough to fix the problem, then moving on. He didn't lose his job per se but I made him enough of a laughingstock that no one would take his word over anyone else's, thus making me safe from him.

After being attacked, it's not unreasonable to think that such defenses are needed in order to protect the future.

I wouldn't do that sort of thing after a "things didn't work out" situation, even if things ended badly or I got fired. I'm an adult; I'll move on. Likewise, I wouldn't retaliate against someone just for saying that I was a jerk or that he didn't like me. (Plenty of people say that I'm a jerk. That's fine.) There has to be a lot more, like fraudulent negative claims about past work performance... something that sounds objective and can be damaging... before I'm ready to fuck up someone's life. People have the right not to like me and to say that they don't; what they don't have the right to do is to deliberately damage my reputation with fraudulent or inaccurate claims.

This was a case where someone deliberately tried to damage me after I had moved far away from him. There was an act of war, and I fought back with force, and I won. I don't believe in starting fights but I do believe in ending them.


But how were you certain that this person gave the bad reference, since it was back channel after all? Hell, how did you even knkw a bad reference was given? How did that effect you? The logistics of this story make me more skeptical than audaciousness of it.


I had the luxury of other people talking too much. If not for that, I wouldn't have known.

Hell, how did you even knkw a bad reference was given?

I was able to find out what was said. Again, if all someone had said was "I don't like him", that wouldn't have been an issue. This person made negative, fraudulent claims about me and my past work performance in front of enough people that it was impossible for him to hide his tracks.

People who do bad things are usually awful at keeping secrets. There are exceptions, of course, but generally the traits that incline a person toward malice and petty conspiracy are not traits that make a person good at keeping secrets.


> There are exceptions, of course, but generally the traits that incline a person toward malice and petty conspiracy are not traits that make a person good at keeping secrets.

If there was ever a time for "show, don't tell"...


How would you even know that you've lost a job due to a back-channel reference check? Several times, I thought an interview went really well, and then they never got back to me. They don't give a reason.


How would you even know that you've lost a job due to a back-channel reference check?

Word gets around, and people doing things that are inappropriate tends to get around faster. Obviously, you're not guaranteed to know about it every time that this happens. Sometimes you find out, sometimes you won't. It's when you do find out that you can try to do something about it (not that there's any change of getting the job back, but in terms of revenge on the people who got involved in your business).

Several times, I thought an interview went really well, and then they never got back to me. They don't give a reason.

Of course. That's typical, and usually the reason doesn't matter. It's rarely something scandalous that merits anything other but "eh, guess that didn't happen". Most of the time, getting turned down for a job is just a regular lack-of-chemistry thing not worth getting bent out of shape over.


If a former employer or colleague ever gave any of this information without me giving them as references I would be pissed. Maybe it is a cultural/personal thing (no FB, no G+, no twitter) but I take privacy VERY seriously and I expect people I deal with to do as well. If I have to provide a reference, I always contact the person first and ask if it is ok to give their details to the company that will contact them. I actually had a few people that asked me not to give their details (not due to the reference, but because of sharing contact details with people they don't know). On the other hand, I've been in the Bay Area for a bit, and seems everyone and their mother is happy to let everyone know every minute of their fucking lives, so I can understand why people think it isn't a big deal.


I myself think hearing about cold-call reference checks from past coworkers when getting a job would make me think twice about an employer. It's annoying, perhaps inconsiderate -- that doesn't mean it's unethical, or a show of power of all things. The main reason is that here my friends are getting annoyed, and to a small degree the information leakage. (You could probably also get in touch with a set of people you select, without going around the candidate.) A non-cold-call check, between people that know each other, is different because it lacks this factor.

I think you, informally, have a reasonable expectation of privacy that people won't go broadcasting stuff about your behavior in an office, but not a reasonable expectation that people would not help individual colleagues avoid wasting five or six figures of money, not to mention a lot of personal stress and annoyance, by trading money for time with a certain person. The office is not a confession booth, or even a private household. You're probably willing to share details about how you got treated by sellers on eBay -- likewise, the workplace is not a completely personal situation.


"It's not unprofessional or unethical."

In general it is unprofessional, unethical, and bad for the market.

Do I really need to explain why putting another persons current job at risk in order to gain a small advantage for yourself is unethical and unprofessional?

It is one thing if you have a team member or good friend who has worked with the candidate in the past and another entirely to go digging into somebodies working history to find old/current colleagues/managers to talk to.


It's not any of those things and avoiding bad employees certainly is good for the market, it prevents wasteful expenditure.

> Do I really need to explain why putting another persons current job at risk in order to gain a small advantage for yourself is unethical and unprofessional?

To say you're putting somebody's current job at risk is completely hyperbolic. They've already accepted your offer, if they lose their job (how?) and you hire them, you aren't putting them at risk. (And what, you think a past coworker is going to contact an employee's current boss and tell him the employee's going to leave? Yeah right. It's implausible that that would happen in any particular case, not implausible that it happened nonzero times in the universe, but again, you're hiring them anyway. Unless it turns out they're horrible to work with, in which case, the employer and the employer's other employees avoided a lot of needless suffering.)

> It is one thing if you have a team member or good friend who has worked with the candidate in the past and another entirely to go digging into somebodies working history to find old/current colleagues/managers to talk to.

You've put a distinction here but you lack an explanation why one behavior is immoral or unethical. (Specifically for old colleagues/managers.) Yes, you do need to spell it out. Or you could just not bother because who cares.


"They've already accepted your offer"

What makes you think the kind of reference checks the article is talking about happens after an offer has been made and accepted?

In my experience these kind of reference checks happen well before an offer is made, and they are often run in parallel on the top few candidates. So the majority of people reference checked are not offered the role.

"And what, you think a past coworker is going to contact an employee's current boss and tell him the employee's going to leave?"

I've seen word get around plenty of times even without any backdoor reference checks going on.

"avoiding bad employees certainly is good for the market"

Except if you don't know the person you are talking to then how can you judge the accuracy of what they have to say when they provide a reference?

Edit: In fact if they want to do it it should be stated as part of their application process. Then people who feel it is invasive and unethical can simply not apply for those jobs. And if they do a great job at weeding out bad apples then eventually it will become accepted practice.


> What makes you think the kind of reference checks the article is talking about happens after an offer has been made and accepted?

It talks about checking the references given by the candidate in the same breath, there's a certain spatial locality there. Also whatever vagueness there is in the article does not open up the door for unqualified bitching.

> Except if you don't know the person you are talking to then how can you judge the accuracy of what they have to say when they provide a reference?

Using social skills.


Using social skills.

I am not the most socially skilled person in the world. On the field, I doubt I'm even 50th percentile. Probably 35th, to be honest.

That said, judging from everything you've posted, you're a fucking poster boy for the Dunning-Kruger Effect. So... I lolt. Nice job. You got a chuckle and two-thirds out of me.


Actually, I'm quite aware that the output half of my "social skills" is horrible.


My previous reply got killed so I'm just going to say this. Rescinding an offer based on a back-channel reference is not just unethical, but it's dangerous to your legal position and your reputation.

If you pass on a candidate (before the offer stage) based on a back-channel reference, then you're being unethical but you probably won't get caught, because people rarely probe (or are even able to do so) into why someone pased. If you actually rescind an offer over a bad reference... you'll have to cut a sizable hush fee to come out safe.

That said, I can't tell at this point if your fascist schtick is trolling or serious, but it's disturbing either way.




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