Giving a reference is easy if you’re being asked about a beloved former colleague who you know will flourish in their new role. But what if that person did not perform well when they worked for you?


Many HR practitioners will recognise the dilemma of being asked about someone you’d prefer not to work with again – but it is best to try to come up with something positive, or be a little more honest?


Research from Korn Ferry suggests that an increasing number of HR professionals think it is appropriate to give negative feedback, with 54% thinking it is more acceptable than five years ago. This is reflected in the type of feedback given during a reference check, where 58% will share both good and bad points compared with 25% who will only share positive stories.


One reason could be the repercussions for the reference giver if it turns out the new starter wasn’t all they were promised to be. A third (33%) of respondents thought that giving all positive feedback during a reference call could have a greatly negative impact if the person did not end up performing well, and 53% thought it could affect them to some extent.


And, fears that negative feedback could hurt the subject’s fresh new start could be misplaced. A majority (93%) might still take on a candidate who got negative feedback in a reference call, and four per cent would not worry about the poor reference at all. Only three per cent would take the candidate out of the running completely.


“Most people are fearful of giving anything but positive reviews during a reference check, believing it could harm not only the person, but their own reputation. However, that’s not likely the case,” said Bill Gilbert, Korn Ferry Head of North America Professional Search.


“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 program that addresses the feedback.”