A hiring manager wrote in with a question regarding references –

My industry is pretty tight knit and I’m pretty well-connected.  Often, when I interview candidates it turns out I know people they used to work with.  Is it okay to reach out to them and learn a little about the candidate? 


We asked Senior Recruitment Consultant Georgia Harper for her input on the issue. Specializing in Office Personnel recruitment, Georgia deals with a very high volume of candidates and counsels on this issue often – 


The short answer: No, that is not okay. VERY not okay.

Sorry, I know you were probably expecting a different answer but it’s a problem for a couple of reasons. First and foremost: it’s illegal! And you may be getting your contact in legal trouble too. But don’t worry! There are ways to get the information you need without stepping on any legal landmines. References are hugely important so let me walk you through how to get them in the right way.

Let’s get all the legal stuff out of the way first, shall we? It’s actually pretty simple:

  1. It can be illegal to contact a reference that you don’t have explicit approval to contact.
  2. The information that your friend in the industry gives you can get them in hot water, too.
  3. If word gets out in your small industry that this candidate is looking, and the candidate is then laid off because their current boss doesn’t like it…. Well, that’s illegal too.

So, aside from the scary legal stuff, what else is wrong with this tactic? I think it comes down to respect and confidentiality. A candidate submits their information to you, trusting that the hiring process is confidential and that their career (and their livelihood) isn’t sacrificed for simply going to some interviews. If their job safety is threatened there can be several consequences:

  1. If word gets out that you are a big talker in the market, your reputation will suffer.  AND…
  2. Quality candidates will think twice about applying. I mean, would you apply if you knew that your boss or coworkers would hear about it through the grapevine?

So how do we avoid these pitfalls?  It’s pretty easy. Just make sure you have consent to contact the references and a paper trail to back you up.  If you meet with a candidate and realize that Susan from XYZ Company used to manage this candidate, ask them if Susan could be a reference. If they say no, ask why. If the reason seems legitimate, respect their boundaries and ask for a different reference.  If the candidate can’t come up with a good reason, trust your gut. But don’t call Susan unless you’ve been given clear consent to do so.



As a specialized recruiter in the office personnel space, Georgia is truly committed finding the best candidates for the clients she works with. A strong relationship builder, Georgia is dedicated to earning the trust of those she works with by being reliable, honest, and hardworking. If you’re looking to explore new career opportunities in senior office support or human resources, contact Georgia at 604-682-9999 or email gharper@theheadhunters.ca