Candidate Confidential: Informal Background Inquiries Can Backfire

I recently heard from a candidate who told me a cringe-worthy story where her confidentiality was compromised. She interviewed with the CMO, who later that day talked about the candidate by name in a meeting with colleagues from another organization. Two people at the table knew the candidate and sang her praises.

As soon as the meeting was over, both people who knew the candidate reached out to her to find out what was going on. “I didn’t know you were looking,” one of the former co-workers said. “Is everything okay in your current job?”

Needless to say, the candidate was horrified! Her assumption was that her interviews were confidential. And that should be an accurate assumption for anyone in her position.

While it’s not illegal to do an informal background inquiry, there is an expectation (and rightfully so) that candidates will give written permission for you to check references. A quick search on LinkedIn may reveal shared connections and your first inclination might be to do a little “poking around” by asking about the candidate within your network. This could cause more trouble than you think.

In this shrinking world, word could easily and quickly get back to the candidate’s current employer, causing significant problems. At best, the candidate has now lost trust and confidence in you and your organization and the candidate’s boss has lost trust in them. Worst case scenario: the candidate is fired from their current job.

Candidates need to trust that there is a level of confidentiality when interviewing. Not only is it good to remember as the hiring leader, but also give a reminder to everyone on the interview team. It sets the tone for your organization and the role you are hoping to fill. Integrity starts with honesty during the hiring process – on both sides.