You are recruiting an executive for a critical role. You have hired a search professional because you have run out of network. The senior recruiter has met your team, understands your company goals and objectives, and pulls together a targeted position description. You are now ready to start evaluating candidates.

The recruiter shares a candidate and reviews a list of prospects and people they plan to contact with your blessing. You decide you like the lead candidate, so you call a few of your buddies to check the person out before scheduling the first interview. One of your colleagues tells you that the candidate is very talented. Another colleague has a different point of view and says the candidate is stubborn (insubordinate, difficult, etc.) You decide that stubbornness is not suitable for you and your team, and you decide to tell the recruiter that you don’t like the candidate after all, and you have not had a phone call with the candidate

Now what? Well, you have eliminated someone on a couple of data points and possibly a strong opinion, not on a full capabilities assessment. You have no idea how long ago this negative review was observed or if the candidate has grown out of this bad habit. Nor do you know if this data point came from when they had some personal struggles – all you know is what your colleague told you.

If the candidate is currently working – it is more dangerous. You are poking around in the candidate’s past and character; the inquiry may unintentionally put them at risk of losing their current role. Another risk is that this could start a chink in the relationship of that candidate with their current team.

Backdoor references provide a very limited and often biased view of a person’s performance. Every good reason to hire a search professional is not just because you cannot find people yourself but because you want to hire right, and you need to democratize the process. You need someone to keep you accountable for hiring the right person, be unbiased, and ensure you make a great hire.

There are no perfect candidates – only perfectly flawed humans with specialized skills in your industry. What matters most depends on the function and performance. What results did they get? How did this person communicate and build relationships? Hopefully, you hire someone unafraid to provide pushback, feedback, and divergent perspectives. The singularity of thought kills many good products and companies.

You don’t want to hire a criminal or someone who creates HR issues. Personal quirks can be accommodated. You are hiring a human being, not a God, people will have faults, and you need to know what they are before you hire them, so you can determine how to integrate this person into the team.

A good reference provides a balanced candidate view – both strengths and weaknesses. What the candidate can and cannot do. You want the whole picture, including understanding what motivates the candidate. The best way to manage and lead the candidate, and what they excel at, in what sort of environment. You need to know what drives this person and makes them want to leave. Every one of us can behave badly; it is your job, as CEO, to make sure you are not the one pushing this person out the door. It is your job to channel and focus people on what you need them to accomplish.

In short, backdoor references are not the best way to discover everything you need to know about a candidate and how they will perform for you. This form of reference checking lacks depth and balance. Hiring a search professional and partnering with them will get you a great hire. A search professional will also provide you with a balanced view of positives and development areas for a candidate and prevents you from any discriminatory bias you may develop as a result of performing a back-door reference, resulting in losing a great hire, too.