News And Advice

Insights, tips and news for job seekers and employers.

Deciphering a Neutral Reference Check

Performing reference checks is a standard part of the hiring process if you’re a recruiter or an HR professional. And it seems simple enough — call the candidate’s listed references in their application and ask them your questions. But sooner or later, you’ll run into a problem: the neutral reference check.

Read on to find out more about neutral reference checks and what to do about them.

What is a neutral reference check?

A neutral reference check means that the reference you contacted stayed, well… neutral. They didn’t give ecstatic praise for the candidate, but they didn’t disparage them, either. Their feedback on your candidate wasn’t necessarily bad, but it wasn’t good. This leaves you in the lurch — you’ll probably start wondering if your candidate is the ideal fit you thought they were or if the reference was having an “off” day.

Why did your candidate receive a neutral reference check?

It’s important to realize several possible reasons why the reference you called gave a neutral reference check. Keeping these possibilities in mind can help you navigate a neutral reference check when it happens.

First, it’s possible that the reference’s company policy doesn’t allow them to say everything they might like. Perhaps they’re restricted from giving feedback on former employees. This doesn’t reflect poorly on your candidate; it’s just a matter of policy.

It’s also possible that the reference is reluctant to speak negatively about the candidate, even if they have negative things they could say. References might feel like they should always be polite. Another possibility is that the reference didn’t really know the candidate very well, and they simply don’t have any profound insights.

How can you make the most of a neutral reference check?

Whatever the reason for a neutral reference check, how can you make the most of it when it happens? The first tip is to ask specific questions that the reference can’t answer vaguely. For example: “Would you hire this person again?” You can also address the neutrality outright and ask the candidate if there’s a particular reason they’re not giving specifics. And remember: if every other reference you’ve talked to gives glowing recommendations and one does not, they’re the outlier.

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