Suppose you, as the employer, ask the candidate you’re interested in to provide appropriate references, and you’re supplied with, for the sake of illustration, the name of at least one recent supervisor whom you have been given express permission by the candidate to contact.  You naturally assume that the candidate has already asked that supervisor to serve as one of his references when you make the call.  Once you reach the supervisor, you’re told that company policy forbids him to say anything about the candidate.  Could it be a red flag or just a supervisor following company policy?  It doesn’t matter.

Regardless of the reason the supervisor won’t or can’t talk, you obviously won’t get any of the information you need to make the best hiring decision possible.  What to do?  Go right back to the candidate and tell him either to convince the supervisor to talk to you or find an appropriate substitute who will.  Of course, if none of a candidate’s references will talk, that could very well be a major red flag.

Practically speaking, the reality of most situations is that people who have worked together for any length of time will usually talk to a prospective employer – in spite of company policy.  You may have to make a call to the reference’s home in the evening or on the weekend, but that’s a small price to pay to help insure that the right person is hired for the right job.  “No comment” policies can be overcome by putting the burden right back on the candidate to find appropriate references who will!