Ask A Recruiter: Using Backdoor References

Q: I have an interview coming up and want to find out more about the company, but there’s not a lot of information about them online.


A: It’s commendable that you want to research and find out more about the company you’re meeting with. Hiring managers like to see candidates who have done their homework, as it demonstrates your interest in finding a job and an employer that is the right fit for you.


When looking for additional information, keep an eye out for disconfirming information and different perspectives. In other words, don’t stop just because you find information that confirms your assumptions and predispositions about the company. In the end, if your research yields contradictory information, it will give you more to talk about in the interview!


If you’ve exhausted publicly available resources, like the company’s web site and social media pages (e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and other pages like Glassdoor, and you have tried finding articles or other links via Google searches, it may be time to consider backdoor references.


A backdoor reference refers to finding information via a secondary or less publicly known method. One way to do this would be to find someone in your network that works at the company you’re looking into.


A good way to start is to search LinkedIn for anyone in your network that’s affiliated with the company or is connected to someone else who’s at the company.


Once you find a connection, you’ll want to make the most of your opportunity to gather insight on what it’s like to work at the company.


A questioning tactic that has become popular lately is to ask “stay” questions, as in “What makes you stay in this position/at this company?” Other stay interview questions cover what’s good and bad about the employee’s job, like these from

  • What about your job makes you want jump out of bed?
  • What about your job makes you want to hit the snooze button?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What’s your dream job?
  • If you changed your role completely, what would you miss the most?
  • If you won the lottery and didn’t have to work, what would you miss?
  • What did you love in your last position that you’re not doing now?
  • What makes for a great day at work?
  • If you had a magic wand, what would be the one thing you would change about your work, your role and your responsibilities?
  • What do you think about on your way to work?
  • What’s bothering you most about your job?


If your contact isn’t working in the department or role that you’re interested in, ask them if they can put you in touch with someone who works in a similar role. This will help you get a sense of the role’s responsibilities and the team’s culture.


Of course, you’ll want to practice discretion when pursuing backdoor references, which is why it’s important to look for personal connections and contacts you know to be trustworthy. Keep your questions professional – you don’t want to be perceived as negative or prying for gossip.



As PSG’s internal HR Manager, Heather is a certified Professional in HR and oversees the team that brings talent into the organization.  She also oversees PSG’s training programs and is a member of the MSA Legislative Committee as well as NEHRA’s Diversity Scholarship and Conference Planning Committees.


Ask A Recruiter – Researching a Company Before an Interview

Q: How do I go about researching a company before I interview with them?

A: As a recruiter, I’m glad you’re asking this question! It shows initiative, which employers will appreciate too.

First, let me point out all the reasons why conducting research before an interview is so important:

  • It will help you understand what the company does and what their place is in their market.
  • It will help you form questions to ask during the interview. (For more information on preparing smart questions to ask during an interview, see my colleague’s recent post on the topic.)
  • It will also help you form answers to the questions you will be asked during the interview. After researching the company and its products and/or services, you’ll be able to respond to questions with a better sense of what the interviewer is looking for and can use the language and terms the company is familiar with.
  • You will learn the company address and can use that to practice getting to the location on time for the interview.
  • You will learn about the company culture, its core values and mission. Often these corporate objectives are stated on the company web site. If the company has a blog, you can read the entries to get a sense of how its employees relate to their employer.
  • You can find out more about the people who work at the company, especially the management team, including their background, previous work connections and experiences.
  • If the company is publicly traded, you can search by its ticker symbol to find out about the financial health of the company, its major stakeholders and what people are saying about its future prospects.
  • You can see whether anyone in your network works at the company or is connected to its employees.
  • You can research competitors, which will enable you to participate in a higher-level dialogue and sound confident while adding to the conversation.

I recommend spending an hour to an hour and a half researching online. Start with the company website, where you typically will find an ‘About Us’ section and other pages with detail on the company’s products and services. You can also Google the company to find recent news articles. LinkedIn is a good source for seeing whether anyone you know works at the firm or is connected to its employees. Be wary of information or comments on complaint boards or web sites that promise “inside information” as they might be tainted by their source, i.e. a disgruntled individual.

About the Recruiter 
ImageKristen Coppins has 8+ years of experience in the staffing and recruiting industry.  As a Director and member of the management team at Professional Staffing Group (PSG), she oversees the new hire training and development program. Kristen is also a member of ASA’s Continued Education Committee.