I recently went through a round of interviews and had a candidate in mind who was "number 1" among the rest. Then I called his references and they were terrible!! He was great in the interview - totally professional, had examples for behavioral questions, great communicator, etc. So I called all three of his references and they were pretty bad – apathetic, didn’t have great things to say about his quality of work, etc.
I did not offer him the position. He sent me an email thanking me for the opportunity and asked for feedback about what he could do better next time. My peers say that I cannot under any circumstances tell him that his references were bad or even hint that his references were the reason he didn't get an offer. My friends who work in HR said the same.
I'm torn. On one hand, I think he should know that his references aren’t doing him any favors. On the other, I don’t want to betray the confidence of the references and/or open up a legal can of worms. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.