While there are many factors for the job seeker to consider in landing that new job, one stands out as particularly critical—and often overlooked. Your employment references will surely be vetted by prospective employers and can ultimately make-or-break the hiring decision.
Unfortunately, job seekers are too often unaware or misinformed of how job reference vetting really works. Here are 6 false perceptions that explain why countless job seekers go for months, or years, without landing that next job:
Myth No. 1:
Companies cannot say anything negative about a former employee.
While countless companies have policies dictating that only title, dates of employment, and salary history can be discussed, their employees—particularly at the management level—frequently violate such policies. Former supervisors are particularly notorious in this regard, e.g. the boss with whom you had philosophical differences, was jealous of you, or perhaps even have harassed you.
Myth No. 2
Most corporations direct reference check requests to their Human Resources (HR) departments, and they are trained to ensure that nothing negative will be said about me.
Most Human Resources professionals will indeed follow proper protocol. However, be warned that some will not. When asked whether a former employee is eligible for rehire, some will indicate they are not—and may go on to explain why this is the case. Even if they indicate “not eligible” and offer no further explanation, a potential employee is unlikely to take the risk of hiring you without knowing the reason why a past employer has described you as ineligible for rehire.
Myth No. 3
Assuming HR has nothing negative to say about me, I should be OK with that company, reference-wise.
Prospective employers have figured out that former supervisors are much more likely to offer revealing commentary about a company’s former employees. Your supervisor(s) knew you personally and has formed opinions about you, favorable or otherwise. When asked for their opinion, supervisors frequently forget, or are unaware of, company policies that typically instruct them to refer incoming reference inquiries to HR.
Prospective employers will invariably seek this supervisory input. (How many times have you been asked “May we contact your former supervisor?”) For this reason, it is critical that you are aware not only of how HR will respond to reference inquiries about you but also how your former supervisor(s) will respond.
Myth No. 4
I should have my references listed on my resume and distribute them together.
You never want to list your references on your resume or indicate “References Provided Upon Request.” You do not want companies that may have little/no interest in hiring you, bothering your references. What’s more, you may be wrongly assuming that the references you list truly “have your back.” Countless job seekers offer up the names of references that ultimately provide lukewarm or unfavorable commentary about them.
Instead, job seekers should cultivate their management references carefully, treating them with respect and updating them periodically as a courtesy. In addition, the candidate should have a list of their references readily available (in the same format/font as their resume) to be given to prospective employers. When offered at the conclusion of an interview—in a highly professional format—it can create a very proactive (and favorable) ending impression.
You should personally check your key references by utilizing a firm like Allison & Taylor, a third-party reference-checking organization that identifies the commentary that previous employers will offer about you to potential new employers. You will want to ensure that your key references will truly offer supportive commentary about you to your potential new employers. You will also want to identify what your previous supervisors/HR representatives will say about you as they will be regarded by employers as more important than the personal references you list.
Myth No. 5:
I took legal action against my former company, and they are now not allowed to say anything.
They may have been instructed not be able to say anything definitive, but do not put it past them to make your life difficult. There have been countless instances where a former boss or an HR staffer has said, “Hold on a minute while I get the legal file to see what I am allowed to say about this former employee.” Most employers are uncomfortable hiring someone who has a legal history, probably dashing your job prospects.
Myth No. 6:
Even if I have a negative reference, there is no way for me to prevent them from continuing it.
Your first step is to obtain documentation that a reference(s) is indeed problematic by utilizing a professional reference-checking firm to document both the verbal input and the tone of voice being offered by your reference. Once a problem reference has been confirmed, the reference-checking firm can identify an employment attorney well versed in assessing possible legal options. Foremost among these—particularly when the negative input does not constitute a violation of state or Federal law—is a “Cease & Desist” letter. Such letters are typically sent by attorneys to the CEO or senior management of the firm where the negative reference is employed, identifying the negative reference by name and the fact that the reference has been documented as offering negative input about the job seeker. The letter also suggests that if the reference-giver continues to offer such negative input, legal action would be contemplated against the firm.
Allison & Taylor Inc. estimates that approximately 50 percent of all reference checks they conduct reflect some degree of employer negativity. The best way to combat this type of career sabotage is to have written documentation of its existence.
Source: Allison Taylor