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Believing these 6 job reference myths can hurt you

Believing these 6 job reference myths can hurt you

job reference preparation


While there are many factors for the job seeker to consider in landing that new job, one element that’s often overlooked is particularly critical—and that’s job references.

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.


6 job reference myths


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 these 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. Incredibly, approximately 50% of our clients receive a bad reference, despite strict policies in place.

Myth No. 2: HR always follow the rules.


Most corporations direct reference check requests to their Human Resources departments, and they are trained to ensure that nothing negative will be said about me. Most HR professionals do follow proper protocol.

However, be warned: some do 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 say “not eligible” and offer no further explanation, a potential employer 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 the hiring company reference-wise.


Prospective employers have figured out that former supervisors are much more likely to offer revealing commentary about 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 invariably seek this supervisory input. (How many times have you been asked “May we contact your former supervisor?”)  For this reason, it’s critical that you are aware not only of how HR will respond to reference inquiries about you but how your former supervisor(s) will respond as well.

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 don’t want companies that may have little or 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, you should cultivate your management references carefully, treat them with respect, and update them periodically as a courtesy. In addition, you should have a list of your references readily available (in the same format/font as your resume) to be given to prospective employers. When you offer this list—in a highly professional manner—at the conclusion of an interview, you create a very proactive (and favorable) ending impression.

Equally critical is to have a third-party reference checking organization check your key references. When that step is taken, you learn what previous employers will offer about you to potential new employers. This check ensures that your key references—organizations, previous supervisors, and HR representatives—are truly offering supportive commentary about you.

Myth No. 5: Thinking that a former company against which you took legal action isn’t allowed to say anything negative.


The former employer may have been instructed not to say anything definitive, however, don’t assume they’ll skip the chance to make your life difficult. There have been countless instances in which 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. That discomfort may dash your job prospects.

Myth No. 6: Even if I have a negative reference, there is no way for me to prevent a company from continuing to share it.


There is something you can do.

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. One such legal option is sending a “Cease & Desist” letter that suggests that if the reference-giver continues to offer such negative input, legal action would be contemplated against the firm.



Today’s contributor, AllisonTaylor and its principals, have been checking references for corporations and individuals since 1984.

Image credit before quote added: Pixabay





Wondering why a former boss gave you a bad reference?

Wondering why a former boss gave you a bad reference?

bad reference

Who isn’t interested in a new job, a better job, or upgrading a career? That’s what many of us work for.

But there’s a component of the career betterment process that people sometimes overlook, and that’s the job reference. A bad reference can be a killer we’re not initially even aware of.

Former employers are supposed to offer limited information like employment dates and title about previous employees.

Human Resource reps are generally—but not always—consistent in following this policy.

However, it’s often a different story when former supervisors are the ones who are contacted.

While there’s nearly an unlimited list of reasons why a former supervisor might offer potentially damaging information about a job seeker, we’ll focus on seven possible reasons why approximately 50% of past bosses ignore corporate policy and offer negative commentary.


7 reasons bosses give a bad reference


These reasons are:

  1. The past boss may think the person is not qualified for the position for which they are being considered. They may even be envious that one of their team is being considered for such a position.
  2. The past boss may not have liked the person or their performance.
  3. The past boss may fall in the “bad boss” or “bully” category.
  4. The past boss may be unhappy that the person left the organization or are thinking about leaving the organization, and they are either retaliating and/or discouraging someone else from hiring this job seeker.
  5. The past boss may be having a bad day and offer more revealing commentary than what they normally do.
  6. The past boss may simply be offering the truth as they see it, not being mindful—or aware—that they shouldn’t be offering that level of commentary about a former employee.
  7. The past boss may have personal issues and/or biases regarding a person’s age, religion, or sex.

Given the substantial number of negative supervisory references that are given, what can a job seeker do?

First, never assume that a prior supervisor(s) is following company policy when they are contacted about a reference.

Another useful step is determining whether or not a former supervisor is indeed a reference problem. You can determine that by using a reference checking company (they exist!) to conduct a reference check on your behalf. If a former supervisor’s commentary is in any way unfavorable, the job seeker will have some form of recourse in discouraging them from offering such commentary again.

Bottom line, it is critical that the job seeker vet their references prior to seeking new employment.

Sadly, too many candidates only become aware of a negative reference once a number of promising job opportunities have passed them by.



About today’s contributor:  AllisonTaylor and its principals have been in the business of checking references for corporations and individuals since 1984.


Image source: Pixabay