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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