Employment Reference Checks: What You Need to Know

reference checksCongratulations! You have just been offered your dream job and everyone on the team thinks you are the perfect match for the position. But wait -- there is one final step. Your employer will need to check your references before they can say welcome aboard. Your relationship with your previous boss was decent until the last six months on the job when you had a falling out. What will he say if asked to comment on your character and performance?

I recently spoke to Jeff Shane, Vice President of Allison & Taylor, Inc. a professional reference checking and employment verification service, to learn more about how employer references work and what job search candidates need to be aware of.


Why do employers check references and what types of questions do they ask?

Employers conduct reference checks to determine what a job applicant's former employer will say about that candidate. Reference checks will often ask the reference to confirm the candidate's dates of employment and title and ask the reference to evaluate the candidate on a scale of 1 to 5 in areas such as interpersonal relations and productivity. The reference may also be asked open-ended questions such as the candidate's eligibility for rehire, reasons for separation, and overall strengths and weaknesses.


How much information will a former employer share?

While most companies have policies dictating that only limited information such as confirmation of employment dates/titles should be offered, a clear majority of all references offer more information than this. Approximately half of all reference checks conducted by Allison & Taylor uncover negative input from the reference.


If you had a difficult relationship with a past supervisor, should you use that person as a reference?

It's often difficult for a candidate not to offer input regarding a previous difficult relationship, especially if that party is a former supervisor or human resources contact. If a candidate refused to provide such input to a prospective employer, the latter may assume that the candidate has something to hide and will not perceive this refusal favorably. When concerned about the input a reference may offer to a prospective employer, it's best for the candidate to have a third-party conduct a reference verification with that individual. If the input is favorable or neutral, the candidate can put that reference's name forward with greater confidence. If the reference is unfavorable, the candidate might consider remedial or legal action to discourage further negative input from that reference.


How can job seekers protect themselves from having negative information about them exposed?

Frequently, requesting that a lawyer send a Cease-&-Desist letter to top management at the firm where the negative reference is employed will do the trick. The letter alerts management concerning the identity of the negative reference and advises management that any further negative input from that reference must stop, otherwise legal action will be pursued. Such letters tend to be very effective because corporate management does not relish the prospect of legal action against their firm and also they are aware that their own corporate policies likely mandate that no employee is to offer negative reference information about a former employee.

When it comes to managing your employment references, a little bit of knowledge is a powerful thing. Find out what your references would say about you before you start interviewing so you can offer your reference list confidently at the time it is requested.

Next: Keeping It Real When Looking for a New Job


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