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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August 20 2013 at 9:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dot Mallar

I would be happy to have it mandatory to take a drug test regarding employment, along with Congress, Senate, and the House of Representatives taking the same test, and we the people must be made aware of the results, as they work for us, we are their Employers. Also, everyone on welfare and unemployment must be tested for drugs before receiving these benifits. If the above is not made mandatory, then we should all have reservations regarding being tested for drugs, don't you think????????????

June 20 2010 at 7:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mark steger

No sweat folks. If your past employer has any human resource experiance they will simply reply on employment dates and if they would consider you for re hire. If they say no then its up to them to hire you or move on to the next. Uasually a collage grad who wont show up half the time.

June 20 2010 at 5:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
r stevenson

why don't you let the new employer do his own research and find out for himself about his potential employee....then make up his own mind whether to hire or not. everyone has a right to work whether or not it could not work out at their last job,whatever the reason...which you do not really know !

June 20 2010 at 4:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Drug screens; reference checks; criminal background checks; dirver's license checks; cedit report checks; physicals; polygraphs tests; all this for a miserly paying job! It used to be you were hired, you'd go to work and do the job. Now, everyone is paranoid.
Do you think Bill Gates has to have a "background check?" How about he criminal Wall Stret bankers? How about Warren Buffet? The common and average wage slave in this country is sliced, diced and gone over like the common criminal. That is your America folks. God Bless the poor.

June 20 2010 at 2:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have come to this conclusion - if you are getting unemployment that means that you lost your job through no fault of your own. You did nothing wrong. A prospective employer should look at that and say "okay, no reference needed". If you lost your job and were denied unemployment, most likely you were a bad employee or you had a psychotic supervisor (like I did). I appealed and won, which means I was right. References are usually personal opinions, which can be skewed left and right. A company should just bite the bullet and hire someone and if they don't work out, hire somebody else. Companies are so paranoid about hiring the wrong person.

June 02 2010 at 4:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow, it's amazing how many people want to go on the attack and are so defensive about a comment I made. The article was giving the impression that a company/former boss must NEVER give a bad reference otherwise the former employee can sue. My point was about how unfare that is for a future employer looking into an employee they are considering hiring, and if all bad references can be sued over, then what good are they? Of course, yes, there are those unsavory employers who will unjustly give bad references because they were the ones who were bad, not the employee....but the article never specifically touched on that. THAT is a whole different story. Most of your assumptions about me were way off. I have never been upper management, or a corporate honcho. Most of the higher ups I've known have just been on a power trip. I find that most of the executives in a company are usually not as smart as their underlings, who usually work a lot harder and more hours they do. I was one of those underlings. I worked 12-14 hours days for no extra pay and after 12 years my job was outsourced to Texas. But I got a good reference because I busted butt to get my job done. And no I've never ever done drugs in my life. Way off on that one SMJ. It would be nice if people could comment back on here in a mature professional manner. Disagreements can be done in a civilized way, but maybe that's impossible for some of you people. My original "drugs" comment was due to the fact that the author wrote such a fragmented article.

June 02 2010 at 1:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Susan Mintzer

Tess, it was well written.
Corporate has it's own culture and structure.
I've sat in the same seat as you. At times it feels like the
Twilight Zone.
So...some insight. The only reasons we are all on this planet are two. To learn and to love.
P.S. I have been privy to witness over 5000 births, I have "toe tagged" about 50 patients, thankfully, on a different unit. People, patients, go out the same way they come in. (Free. No Stuff.) It's a wonderful lesson.

June 02 2010 at 12:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I had a good job for 6-1/2 years. My menopausal supervisor thought I did something against one of her stupid policies, so here I am on unemployment. I have found out that she now realizes she was wrong, but it doesn't matter. She'll never "lower" herself to apologize to me. I was originally denied unemployment because of what she wrote on the paperwork the DOL sent her. I filed an appeal and won, I think, because she chose not to participate in the hearing to "show evidence" that I did anything wrong. It's a horrible thing to happen to a good person, but I have spent too much energy worrying about it. If I have to sell my house and move in with my brother, so be it. At least I have options, not like some people.

June 01 2010 at 11:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey Fred, that's funny about your girlfriends and wives! References from a former employer are probably the last thing on my mind right now. I can't even get a response to any applications I have filed. It's sort of like winning the lottery right now. I'm not having any luck with that either!

June 01 2010 at 11:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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