Are Your References Keeping You From Getting Hired?

interview referencesYou make it through the final interview with flying colors. The hiring manager all but offers you the job, but needs a few days to check references and complete paperwork before making you an offer. Then, silence. You never hear from him again.

If this scenario sounds familiar, you might have a bad reference on your resume.

Most people assume that former employers won't give a negative report when potential employers call for a reference. But that isn't necessarily true. Even though corporate guidelines may state that only your employment dates and position titles can be confirmed, it is not necessarily illegal for a reference to give negative commentary about a former employee, says Jeff Shane, a spokesperson for Allison & Taylor, Inc., a professional reference checking and employment verification firm.

"References can, and very frequently do, offer considerably more commentary to your prospective employer than simply verifying your employment dates and title," Shane says. "As a result, many job-seeking candidates who expected a favorable, or at least neutral, assessment from their references unknowingly lose out on employment opportunities that are torpedoed as a result of a negative reference."

If you fear that a former supervisor may be "torpedoing" your chances for a new job, you have a few options:

  • Pursue Legal Action. Not all negative input is unlawful. It is illegal if it involves discrimination, defamation, retaliation, disparagement or sexual harassment, Shane says. It's unlikely that you'll ever know what specific negative feedback a reference gave - because a prospective employer will rarely share the negative reference with a job candidate for their own legal protection. But if a third party can document that a reference gave communication that was wrongful, inaccurate, malicious or illegal, you may have legal recourse. Talk to an attorney about the possibilities.

  • Send a Cease and Desist Letter. If a reference's negative input is not unlawful, but is restricting your ability to get a job, you can typically address the situation by sending a cease and desist letter. This letter must be issued by your attorney to the senior management of the company where the negative reference originated, and the letter is designed to alert management of the negative reference's identity and actions. "Typically, the very act of offering a negative reference is against corporate guidelines, which normally state that only a former employee's title and dates of employment can be confirmed," Shane says. When a cease and desist letter is received, the negative reference will be "cautioned by management not to offer additional comments and, out of self-interest, is unlikely to offer negative commentary again," Shane says.

  • Find out the Truth. If you don't know whether or not a negative reference is impeding your job search, consider hiring a third-party reference checking firm. Such a firm can interview your references and document everything they say for your review. According to Shane, approximately 50 percent of all reference checks conducted by Allison & Taylor uncover negative input from the reference. And the report provided by a reference checking firm can be used for legal action or to develop a cease and desist letter.

Next: How to Handle References

Don't Miss: Companies Hiring Now

Stories from AskMen

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

To billv0164:

I did check out the EEOC website ( and it does NOT say that it is illegal to give negative references period. Here's what it says instead:

"Employment References
It is illegal for an employer to give a negative or false employment reference (or refuse to give a reference) because of a person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information."

September 20 2011 at 10:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


September 16 2011 at 11:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to billv0164's comment

Giving a negative reference is NOT illegal in the US. The EEOC website indicates that it is illegal to give a negative or false reference "because of a person's race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disibility or genetic information." If the negative reference is given for a legitimate reason other than those, it is OK.

September 16 2011 at 12:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Every one's Option's are Differ about a employee,and a Company can ruin your life by not telling the real Story...For Exsample I worked for a Hosipal,and the Staff loved me and told me how great of a worker I was and wish they had more like me..but with-in the Hospital I worked though a Contract they had with the Hosipal, The first Contract was 25 yrs with the Hosipal..Than that company lost and another company came and was told each of us would not lose our Job's...But sure enough one by one the new company found some lame excuse to get rid of most of us, I manage to hang on until for bout one year later..Total of 1 and half yr's at the Hospital..most of us were in Shock at how the new company went about doing this..I fought until the end,all because of one person was doing anything and everything to try and prove I was doing something wrong, and he could-not find anything, it's just he didn't like me from the beginning..and am most sure his Boss told him to do what-ever it take's to get me out of there...It was so unfair...There was a time that a team-leader postion came open so I applyed for it....But did not get it----but someone who was only there for maybe two month got the can that be...she walked in and new it all, so it told me she had been with the new company some where else ,but played if off as a new employee...I was treated so unfairly, and I believe when I go to other Job hunting that person who didn't like me,lie's about my work history....I just wish I knew how to prove I was being pick on cause I did-not Deserve to lose my Job.........

September 16 2011 at 10:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to BONNIE's comment

E E O C.

September 16 2011 at 11:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to billv0164's comment

... which WILL back up my post above. (The EEOC website is where you will find that it IS against the law in America to give a negative reference. Period.)

September 16 2011 at 11:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

If I were to guess, perhaps your grammatical and english skills kept you from being promoted and/or hired. I'm not trying to be mean to you. You have numerous errors in your post. If you had supplied me with a resume or job application like what you posted, I'd have passed you over as well. You may be great at the job itself, but if you cannot communicate, you simply will not be considered for more than the most basic positions.

September 16 2011 at 12:09 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Addendum on the off chance that you aren't sure who is slandering you you can be sneaky and call the listed references yourself claiming to be a possible employer for yourself and find out that way. The freedom of information laws have a gray area about that if your doing it for yourself and not someone else unless that is indeed your job.

September 16 2011 at 10:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Katie's comment

... but you STILL need to read my post above.

September 16 2011 at 11:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Limiting work history references to only employment dates and position titles only serves to protect bad employees. However, I see this situation in two ways. On the one hand, as a potential employer, it should be legal for a former employer to tell me if my potential employee caused a "situation" in the work environment by spending about 2 hours a day shopping on the Internet via the work computer, which is documented and backed up by computer records. On the other hand, if I have a lazy, gossipy employee who's looking for another job, I would be better off giving her a glowing reference, anything that get's her off my payroll and onto someone else's!

September 16 2011 at 9:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Angela's comment

if someone "causing a situation" has an OUNCE of brains, they WON'T be asking that employer FOR a reference! But, STILL, see my post above.

September 16 2011 at 11:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My solution is simpler. Generally you know which employer is slandering you so don't list them as a reference. If you had a good relationship with someone at the company use them as a personal business reference and make sure you have a reliable phone number for that person. The other option is simply to mark the do not call box that most applications have.

September 16 2011 at 9:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There is the story about the maintenance person at a church. The work was terrible and the employee did as little as possible. The employer, a clergyman, was too kindhearted to fire the employee as he had several chlidren. One day the employee told the clergyman that he had found another job and would like a letter of reference. The clergyman was overjoyed but was inwardly torn between lying which was morally wrong amnd telling the truth which meant he would still have the employee. The clergyman solved the problem by writing the following letter of reference "To whom it may concern, if you can get this man to work for you, you are a very lucky person."

September 16 2011 at 9:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have been unemployed for almost 3 years now. My last position was the first job I have ever been terminated from in my life. I still use them as a reference as I have verification that I was a top producer in the company for my entire term of employment. Although I was terminated for excessive absences, these were due to an emergency medical condition that I had no control over and had to have several surgeries to correct ( none , elective, btw). Although my company claimed to be supportive and assured me that my absences would be covered under FMLA, that was not the case. I was assured that I would receive an excellent reference and was invited to return to work in the future after a specific time lapse due to my stats which excelled even during my medical crisis. However, so far I have only been able to get 1 job part-time in retail from an employer who had checked my references BEFORE I was terminated, as I had been looking for seasonal employment the previous holiday . I have always wondered in the back of my mind IF my references could be to blame. I had thought of having a friend who works in HR at another company check my references for me, but felt that maybe I was just being silly . After reading this article I am rethinking the reference issue because my work ethic has been stellar, other than the little blip with my previous company.

September 16 2011 at 8:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When I was looking for a job three years ago, it took me 6 months. I had interviewed at many companies. I was called back for second interviews. In some cases, I was called back for a third interview. Yet I never got the job. I secured a job with an agency and went through training. A week before I was slated to start work, the Human Resources Department called me to tell me they couldn't hire me because of a "seriously bad" reference. Yet they wouldn't tell me who it was from. The woman confidentially told me, "Think employment." I called two of the three references I gave. Both said they'd never give me a negative reference. Then I called an ex-coworker from the third job (a small family-owned business) I used as a reference. She told me that when I left, the owner's son was enraged. I know why. He was lazy and had trained me to do most of his work as well as my own. I'm an extreme multi-tasker and was able to easily get his work and mine done. She told me that a customer had come in asking for me and he told her that they had to let me go because they caught me stealing. This wasn't true. I wasn't raised that way. I was finally hired by another company. After I was there about a year, I was talking to my manager about this situation. She told me confidentially that they also received this "seriously bad" reference, but that I was already working there for a month when they received it. Since I was showing myself to be a valuable and trusted worker, they decided to keep me. I've been there for three years plus so far and have proved myself to be trustworthy and a good worker. (I wasn't able to afford to have an attorney write a cease and desist letter. I didn't know back then I could have written one myself.) Because of this man's rage and dishonest reference, I fell behind on my mortgage and am now in danger of losing my home. I'm sure this loser who gave me an untrue bad reference is going through his days blissfully goofing off in daddy's business, not knowing that his moment of anger has caused me major financial problems that haunt me daily. Even if he retracted his lie, the damage is already done.

September 16 2011 at 8:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to frankieboy26's comment

I am so sorry that happened to you. I can only hope that karma takes care of him. Unfortunately, that hardly ever happens soon enough to be truly satisfying.

September 16 2011 at 8:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Some employers only go by your last job worked and form an opinion on that alone. Politics and subjectivity. Nobody really knows how you will do in your next job so I think references should be put in proper perspective. Most employers are pretty dim-witted esp today so they will never understand common sense things.

If you had issues with an employer as many people do today, naturally you get a bad reference from them, even though the employer fudged you over in many instances. It's really too arbitrary to judge anyone on a reference or deny a job. Unless there is something obvious, ex: the person came late to work everyday.

September 16 2011 at 6:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Search Articles

Picks From the Web