I’m sure you’ve heard this oft-spoken mantra before: Your former employer is only allowed to divulge your employment dates and the title you held with the organization.
If you’re confident that your former employers will always adhere to this policy, you might want to think again. Reference-checking firm Allison & Taylor has found that approximately half of the thousands of reference checks they conduct reveal some form of employer negativity (typically from either former supervisors or human resources personnel). Put another way, what you don’t know could prevent you from getting new employment at some future date.
To address this, it’s critical that you first identify exactly what your former employers are actually “offering up” about you to potential new employers. In addition to intentional negativity, employers sometimes inadvertently offer information that (for example) may contradict information you have put on your resume. Here are six reasons you would be well advised to check your own references before embarking on a new job search:
1. Your references may not be saying what you expect. If your reference is offering any negativity about you whatsoever, it will put you at a disadvantage vis a vis other candidates whose references are either glowing or neutral. Your odds of landing that job will be negligible at best.
2. Prospective employers won’t tell you if they have uncovered any reference negativity about you. Instead, they’ll simply tell you that they’ve “decided to go in a different direction,” or — more likely still — you will simply never hear from that company again.
3. The company’s comment policy may not be what they think it is. Again, many people assume that an employer can’t or won’t say anything of a negative nature and are unpleasantly surprised to find out this may not be the case. All too often, employers say unflattering things about former employees — whether it goes against company policy or not.
4. Your reference contact may no longer work for the company. Many job seekers make the mistake of not staying in close contact with the person they intend to use for a reference. You need to ensure that person is still there to respond to inquiries. If your reference is no longer there, a reference checker may end up speaking with someone who won’t cast you in such a positive light.
5. Your resume may not reflect their HR records. Beware a scenario where your former employer has different employment dates, position title or supervisor listed than what you have presented. This type of discrepancy might suggest to a new employer that you are being less than truthful about your employment history.
6. You may have been omitted from the HR records entirely. This can occur in the case of mergers, where not all records make the transfer into a new system. It’s also not uncommon with the self-employed; many companies do not hold records for contractors in their HR systems. It will reflect poorly on you when an employer calls and is told that there’s no record of you ever having worked for their company.
Fortunately, reference-checking organizations such as Allison & Taylor can quickly and easily help you verify exactly what your former employers are saying about you. In the event that any “unpleasant surprises” are revealed, be aware there are tools at your disposal to ensure that a reference problem is successfully addressed. But the first step is to find out what your previous employers are really saying!