Thursday, January 26, 2012

What References are Really Saying About You

I remember the first recommendation an editor wrote for me. It was glowing. It was wonderful. It told editors they would be idiots not to hire me.

I still have copies of that recommendation. I found one the other day and preened around the rest of the day, even though the cats seemed singularly unimpressed.

What would I have done without that glowing report? I know it helped open a lot of doors for me, and I'm eternally grateful to that editor.

But what would I have done if that editor had not written the recommendation and was secretly bad-mouthing me behind my back? You can bet a lot of doors would have slammed shut and I would never have known why.

This latest story I did for Gannett/USAToday should open your eyes to the possibility that not all your references have your best interests at heart....

If you've been frustrated that you haven't managed to nail a new job despite your qualifications and solid interviews, your references could be the root of the problem.

"You should never assume what other people will say about you," says Executive Vice President Jeff Shane ofAllison & Taylor Inc., a professional reference-checking company.

References from former workplaces, especially supervisors, carry a lot of weight with a potential employer. But even a hint from a former boss, such as an unenthusiastic tone of voice when talking about you, is enough to kill your chances of landing a job, he says.

While you may believe that a former employer will follow its policy and provide only dates of service to someone checking your references, don't count on it.

"Those who call to check your references know once they get someone (from a former workplace) on the phone, they can get them to divulge more — especially supervisors because they tend to be more talkative," Shane says.

Even if a supervisor or human-resource manager tries to avoid giving any additional information because of liability worries, recruiters often can find a way around that requirement.

"They'll ask questions like 'can you enthusiastically recommend this person?' or 'what were this person's strengths and weaknesses?' " Shane says. "They're going to ask if there is someone else they should talk to. They're going to find people who will talk."

You may think that one way around this is not giving a potential employer permission to contact a former employer.

That's a big mistake, Shane says.

"That's just a red flag to them," he says. "That may kill your job chances right there."

Shane says it never ceases to amaze him that more than half of the references on a candidate come back with negative. Former colleagues or supervisors can be very vindictive when providing references.

"It explains a lot about why good people aren't getting jobs," he says. "Any negative thing can knock you out in this job market. There are lots of very good candidates for most positions, so any weak link is often fatal."

Employers use Shane's company to check references. But job seekers who can't figure out why they've been rejected for several jobs when they're well qualified and have good interviews are also clients.

That's when some digging turns up references who are trash-talking or leading a potential employer to believe the hire would be a bad idea.

"You may even have a reference say, 'Let me check the legal file to see what I can say,' and that tips off the recruiter that there may be something negative about you," Shane says. "Even hesitation in the voice can tip the scale against you."

So what can you do to combat negative references killing your job chances? Shane suggests:

• Cultivate relationships. "Try to find out what (former colleagues) will say about you. Talk to them about the job description and how you're qualified for the job," he says. "Make sure you always check in with your most recent supervisor."

• Google yourself. Do you see anything that can be perceived as damaging?

If someone has written something negative about you online, try to reason with the person about why you need it removed.

"Tell them their off-the-cuff remarks are hurting you. If they won't listen, tell them you may take legal action if they don't rescind them," he says.

• Confront vindictive sources. Shane says his company has sent a number of cease-and-desist letters to people providing negative references about someone, and in all those cases the people have stopped making the comments.

Since company policy forbids many to reveal more than employment dates, they realize they're violating the rules and could lose their jobs, he says.

"My final advice is to never assume anything. References are key, so be proactive and do your due diligence. Find out what people are saying about you," he says.

How would you react if you knew someone gave you a bad recommendation?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I work at a Staffing Agency and I feel that it is always good to give a heads up to your references and provide them with your latest resume. Also make sure to check with your references on the time and best way they can be reached and let the recruiter know of their preferences. Many a times a reference caught off gaurd may end up giving negative or wrong information about you which can raise a reg flag.