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7 Deadly Myths of Job References

9/29/2009 9:19:57 PM

7 Deadly Myths of Job References By Jeff Shane, Professional Resume Writer

Thinking about your prospects for landing that new job? You should think first about what your former boss and other references will say about you. There is no doubt that, for many job searchers, a person’s previous employers will have a direct bearing on their future. However, more than a few job seekers are under erroneous impressions about what they former employers are allowed to (or what they will) say – here are some commonly held myths:

Myth No. 1: “Companies are not allowed to say anything negative about a former employee.”

Reality: While many companies may have policies dictating that only title, dates of employment and eligibility for rehire can be discussed, their employees at both the supervisory and HR level frequently violate such policies. Due to human nature, providing a reference may be an emotional call for some. How about the boss with whom you had philosophical differences or the supervisor who sexually harassed you? Maybe a boss was just jealous of you? Approximately fifty percent (50%) of Allison & Taylor’s clients receive a bad reference, despite the strict policies in place.

Myth No. 2: “Most corporations direct reference check requests to their Human Resources departments, and these people won’t say anything bad about me.”

Reality: Most human resources professionals will follow proper protocol. However, in addition to what is said, prospective employers often evaluate how something is said. In other words, they listen to tone of voice and note the HR staffer’s willingness to respond to their questions – both critical factors. Often heard is “Check this person’s references very carefully”, an ominous statement from any perspective. A human resources department will often divulge if a person is eligible for re-hire. Are you?

Myth No. 3: “If I had any issues with my former boss, I can simply leave him or her off my reference list and nobody will ever know.”

Reality: Many companies actually check references without your even being aware of it. They conduct a check to determine where you have worked in the past and then call the human resources department or office administrator, frequently at each employer, for a reference. This practice is also used to determine if a prospective employee has left any significant places of employment off of a resume – a bad move that should be avoided.

Myth No. 4: “I should have my references listed on my resume and distribute them together.”

Reality: Your references should be treated with kid gloves. Only provide them when asked. The last thing you want is a number of companies that may or may not have a real interest in hiring you bothering your references. What’s more, you want to meet with a prospective employer first to leave a favorable impression before any reference checks take place. If you suspect a less than favorable reference from someone, you can use the interview to proactively address that situation.

Myth No. 5: “Once a company hires me, my references really do not matter anymore.”

Reality: Many employment agreements/contracts include a stipulation that says the employer can terminate you without cause within a 90-day probation period. Not only are they evaluating your job performance but, in some instances, are also checking your background and references. During this time, your new employer may call your former places of employment and, should the feedback be less than desired, they have the legal right to fire you.

Myth No. 6: “I sued my former company and they are now not allowed to say anything.” Reality:

Reality: They may not be able to say anything definitive, but do not put it past them to carefully take a shot at you. There have been countless instances where a former boss or an HR staffer has said, “Hold on a minute while I get the legal file to see what I am allowed to say about this former employee.” Many employers are uncomfortable hiring someone who has a legal history, perhaps dashing your job prospects.

Myth No. 7: “There is really no need to stay in touch with former references.”

Reality: As the saying goes – out of sight, out of mind. Honor these etiquette guidelines and your references should continue singing your praises for a long time. First, call your former boss(s) periodically and update them on your career, asking them to continue being a reference for you. Make sure you thank them for their time. Next, as you move further up the career ladder in your profession or achieve new educational goals, make sure you keep your references abreast of your success. As you progress, a reference is more inclined to see you in a positive light. Finally, acknowledge your references with a personal thank you letter or email; offer to take a former boss to lunch or dinner, or send them a thoughtful gift.

Keep these tips in mind to better ensure that your references won’t be liabilities in your search for new employment.

About Allison & Taylor:

Allison & Taylor, Inc. is a global firm with 27 years of experience in professional reference checking and employment verification.

Since 1984, the company has been featured on,, the Wall Street Journal,, Glamour Magazine, New Woman Magazine, Worth Magazine, the Detroit News, the St. Petersburg Times, and has been rated a "Top Executive Site" in Forbes magazine.

They are open 7/24 for orders via our Web site at

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