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Negotiating A Professional Reference Is Just As Important As A Severance Package

3/2/2010 6:20:31 PM

Negotiating a fair severance package is common when a person involuntarily leaves a company. What many people fail to realize, however, is that it’s just as important to negotiate a fair professional reference for use in landing one’s next position.

Failure to do is one of the biggest blunders people make when they lose a job. No matter how you leave a company, you need to know what your immediate past employer is going to say about you to prospective new ones. Many people mistakenly believe that all employers will simply verify your past employment, but this couldn’t be further from reality. In many cases, people will talk more than they should when providing a reference.

When negotiating a professional reference, a person needs to confirm if he or she is eligible for rehiring, the specific reason for losing the job and - if the employer will provide a reference - what is going to be said. Getting the answers to these questions in writing is a highly recommended.

Job seekers also need to know who is going to be providing the professional reference, as it is not just what is said but how it is said. A reference’s voice inflection can tell prospective employers volumes about a person’s true feelings. In many instances, it’s best for a human resources executive without emotional ties to a former employee to provide the reference. The worst case is an emotional boss who one day may provide a favorable reference and the next day the opposite just because he or she may be having a bad day.

If there is a concern that a former boss may say something derogatory or untrue about a former employee when asked for a professional reference, the human resources department should be contacted to clarify the company’s reference policy. Many managers don’t know the official reference policy of a company and inadvertently say too much. In these instances, someone in human resources needs to remind them of the rules, which forces former bosses to temper their comments.

In some cases, prospective employers who cannot reach a candidate’s professional references simply eliminate that person from contention.

“The interviewing and reference-checking process is all about impressions,” states Heidi Allison, CEO of reference checking firm Allison & Taylor. “What kind of impression do you think a candidate provides if a so-called professional reference refuses to acknowledge a candidate worked for them? Not good.”

So, what is a job seeker to do if a former employer drops the ball? The candidate might have to hire an attorney to prompt the company to cooperate. A letter is sent on one’s behalf to the company, explaining that the candidate needs a job and asking them to provide a professional reference following set policies. Most companies are sympathetic to a candidate’s efforts to find another position and then return the call from the prospective employer.

Note that an “official” letter of recommendation never replaces a professional reference verbally provided to a hiring manager. “Letters of recommendation really aren’t effective in today’s job market,” Allison says. “A candidate can work with the letter provider to assure the letter says all the right things so, in the minds of many hiring managers, they have little credibility no matter who it comes from.” In summary, it’s critical that a job seeker carefully perform their “due diligence” in predetermining and managing – where possible – the input previous employers will offer to prospective new ones.

For advice on the interviewing and reference-checking process, contact Allison & Taylor. They have been in the business of checking references for individuals since 1984. The firm’s services have been listed and recommended in best selling books authored by Martin Yate. In addition, numerous articles have been published about the service in newspapers and magazines including Glamour, New Woman, Worth, NBEW, The Detroit News, and St. Petersburg Times.

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