5 Steps To Take When You Know Your Job Reference is Negative

Published: Nov 03, 2011

5 Proactive Steps To Take When You Know Your Employment Reference is Negative By Jeff Shane for BioSpace.com

In his search for a new medical disposable products sales position, Jonathan knew that his references would surely play a role in his hiring process. He had heard that former employers are only supposed to confirm your previous employment dates and title, in which case he could reasonably assume that the reference check process shouldn’t be problematic.

Was this a good assumption? The unfortunate answer: not necessarily.

National reference checking firms report that nearly 50% of the references they check offer lukewarm or even downright negative feedback. Clearly, such negative feedback can ensure that a candidate like Jonathan will remain unemployed for some time to come – and he may not even know that negative references in his background even exist.

Not all bad references are a surprise, however; frequently a job seeker already knows that their reference report will be less than favorable. Perhaps they’ve already had a reference check done, and received negative feedback, or they’ve had trusted sources who have told them what a reference is saying about them. In some instances, the job seeker may even have gotten the negative input directly from their former employer, e.g. You’ll never work in this industry again!.

While any of us would dread the prospect of a negative reference, it’s better to know about such feedback before you’ve begun your job search. Consider the use of a third party to verify exactly what a former employer will say about you. “Forewarned is forearmed” and it may be possible to do damage control if you’ve confirmed a negative reference in your background.

Some employers even use this knowledge as a tool during the initial application or interview process. Candidates might be asked, "What was your bosses' name at your last place of employment?" or even "What would your former supervisors say about you as an employee?" either on their application form or during the interview. Realizing that the employer might contact their former supervisors or co-workers, candidates might think twice before embellishing their employment history or performance.

If you know you have a bad reference, here are some possible options:

1. Eliminate any mention of the reference from your resume or application form (if possible), instead offering someone more likely to give a positive assessment of your skills and contribution.

2. If you cannot eliminate the reference from employer consideration, address any potential issues when references are requested. “Mr. Jones was my former supervisor, but we didn’t share the same perspective on some key issues. I’d recommend that you also speak with Ms. Smith, to give you a more balanced assessment of my contribution to that company.”

3. If you feel it unavoidable that a prospective employer will contact your negative reference - get proactive! Consider contacting that person directly and asking whether you can work out a mutually agreeable response to reference requests. You may be able to gain their consent to offering a neutral reference – confirming only employment dates and title – and perhaps even a verbalization of what they view as your more positive attributes.

4. If you can’t come to terms on an agreeable response, find out the company’s policy on providing a reference. Is your reference following policy? If not, contact them again and remind them that adherence to corporate policy would be in their own best interest.

5. If policy does not protect you, or if a reference continues to malign you after you’ve taken the previously listed steps, you may wish to consider a Cease & Desist letter. You may also have cause for further legal action and can consult an attorney regarding your legal rights.

Remember that what you think you know may not necessarily be true. The stakes – your future employment – are too high to be wrong, or to take no action. Don’t assume you know what your references are saying – have them checked and be sure of it.

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 CBSNews.com, NETSHARE.com, the Wall Street Journal, NationJob.com, 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 www.AllisonTaylor.com.

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