Beware of Employment References Who Over-Share Information and Cost you the Job Offer

Published: Apr 14, 2011

Beware of Employment References Who Over-Share Information and Cost you the Job Offer

Beware of Employment References Who Over-Share Information and Cost you the Job Offer By Jeff Shane for

There seems to be one (or more) in every workplace: the "over-sharer" who has not yet mastered the "think before you speak" philosophy. While this person can be a challenge to work with on a day-to-day basis, they can be downright catastrophic as a reference, providing much more information than is warranted (or desirable) to a potential employer. If you are considering a career change and are concerned that one of your prospective references might offer negative input, you might do well to take the proactive step of a reference check before an "over-sharer" has an opportunity to torpedo your chances of landing that great new job. Also, don’t overlook someone you haven't listed as a reference but who a prospective employer might view as a logical person to contact – perhaps that former supervisor with whom you didn't get along with particularly well.

Consider these three common reference scenarios where references offer too much information, and what can be done:

Scenario #1: An employer calls your reference regarding you, a job applicant aged 40+. In the course of discussion, the reference makes a comment such as “Well, we both know that this industry is largely a young woman's game- she's a good worker, but I don't know how long she'll stick around- she is 52 years old, after all.”

What can be done: Age discrimination - as defined by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act - relates to individuals 40 years of age or older who have been discriminated against based on their age. The kind of age-related comment mentioned above might be considered discriminatory. Depending on the nature of the comment, you may have legal recourse when such commentary is documented by a third-party reference checking organization such as

Scenario #2: After a wrongful termination, a former boss is divulging specific details of your exit from the company. “I fired her. She was stealing from the company.”

What can be done: If your reference is discussing elements of your termination, they may be walking a questionable legal line by providing details. If a wrongful termination is established, an employee could have the right to sue his/her former employer for damages. Again this information must be documented.

Scenarios #3: Perhaps due to professional jealousies, a reference provides an unflattering and untrue picture of your abilities. “Totally inept - he could not do anything correctly in the position he held.”

What can be done: There is a very good chance that this type of commentary is prohibited by company policy, and for good reason. Generally a simple Cease & Desist letter will be enough to put an end to these statements.

These (and many other similar) scenarios are unfortunately more common than the job seeker might imagine: Allison & Taylor (a professional reference checking company) estimates that 50% of their references can be categorized as “lukewarm” or “negative”.

In summary, don't allow yourself to be surprised/sabotaged by an unfavorable reference. A simple third-party reference check can definitively tell you what a former employer is saying about you to your prospective employers. If their input is unfavorable, you will likely be able to take proactive steps to ensure that no more promising job opportunities are lost.

About the author:

Jeff Shane is an author and resume writer for Allison & Taylor, Inc., a firm in the business of checking references for corporations and individuals since 1984.

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