Don’t be knocked out of the running by any of the following deadly myths.
Myth #1: Employers will only contact the persons you include in your references list.
Not true. Many will contact others; it’s neither illegal nor particularly difficult. They can even discover and contact past employers you haven’t listed on your resume or application.
If you suspect that a certain individual may give you a negative reference, pluck up your nerve, reach out to him and talk it over. The purpose here is definitely not to threaten or even to complain, but to listen to his point of view, acknowledge that there may have been difficulties in the past, and explain how you have learned and grown since then. Appeal to his sympathy and point out that you need a chance to get a new start.
Even if this conversation goes well, this may not be the right person to put on the list you give to employers; but at least there will be less danger if he is contacted anyway.
Myth #2: Your employers can legally only give out your title, dates of employment and most recent salary.
Many companies do have company policies to this effect, but that doesn’t mean it’s against the law. And does everybody follow company policy anyway? Don’t count on it.
Myth #3: There’s nothing you can do about bad references.
First, you need to know whether bad references are occurring. If you’re not sure, hire a reference checking firm like Allison & Taylor to do a reference check for you for $79.
If you believe a past employer is giving negative references about you, you can try discussing it with him as described above. If that approach won’t work, consider sending a firm “cease and desist” letter to someone higher up in the company, naming the person giving the negative references, asking that the negative remarks be stopped and suggesting that they restrict themselves to confirming the job title and dates of employment. Usually this kind of letter solves the problem. For more clout, it may be helpful to have the letter come from Allison & Taylor or an attorney.
Myth #4: Once someone has agreed to give you a reference, all you need to do is put them on your references list and you’re good to go.
Why not help your reference-givers help you? Make sure they’re well informed about you’re the jobs you’re interviewing for. It’s no good having them rave about your management skills if you’re interviewing for an individual contributor role.
Suggest specific skills, projects or accomplishments they could mention. (Send this information in an email rather than just giving it over the phone, so they can refer to it when needed.)
Update them each time you give out their name, letting them know who they will be hearing from and other important specifics about the opportunity.
Make sure they’ll be available – and not on vacation, for example. If an employer leaves a message and fails to hear back, they may assume the worst: that your reference person is uncomfortable talking about you.
Check in later to verify that the conversation happened and how it went.
Myth #5: You should present your references before you are asked for them.
Don’t wear out a good reference on employers who are not seriously interested in hiring you. It’s generally best to provide the names and contact information only when required (and definitely not on your resume). Meanwhile, capitalize on LinkedIn recommendations or letters of reference to build credibility ahead of time.
Don’t let your candidacy be derailed at the last minute. Handle the reference process with care so those job interviews lead to offers!