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5 Dangerous Myths about Job References

by THEA kelley | May 20, 2021

There are some dangerous misunderstandings about how job references work. Let’s clear up these myths.5 Dangerous Myths about Job References

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 them and talk it over. The purpose here is definitely not to threaten or even to complain, but to listen to their 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 their 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 they’re 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 to say more. 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. It’s not expensive. (I am not affiliated with Allison & Taylor, nor do I receive any benefit from recommending them.)

If you believe a past employer is giving negative references about you, you can try discussing it with them 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 who is 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 set.

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 supervision skills if you’re interviewing for a role where you won’t supervise anyone.

Suggest specific skills, projects or accomplishments you’d like them to mention. (Send this information in writing, so they can easily refer to it when needed.)

Update them each time you give out their name, letting them know who they will be hearing from and what the role is.

Make sure they’ll be available–not on vacation, for example. If an employer leaves a message and fails to hear back, they may assume the worst: that the person is uncomfortable talking about you.

Check in later to ask 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. Provide the names and contact information only when requested to (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. Understand how job references work and handle the process with care so those job interviews lead to offers!

 

This post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated.

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