Job Seekers Beware: Companies Frequently Break Reference Policies
With the national unemployment rate holding steady near 10 percent, it should come as no surprise there is a lot of competition for jobs across the country. What is perplexing, however, is how many people have bad professional references that can derail even the most qualified candidate, according to Heidi Allison, president of Allison & Taylor, the nation’s leading reference checking and employment verification firm.

“People spend a lot of time working on their resume, brushing up their interview skills and networking during job searches, but many fail to select their professional references carefully,” Allison said. “We check references for clients and approximately half of our calls to former employers produce an unexpected bad reference. The bottom line is that people need to select their references more carefully.”

Allison says there is a common misperception that, when contacted for a reference, former employers will only verify if a person previously worked for them and provide his or her job title.

“The fact is most people have no problem talking and, with a little prodding, one can learn quite a bit from a professional reference – some good, some bad,” Allison explained. “You’d be shocked at what some people selected to provide professional references have said about candidates.”

The following are excerpts of real professional reference checking interviews conducted by Allison & Taylor staff on behalf of clients during the past year:

Comments regarding a candidate’s skills, ranking them on a scale of 1-5:

Oral Communications: “Can I give a negative number?”

Interpersonal Relations: “He had a problem with a few of the people. I should have ended the relationship just after he started.”

Productivity: “Is there a rating less than inadequate?”

Decision Making: “He couldn’t make a decision if his life depended on it.”

Managerial Skills: “He couldn’t manage a group of children.”

Financial Skills: “That’s why our company had a major layoff – we left her in charge of the finances!”

Comments regarding a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses:

“I cannot think of any strengths, only weaknesses.”

“I’m sure there are some strengths, but nothing jumps out at me.”

“I’d rather not comment – you can take that however you want.”

Comments regarding the reason for the candidate leaving the company:

“I fired him! He and his buddy had some illegal things going.”

“It was a rather delicate and awkward situation. You should call her other past employers. I made the mistake of not doing that.”

“She was terminated in an investigation.”

Comments regarding a candidate selecting a person to be a professional reference:

“Are you certain he gave you my name?”

“I let him go and that’s all I care to say.”

“I’m surprised she even listed us on her work history.”

There are some professional references that make one simply wonder how a candidate would ever consider this person for a reference:

“No comment, he could not do anything correctly in the position he held with us.”

“Let’s save everyone some time. Basically, you could rank him inadequate in all areas.”

“Inadequate would be a positive word for him!”

“If a person is struggling to find a job, there’s a good chance a reference influenced them negatively and, once that’s happened, it’s often too late to resolve the situation,” Allison said. “We tell clients, don’t let this happen to you. We encourage them to work with us to check their references in advance and see if they’re positive. If not, there are several steps – some legal – that can be taken to rectify the situation.”