5 Reasons Why Every Job Seeker Should Have Their References Checked

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You may not know why you lost a promotion or job opportunity. Instead, you are more likely to hear “We decided to go in a different direction,” or – more commonly – you will simply not hear back from that organization again.

A prospective employer will never reveal to you that an unfavorable reference was the reason they didn’t hire you and you’ll be left wondering if it was your interviewing skills or some other factor that cost you the job. Meanwhile, the real reason may be continuing to cost you job after job.

Rather than experiencing lost job prospects, consider having a reference check(s) conducted to reveal what your former employer is actually saying about you, advises career services company Allison & Taylor Inc. Here are five reasons why, the company says:

  1. The company’s comment policy may not be what you think it is. Many job seekers assume that an employer can’t or won’t say anything and are unpleasantly surprised to find out this is not the case. Employers frequently say unflattering things about former employees.  This is particularly true of former bosses/supervisors.
  2. Your reference may not be saying what you expect.  A lukewarm reference can be just as damaging as a negative one. If your reference is anything less than glowing, they are damaging your chances of landing that job, not helping it. You need to know that that person is doing everything possible to make a positive impression for them.  Otherwise, it’s time to rethink your references.  
  3. Your information may not match the HR records.  In many instances, the employer has different employment dates, position title, or supervisor listed from what the employee has presented. This type of discrepancy may suggest to an employer that the candidate is being less than truthful about their former position’s title or responsibilities.
  4. Your record may have been omitted from the HR records entirely. This happens more often than people might think, especially in the case of mergers, where not all records make the transfer into a new system.  It’s also frequently the case with the self-employed; many companies do not hold records for a contractor in their HR system. It doesn’t look favorable when an employer calls and is told that there is no record of your ever having worked for their company.
  5. Your reference contact may no longer work for the company. Many job seekers make the mistake of not staying in close contact with the person they intend to use for a reference. You need to be confident that that person is still there to respond to inquiries. If the reference is no longer there, a reference checker may be shuffled though the system and end up with someone who doesn’t know them, or who won’t cast them in a positive light.

“Utilize a professional reference-checking firm to identify if your references are as supportive as you need them to be.  If they are not, be aware that services such as a Cease & Desist letter can be used to better ensure that unfavorable references will not offer damaging commentary to your future employment prospects,” Allison & Taylor says.

The company further notes that it’s critical to be proactive in your relationship with your references. “Don’t allow these important relationships to falter or disconnect,” it says.

It offers the following guidelines to ensure your references will continue to advocate on your behalf:

Always confirm that your former boss is willing to provide a favorable job reference on your behalf. Don’t assume that they will say all good things

Don’t let them be caught unprepared. Let your references know each time you’re thinking of making a professional move and let them know they may be contacted for a reference. Be sure to thank them for their efforts.

Avoid contacting your reference only when you need assistance. Check in periodically with your reference to keep them informed of your career and educational progress. An occasional short “checking in” conversation keeps them informed of your career trajectory and allows them to provide current and relevant information to potential new employers.

Bear in mind that your references use their valuable time to help support your professional growth. If you plan to use them over the years, you need to give something back. Pen a personal thank-you letter or (at a minimum) an email each time they provide an endorsement. Better still, send a thank-you note with a gift card, or offer to take them to lunch/dinner.

If you win the new position, call or email your former boss and thank them again for their support. This is also a perfect time to provide them with your new position’s details and give them your new professional contact information.

Send a holiday card, an extremely easy and manageable way to stay in touch on a personal basis. Over 50 percent of holiday card recipients indicate they are more likely to do business with a company or individual who sends holiday greeting cards.