Resumes Win Interviews, References Land You the Job

References: if you’re looking for a new job or career, they will surely play a role in your hiring process. Since we’ve all heard that former employers are only supposed to confirm your previous employment dates and title, the reference check process shouldn’t be problematic, right?

Well, perhaps – but you better not count on it. The staff at JobReferences speaks to references every day, and report that almost 50% of references offer lukewarm or even downright negative feedback.

In some instances, the job seeker may even have gotten the negative input directly from their former employer, e.g. “You’ll never work in this industry again

If you know you have a bad reference, here are some possible options:

  1. Eliminate any mention of the reference from your resume or application forms (if possible), instead offering someone more likely to give a positive assessment of your skills and contribution.
  2. If you cannot eliminate the reference from employer consideration, address any potential issues when references are requested. “Mr. Jones was my former supervisor, but we didn’t share the same perspective on some key issues. I’d recommend that you also speak with Ms. Smith, to give you a more balanced assessment of my contribution to that company.”
  3. If you feel it unavoidable that a prospective employer will contact your negative reference – get proactive! Consider contacting that person directly and asking whether you can work out a mutually agreeable response to reference requests. You may be able to gain their consent to offering a neutral reference – confirming only employment dates and title – and perhaps even a verbalization of what they view as your more positive attributes.
  4. If you can’t come to terms on an agreeable response, find out the company’s policy on providing a reference. If not, contact them again and remind them that adherence to corporate policy would be in their own best interest.
  5. If policy does not protect you, or if a reference continues to malign you after you’ve taken the previously listed steps, you may wish to consider a Cease & Desist letter. You may also have cause for further legal action and can consult an attorney regarding your legal rights.
  6. Take care your employment references, they are an asset. Put together some ideas that will have your past references singing your praises.

Remember, what you don’t know can hurt you. If you suspect that a reference is communicating career-damaging information to potential employers, contact JobReferences at, or call 800-651-8202. Don’t assume you know what your references are saying – be sure of it.

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About Allison

Allison & Taylor Inc. and its principals have been in the business of checking references for individuals and corporate accounts since 1984. We have successfully built our brand and corporate recognition and have been recommended by industry specialists such as The New York Times award-winning author Martin Yate (“Knock ‘Em Dead Résumés”). Numerous articles have been published about our business in newspapers and magazines including The Christian Science Monitor, The Wall Street Journal, Glamour Magazine, New Woman, Worth, National Business Employment Weekly, The Detroit News, and The St. Petersburg Times.