The word was out on Steve Smith. Someone was telling prospective new employers that they shouldn’t hire him. This single “bad reference” cost Steve at least six job offers and forced him to tap into more than $60,000 of his retirement fund. This, despite his solid credentials.

Smith (not his real name) has since found work, but two years later he is still angry with a former boss for nearly ruining his financial life. Steve was able to stop his former boss from spreading more negativity, but he wonders how many other job seekers are not so fortunate.

“For months I suspected that my former boss was saying something about me. The problem was I wasn’t sure what he was saying or how to prove it,” said Smith.

However, job seekers like Steve can now turn the tables on their former bosses. Many have begun to check up on former bosses, colleagues and even trusted friends, by using professional reference checking firms to see what those references will say about them to prospective new employers.

When you get right down to it, you don’t always know for certain who is trustworthy. There is simply too much at stake – your job, your income, your family’s well-being – to leave to chance that your references are positive and accurate.

JobReferences states that about half of the references they investigate offer mediocre to downright negative input – often to the surprise and dismay of the clients. People believe their past employers will give them a good reference, but frequently that’s not the case. The likelihood is such references will continue to “poison the well” unless their negative input can be documented and addressed.

Causing further frustration, it is not uncommon for references to pass out inaccurate information. Dates and title of employment, the reason for the separation and salary information offered by references are sometimes provided in error, and it is (unfortunately) often assumed by potential employers that the job seeker is being dishonest.

The first step in counteracting such issues is to obtain third-party documentation, and JobReferences is upfront with the people they call to check a reference. When calling a reference, we simply state that we are calling to do employment verification and a reference check on (name of client). Typically, the reference assumes we are considering hiring that individual or we have been hired to check them out for a company that is considering hiring them. Under no circumstances do we ever disclose who has hired us to perform the reference check. This allows our client complete confidentiality and the ability to use our information in court should the need arise.

Fortunately, there is recourse for those whose reference(s) have been documented as offering negative commentary about them. Cease-&-Desist letters or potential litigation may be appropriate tools in the hands of an employment attorney.

If you suspect that a reference may be sabotaging your chances for employment, the first step is to obtain documentation by a third-party reference checking company indicating exactly what they are saying. And, it is important to note, the sooner the better – a negative reference can plague you indefinitely. Identifying such a person and preventing any further damage caused by them will surely be one of the best investments you will ever make.

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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.