Companies Do Not Honor Corporate Reference Policies

 If you think that there is a company policy that does not allow references, apologies, think again … over 50% of former employers are giving us references rated “BAD” to “POOR”.

Are you worrying about what your former boss may say to a prospective employer? Unless you had a great relationship with them and left on peaceful terms, you should at least wonder what they say. Even though reference policies are in place for most companies, they are rarely followed as they’re intended.

Testimonial from a former client regarding corporate reference policies

“I worked for the same company for 20 years, I had numerous interviews and could not understand what was happening, I hired your firm to check and I was somehow deleted from the system, thus HR was saying I had never worked there. It took your service to figure this out for me. Thank you so much. I am now back in the system and have a new and prosperous job.”  -Wagner, Fort Lauderdale, Florida  

The following are examples of real cases and actual responses from former employers: 

If the following situation sounds familiar, you should look into your references: You get an interview for a job that fits you perfectly. During a 2nd or 3rd meeting you are asked for your references, and are told that the prospective employer will be back in touch very soon. Not only does nobody call you again, but they no longer take your calls when you try to initiate contact.

In these situations, it’s likely that a bad reference influenced them negatively and, once it’s happened, it is too late to try and resolve the situation. Don’t wait until this happens to you.

Check in advance to ensure your reference will produce a positive response. If they don’t, then your job search may go on for a very long time.

A reference check can help you find your most positive references, and make sure that your potential employers never have a conversation like the ones below. The following are actual responses to reference-checking questions posed by Allison & Taylor Reference Checking:

Often, the employment information a reference provides is very different than what our client has provided. For example:

We would like to verify that ______ held the position (title) from (dates), is this correct?

  • “He was an account executive, not a Senior V.P.”
  • “His name doesn’t ring a bell.”
  • “We do not have this person anywhere in our records.”
  • “I am not allowed to say anything about this person as they were fired”

In a couple of these situations, the former employer may not even be aware that they’re breaking corporate reference policies. The last example in particular, the employer seems to think they are following orders, but actually divulge important information that they weren’t supposed to.

Comments regarding performance evaluations: (references are asked to rank these skills on a scale from 1 (inadequate) to 5 (outstanding)):

  • Oral Communications:  “Can I give a negative number … -1”?
  • Financial Skills: “Well, that’s why our company had a major layoff – left her in charge of finances!”
  • Written Communications: “You mean when she finally turned in the reports due a week earlier??
  • Technical Skills: “Is zero in your rating scale?”
  • Interpersonal Relations: “One. 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?
  • Employee Relations: “There was a lot of he said / she said happening with other employees. And other than her leaving, nothing else has changed. We haven’t had any problems since then, so we know she was the source of the problem.”
  • Decision Making: “He couldn’t make a decision if his life depended on it!”
  • Leadership: “He had no leadership skills.”
  • Crisis Management: “He [fireman] totally ignored the emergency call when it cameinHe said he didn’t hear it!”      
  • Short Term Planning: “Lousy, can’t remember something that was completed on time!”
  • Personal Integrity: “I don’t think she had any integrity.”
  • Long Term Planning: “He wasn’t here long enough to rate him.”
  • Overall Performance: “Inadequate would be a positive word for him!”
  • Managerial Skills: “He couldn’t manage a group of children!”  

Some references will refuse to rank a past employee due to an unfavorable impression:

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

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

In these situations, it’s unlikely that the former employers cared about their corporate reference policies, and the policies did nothing to protect candidates from harmful references.

Regarding strengths and weaknesses:

“I cannot think of any strengths, only weaknesses”

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

“Weaknesses seem to stick in my mind … I’d have to really think about any strengths”

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

Regarding Eligibility for re-hire:

 Is this person eligible for re-hire?

“He is not. I’m really not supposed to say much but he was unreliable and sick at lot.”

“Probably not – she had a hard time working in a team environment.

“No, but I can’t say why.”

“Probably not, but it’s just a suspicion of mine.”

“No, because he didn’t want to work here and made it clear he didn’t want to work here.”

“I wouldn’t re-hire him. He was disorganized and dishonest.”

“No, it was the departure – kind of burned his bridges when he left.”

“No, she stole from the company. We have an investigation pending.”

Regarding Reason for Separation:

 Could you fully describe the circumstances and reason for the separation?

“She was fired.”

“She was let go – she didn’t do her part as expected.”

“He was let go … there was a conflict with the children – he didn’t follow safety standards and guidelines.”

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

“She had been written up and she walked out on work … because she was upset.”

“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…” He then got very quiet and said he had general counsel in his office and couldn’t say anything more.

 Regarding Tone of Voice:

It is not uncommon for us to contact a reference and find them: hesitant, evasive or annoyed by the call. Many express: Anger, shock, unhappiness and disbelief that they have been called regarding the employee. Regardless of any corporate reference policies that are in place and any intent to follow them, non-verbal reactions are still noted by potential employers. Some examples include:

We are calling you as a reference regarding ________. 

“I do not care to comment at all. I let him go and that’s all I care to say!”

“Are you certain he gave you my name?”

“I cannot believe you were given my name as a reference”

“Hold on, let me get the legal file to see what I am allowed to say”

“Never heard of him!”

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


While corporate reference policies are put in place to limit former employers to non-opinionated statements and only allow them to answer a handful of questions, the policies are rarely followed. Even when they are followed, other clues can be taken from the conversation.

If you have a former employer or job reference who you aren’t on perfect terms with, you owe it to yourself to find out what your references are saying about you. Get started now.