Negative References Need Not Cost You That Perfect Job

Karen Moore (not her real name) appeared to be at an employment “dead end”. Unemployed and seeking a new job, she had lost numerous promising job opportunities in her medical-related field even though her feedback from interviews had been stellar. Prospective employers would indicate the job was all but hers and then… the bottom would drop out and these same employers would not return her calls. Karen suspected a bad reference in her background and decided to be proactive in saving her career prospects.

Her first step was to utilize a professional reference-checking firm to document both the verbal input and the tone of voice her former supervisor was using when contacted for a reference about her. As she feared, the reference check feedback revealed that a former supervisor was offering a “blackball” assessment of her, virtually guaranteeing her inability to get any type of future employment. Fortunately, her reference check report was admissible for remedial/legal purposes, and Karen elected to “fight back” to ensure this supervisor would not cost her any more lost jobs.

The reference-checking firm was able to refer Karen to an employment attorney well-versed in cases like hers. After discussing possible legal options, they decided upon a “Cease & Desist” letter, one of the most common remedies for neutralizing a negative reference. The attorney sent a letter to the CEO of Karen’s former employer, identifying Karen’s negative reference by name and the fact that the reference had been documented as offering negative input about her. The letter also indicated that if the reference-giver ever offered negative input about Karen again, legal action would be taken against the firm.

The CEO’s response to the attorney letter was swift. He apologized on behalf of the company and assured Karen’s attorney that the employee in question would never offer a negative reference about her again.

While thrilled with this outcome, Karen was disinclined to leave any stone unturned. She authorized the reference checking company to conduct an additional new check with her former supervisor and found that this second time around, her reference followed corporate policy and would only confirm her former title and dates of employment.

Karen’s scenario and the ultimate success achieved through the Cease & Desist letter were not isolated cases. JobReferences reports that approximately half of all reference checks they conduct reveal negative input from the reference. However, most Cease & Desist cases generated from these negative reference checks invariably reflect a favorable outcome. The reason: given a choice between addressing possible legal action against their company, or in discouraging an employee who violated corporate policy (and perhaps local, state, or national law) from ever doing so again, the CEO would unfailingly choose the latter course.

The story has a happy ending – with her excellent job qualifications (and no negative references), Karen was gainfully employed shortly thereafter. When congratulated by a friend on her new employment, Karen responded: “I only wish I had identified, and addressed, my bad reference situation earlier than I did.”

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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.