How to Prevent a Negative Reference from Costing You That New job

Picture this scenario: you’ve been seeking new employment, but without success. Your employment credentials are excellent, and while you’ve been able to land the interviews – sometimes more than one with a prospective employer – that job for which you’re well qualified continues to elude you. Even more ominous, you may have been assured that the job is virtually yours and that completing the hiring process is a mere formality, and then…the trail goes cold, and the call-backs cease.

Sound familiar? If it does, reference checking company JobReferences says you likely have a negative reference that is limiting your chances for employment. What can you do about it?

The first step is to confirm that you do indeed have a problem with at least one of your references. Do an honest self-assessment of your references that are most likely to be called by prospective employers. Did you depart on good terms with them? Is there anything unflattering that may have made its way into your personnel file, accessible by an HR representative?

You may already have a good idea of who may be making your employment search a miserable one, and while you might be able to keep some former associates off of a prospective employer’s radar, it is unlikely that a former supervisor or HR department will be overlooked. The HR department is a traditional venue for reference checks, and HR reps of your most recent employers are almost certain to get a call from potential employers. Your former supervisors will also be high on an employer’s call list, as they know you better than HR, and may also be willing to offer a more revealing profile about you.

If you sense there’s a potential problem, consider having a reference check conducted on select business associates from your past. But avoid the temptation to have a friend or associate call and pose as a prospective employer – this attempt could backfire, and any unfavorable input obtained in this manner would be inadmissible for legal purposes. Instead, have a reputable third party like Allison & Taylor conduct these reference interviews on your behalf to best ensure that any negative input obtained can be legally addressed and neutralized.

If negative input from a reference is uncovered, what steps can you take? Your options will depend on the nature of the negative input. Where your reference’s communication was inaccurate, malicious, or wrongful you may have the ability – through an attorney – to pursue legal recourse.

When a reference’s negative input is not unlawful but is nonetheless restricting your ability to secure future employment, it can sometimes be addressed through a Cease & Desist letter. These letters are issued by an attorney and sent to the senior management of the company, alerting them to the negative reference’s identity and actions. (Oftentimes, the very act of offering a negative reference is against corporate guidelines, as a typical policy is that only a former employee’s title/dates of employment should be confirmed.) In the interest of self-protection, the company will usually caution the negative reference not to offer additional comments or negative commentary again.

When handled correctly, the prospects for neutralizing further negative input from a reference are excellent. If concern about your references is causing you some sleepless nights, it’s never too soon to document – and address – what your references are really saying about you.

For more information on conducting a reference check, please visit

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.