The Seven Deadly Myths of Job References
Here's how to make sure past employers -- the ones you didn't like -- don't undermine your job search.
What should you do instead? "The best defense is a good offense," says Allison-Shane. "First, try to work it out." If you possibly can, swallow your pride and take your old boss out to lunch. Tell him or her that you would like to bury the hatchet, and say that you want to be able to give his or her name as a reference. If that doesn't go well, or if you just can't bring yourself to do it, then you'll have to do some explaining in job interviews. "It isn't that unusual to have philosophical differences, or a personality clash, with a former boss," Allison-Shane notes. "But you need to warn hiring managers that they probably won't get a glowing recommendation from this person, so at least they're prepared. A negative surprise can really hurt you."
Omitting a bad experience from your resume is just one of the seven deadly job reference myths that can cost you a job offer. Here is Allison-Shane's list of the six others:
Fact: While many employers do have formal policies dictating that only title, dates of employment, and eligibility for rehire can be discussed, "people do break the rules every day," notes Allison-Shane. About half of the employees she does reference checks on for her clients get badmouthed by their employers, despite their mum's-the-word policies.
Fact: Alas, HR doesn't have to say anything overtly critical about you to get their point across. Even a less-than-enthusiastic tone of voice can work against you. Also, HR people routinely disclose whether ex-employees are eligible for rehire. If they mention that you're not eligible, that will speak volumes to a prospective employer.
Fact: "Your references should be treated with kid gloves. Provide them only when asked," says Allison-Shane. "The last thing you want is for your references to be deluged with calls from too many companies, who may or may not have a real interest in hiring you."
Fact: "Many employment agreements and contracts
stipulate that you're being hired with a 90-day probation period.
During that time, not only are they evaluating your performance, they
may also be checking your background and references," Allison-Shane
says. "If the results aren't as good as they expected, they have the
legal right to fire you."
Fact: Ha! While most employee-employer disputes are either settled in arbitration processes or in out-of-court settlements in a manner that prohibits both parties from discussing them, that doesn't mean your former employer can't find ways to respect the letter of that agreement while violating the spirit of it. "Do not put it past them to find a way to take a shot at you," says Allison-Shane. For example, an HR person might tell someone calling for a reference, "Hold on while I call our legal department and find out what we're allowed to say about Mr. Jones." Ouch. "Most employers are uncomfortable with hiring anyone who's had a legal battle with a former employer," notes Allison-Shane. "So that's a real red flag."
Fact: Wrong! "Call them periodically to keep them updated on how you're doing. Make sure you thank them for their time, and acknowledge their help by treating them to lunch, dinner, or a thoughtful gift," says Allison-Shane. "Take good care of your references. They are valuable assets you'll need throughout your working life."
Want more tips on making sure your references are lifelong allies? Check out Allison-Shane's free online seminar at www.allisontaylor.com.
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