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Beware of Negative Job References

If you have been getting interviews but not getting the job, your references may be the culprit. And if you smell a rat, you would be ill advised to ask your best friend to pose as a former employerÖthere may be a better way.

ďA little over 50 percent of the references we check come back somewhat, or fully negative,Ē says Jeff Shane, VP, Allison and Taylor, Inc., a Detroit-based reference checking firm ( He went on to say, ďA former employer will give the impression that theyíll give a positive reference but they donít.Ē If the percentage of negative references seems high, it may be because the firm is often hired by individuals who suspect their former employers are saying negative things about them. In many cases, Allison and Taylorís clients are referred by their attorneys.

ďOur service is especially useful for someone who was let go. In some cases, the two parties have even signed a non-disclosure form, which says neither party will say anything bad about the other. This is often done in cases where someone is allowed to Ďresign.í In those cases a bad reference gives the attorneys even more ammunition. ď

Wondering how this can happen? Unfortunately, a company representative can be prodded into saying more than they should by a skilled interviewer, especially when there was plenty of bad blood. Sometimes, a supervisor is caught off guard. Other times, years have passed and signed agreements are forgotten.

I wondered aloud why an employer would give a negative reference to a company who is representing the individual. ďMost of the time they never ask. We donít misrepresent ourselves. We simply say we are a reference checking company and we are doing a reference on X.Ē There are so many companies outsourcing reference checking these days, calls like theirs are common. Itís not surprising an employer would assume itís another employer who is looking for the information.

The lesson here? HR departments and managers beware. Ask who is seeking the reference. If it is your policy to provide name, title, dates of employment, and eligibility for rehire, donít deviate. As for the candidate, it makes good sense to leave on good terms and then treat your references with care.

If you didnít leave on the best terms, donít falsify or misrepresent the circumstances. Your best bet is to be upfront but then give it the best spin you can. If you have been fired for cause, your best defense may be to admit your mistake and what you learned from it. If you have references who are willing to speak positively on your behalf, all the better. In some cases, putting distance between yourself and a bad situation can be the solution. For example, working for a staffing firm can give you some fresh references.

The good news is that so many companies have been paring their ranks, losing your job has less stigma than ever before. In these cases, good references can make all the difference. Fortunately, most job candidates leave on good terms. Here are some tips for proactively managing your references:

A little more TLC toward your references could make the difference in getting the job you really want. And if you wonder if your references are undermining your job search, finding out will either give you peace of mind or, if it isnít what you want to hear, at least it will clarify the problem.

Joan Lloyd has a solid track record of excellent results. Her firm, Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding. This includes executive coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized leadership & presentation skills training, team assessment and teambuilding and retreat facilitation. Joan also provides consulting skills training for HR professionals. Clients report results such as: behavior change in leaders, improved team performance and a more committed workforce.

Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (800) 348-1944,, or

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