How Job Search References Can Derail Your Career (Part 2)

JohnOConnorBlogging, Individual Services




Fact #1: Unprepared references can unknowingly discredit your work on projects

His first and key reference talked glowingly about his work but then undercut him by challenging his work on a key project. My own CIO at my company actually disputed two facts on my resume! When one of the reference checkers called, they found out that I had given him an old version of a resume, said Alex.

He really did not know that I handled the fix of a very large financial institution in the way I did. So he said that I had not participated in the IS Manhattan Based Project as it was called. He suggested that and it ended up looking like – I lied on my resume without saying explicitly that I lied. To my own discredit, I never gave him a copy of my new resume, and because I was in such a rush to bail out of the company, I just did not communicate what I actually did in the last part of my tenure.

Lesson: Do not assume anything.

Closely coach and counsel your references to ensure you both agree on what will be said if someone calls. Get agreement on key achievements and resume points. Make sure you take time to copy the reference on your latest resume.

 Fact #2: The impression a reference leaves will be reflected upon you.

The third-listed reference was just totally lukewarm, monotone and even said I have no comment a few times during the reference checkers interview with him. Though in person the reference was like a comedian, a really dark humor, funny and fun guy he was a total dud to a reference.

Then he told a bad joke about Alex and said, I can tell you he didn’t kill anyone while he was here, and that was it.

Some references never even returned the employer’s call when Alex listed home and work numbers instead of cell phone numbers. One number went to another senior manager on the West Coast, who had essentially lost our on a promotion to Alex seven years ago. The guy said, You don’t want to know what I think then? I could tell some things off the record. But upon follow up he said, No comment, and reluctantly gave up the right number.

Lesson: Obtain written references and contact information.

As a foundation to your overall reference plan, get written references. As an option, you can offer to write the recommendation as long as they agree with the information and essentially sign off on the reference letter. By doing this, you have a proactive way to combat a reference who is less than prepared, distracted or unenthusiastic on the phone.

Remember to get permission from your former human resources department to provide you with your employment evaluations. In fact, you can and probably should  find out exactly what your current and former employer’s reference policy is. Written information can be a powerful testimonial and may negate more lengthy phone calls to your current references.

Also, ask your reference how they would like to be contacted  at home, by cell or by e-mail.

Incorrect phone numbers will waste time and hurt your credibility. Even with a correct phone number, if a reference calls and does not respond quickly it can hurt you. It shows they may not care enough to respond quickly or give you high marks. Silence can be deadly here.

 Fact #3: If it’s a legal issue, investigate legal avenues.

Frustrated, Mr. Partain sought the advice of several attorneys, but nothing that was said about him was essentially false or malicious. He didn’t have a grounds for a lawsuit or the time or money to pursue it. Instead he corrected his own mistakes and actions. I am not going to even say that hiring an employment-law attorney is right or wrong or hiring a reference-checking service is the way to go. I do know I would not have been so hasty in drawing up my references. And I shouldn’t have assumed that my references would do what I wanted them to do.

What can you do if you feel your references are derailing your career options?

Lesson: Use preventative medicine.

If you truly feel that your background and job search is being compromised by knowingly misleading, malicious or false information, then you may want to hire an attorney or consider legal action. First choice is always to contact your former employer and reference and try to resolve any bad blood or issues up front, before you start your interview processes. Consider all your options but start with preventive reference medicine first: prepping references with current resumes and getting written references and contact information.

Aggressive lawyer letters may silence your references completely and shave important time off of your job search. A lawsuit could tie up lots of time and resources you may not have during an earnest job search. And what if a so-called bad reference’s statements are justified? Before a lawsuit, find out what you and your reference agree on.

Lastly, make sure you review a few questions your references might want to know. Focus on some of the following topics with your references so you agree:

  • start and end dates of employment
  • the reason for leaving
  • salary
  • positional responsibilities and achievements
  • work ethic
  • communication skills
  • team focus
  • promotions
  • willingness to re-hire
  • general strengths and weaknesses

Do what you should do to anticipate how important references become in your search. They are important. Silence and mere neutrality can be fatal in the world of references. Your investment of time, energy and preparation for interviews should not be derailed by bad, lukewarm or silent references. Do what Alex Partain should have done. Don’t get off track during your next, critical career move. Ride the rails. Be proactive and prepared when it comes to references.