Career Sabotage: The
Influence of a Past Employer
The word was out on Jim Walters. Someone was telling prospective
employers that they shouldn't hire him. It cost him at least twelve top
job offers, kept him unemployed for over a year, and forced him to dip
into more than $100,000 of his retirement fund.
Walters, not his real name, has since found work, but two years later
he is still angry with his former boss for nearly ruining his life.
Walters was able to stop his boss from spreading more lies, but he
wonders how many other job seekers are not so fortunate.
"For months I suspected that my former boss was saying something about
me. The problem was I didn't know what he was saying or how to prove
it" said Walters, a former General Manager for a manufacturing company.
Job seekers can now turn the tables on their former bosses. Many are
starting to check up on former bosses, colleagues and even trusted
friends, by using professional reference checking firms.
"When you get right down to it, you just don't know for sure who you
can trust. There is simply too much at stake - your job, your income,
your family's well being - to chance it that your references are
positive and accurate" says Heidi M. Allison, Managing Director of
Allison & Taylor, a professional reference checking firm.
Allison & Taylor has been checking reference since 1984
for a wide variety of clients, from nurses and teachers to senior
managers and even corporate presidents. Allison & Taylor's
clients also include attorneys, professional recruiters and companies
who hire them to check out potential employees.
Ms. Allison states that about half of the reference evaluations they
receive rate their clients mediocre to downright negative - often to
the surprise of the client. "People they believe are giving them a good
reference are frequently not" she says. "And just as many who have
assumed they are getting a bad reference, are not."
Allison & Taylor is up front with the people they call to
check a reference. "When we call a reference we simply state that we
are calling to do an employment verification and reference check on
(name of client). Typically the reference assumes we are considering
hiring that individual or we have been hired to check them out for a
company that is considering hiring them. Under no circumstances do we
never disclose who has actually hired us to perform the reference
check. This allows our client complete confidentiality and ensures that
our reports can be used in any court of law should the need arise"
states Ms. Allison.
It is not uncommon for references to pass out inaccurate information.
Dates and title of employment, the reason for the separation and salary
information are typically mistaken and unfortunately, it is assumed by
potential employers that the job seeker is lying.
Sometimes potentially negative information can be inadvertently
– or intentionally – communicated in subtle
manners. For instance, if a reference doesn't call back after numerous
voicemails are left, it often raises a red flag in the minds of
prospective employers. Innuendoes such as, "Are you sure he
listed me as a reference?" or "Well, according to our agreement I can
only confirm that she worked here" offer additional, unfavorable clues
that things are just not right.
Ms. Allison has also noticed that the higher the position, the more
freely references divulge damaging information. "Clients often assume
that company policies to only confirm limited information are strictly
followed. I usually offer them this analogy: if you are in a hurry and
don't see a police officer, are you more likely to push the speed
limit? References are no different. If someone
really liked you and wants to help you land another job, or if they had
a problem with you and don't want to see you working, they can and will
break company policy."
Ms. Allison also states that over the last few years, her clients have
used positive references to assist them in their court cases. "In the
case of wrongful termination, a positive reference can be used as
support of litigation. In fact, our clients have been awarded
settlements in excess of $2 million."
The purpose of checking your references need not necessarily be to file
a lawsuit. However, a candidate does need to know the quality of their
references and whether former employers are passing on personal
opinions, conjecture, rumors or accurate legal facts.
HOW TO CHECK YOUR OWN
A poor or even lukewarm reference can sometimes cost you the job you
want. If you are worried about what a former boss will say to a
prospective employer, consider using a reference checking service as
seen in publications like the Wall Street Journal. The industry's
leading and oldest reference checking firm, Allisontaylor.com, an
Allison & Taylor company, provides reference checks for
job seekers that range from $79 for a Professional Level to $99 for
Executive Level reports. In business for 25 years, Allisontaylor.com
will confidentially contact your references and inquire about
performance - managerial skills, judgment, integrity, productivity,
technical skills - as well as employment dates, job description and
reason for separation. Typically within 7-10 days (or less, if a
“rush order” is requested) you will have a complete
dossier on your reference’s input, including tone of voice
and verbatim quotes. For additional information on this crucial
service, call 800.890.5645 or visit their comprehensive web site at
By: Heidi M. Allison, Managing Director
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