My Reference Said WHAT? Don’t Assume That a Former Employer Will Avoid Negative Comments- You Won’t Believe These Actual Quotes from Former Employers

Most job seekers are under the impression that former employers are only allowed to confirm an employee’s job title and previous employment dates.  They certainly cannot offer a negative commentary about you… it would be a violation of corporate policy and (perhaps) be illegal as well. Right?

Unfortunately, that’s an incorrect and potentially career-destroying assumption.

While it’s true that many companies do have reference policies in place that prohibit them from giving out anything but limited, company-approved information, that’s not true across the board, says Allison & Taylor Reference Checking.  Additionally, even companies with strong reference policies in place cannot guarantee that their employees will abide by the rules.

So, while you may feel sure that a former employer will only provide your position title and dates of employment, there’s still a very good chance that a former employer may offer information that will effectively ruin your chances of getting that new job.

Here are some actual examples of reference responses documented by Allison & Taylor:

We would like to verify that (the candidate) held the position (title) from (dates), is this correct?

  • “He was an account executive, not a Senior V.P.”
  • “His name doesn’t ring a bell.”
  • “I am not allowed to say anything about this person as they were fired.”

Some references will refuse to rank a past employee due to an unfavorable impression:

  • “No comment – they could not do anything correctly in the position they held with us.”
  • “Let’s save time. Basically, you could rank them inadequate in all areas.”

When questioned about strengths and weaknesses:

  • “I cannot think of any strengths, only weaknesses.”
  • “Weaknesses seem to stick in my mind … I’d have to really think about any strengths.”
  • “I’d rather not comment – you can take that however you want.”

Regarding Eligibility for re-hire: Is this person eligible for re-hire?

  • “He is not. I’m really not supposed to say much but he was unreliable and sick at lot.”
  • “No, but I can’t say why.”
  • “No, it was the departure – kind of burned his bridges when he left.”
  • “No, she stole from the company. We have an investigation pending.”

When asked about the reason for employment separation: Could you fully describe the circumstances and reason for the separation?

  • “She was fired.”
  • “She was let go – she didn’t do her part as expected.”
  • “I fired him! He and his buddy had some illegal things going.”
  • “It was a rather delicate and awkward situation. You should call her other past employers. I made the mistake of not doing that.”

Responses to questions about performance: References are asked to rank skills on a scale from 1(inadequate) to 5 (outstanding):

  • Oral Communications: “Can I give a negative number … -1”?
  • Financial Skills: “Well, that’s why our company had a major layoff – left her in charge of finances!”
  • Written Communications: “You mean when she finally turned in the reports due a week earlier??”
  • Technical Skills: “Is zero in your rating scale?”
  • Interpersonal Relations: “He had a problem with a few of the people. I should have ended the relationship just after he started.”
  • Productivity: “Is there a rating less than inadequate?
  • Employee Relations: “There was a lot of he said/ she said happening with other employees. And other than her leaving, nothing else has changed. We haven’t had any problems since then, so we know she was the source of the problem.”
  • Decision Making: “He couldn’t make a decision if his life depended on it!”
  • Leadership: “He had no leadership skills.”
  • Crisis Management: “He [fireman] totally ignored the emergency call when it came in. He said he didn’t hear it!”
  • Short Term Planning: “Lousy – I can’t remember something that was completed on time!”
  • Personal Integrity: “I don’t think she had any integrity.”
  • Long Term Planning: “He wasn’t here long enough to rate him.”
  • Overall Performance: “Inadequate would be a positive word for him!”
  • Managerial Skills: “He couldn’t manage a group of children!”

It is not uncommon to contact a reference and find them hesitant, evasive or annoyed by the call. Sometimes tone of voice and inflection speak volumes- many express anger, shock, unhappiness or disbelief that they have been called regarding the employee.

We are calling you as a reference regarding (the candidate).

  • “I do not care to comment at all. I let him go and that’s all I care to say!”
  • “Are you certain he gave you my name?”
  • “Hold on, let me get the legal file to see what I am allowed to say”
  • “I’m surprised she even listed us on her work history.”

Allison & Taylor estimates that 50% of their references come back as “lukewarm” or “negative”. With your career at stake, consider taking the proactive step of having a simple reference check conducted.  An Allison & Taylor report will tell you, definitively, whether or not a reference is providing a positive, professional response to inquiries made about you. If they are not, you can take steps to prevent this continued spread of negative information, either through a Cease & Desist letter or through more aggressive legal recourse.

To find out more about reference checking, please visit Allison & Taylor.

Are you protected by your old company’s policy to only confirm the dates and title of employment?

Our experience is, that with a little pressure, most managers break company policy and speak their mind to either help or hurt a candidate’s chance at another job. Who from your past job will help you or hurt you – you need to know.

Click here to find out what is really being said about you.

Is your past boss badmouthing you?

50% of our clients have lost good job offers due to bad or mediocre comments from previous employers. will confidentially find out what is really being said about you and give you the power to stop it!

Click here to find out how!

Interviewing well but not getting the job?

Maybe it’s something that a past employer or reference is saying. Could a jealous colleague be sabotaging you? Could your past boss be less than happy at your departure? will help you find out.

Click here to find out how!

Do you have a separation agreement with your past employer? Is it being honored?

Is your past employer giving you the professional and prompt reference that was promised or are they saying, “Well according to our agreement I can only confirm that he worked here.” will find out what is really being said and give you the power to enforce your agreement.

Click here to find out how!

Were you a victim of discrimination, sexual harassment or wrongful termination?

Your previous employers could be affecting your new job search through their comments to prospective employers. Don’t let them continue to hurt you and your career.

Click here to find out what is really being said about you.

Are you being BLACKBALLED?

Last year our clients were awarded more than $2 million in settlements. will find out what is really being said about you and give you the power to stop it!

Click here to find out how!

You’ve put time and effort into your resume, developed your network of possible employers and recruiters, worked on your interview skills – but have done nothing but typed a list of your references. Don’t leave this crucial area to chance. References are the final factor in who gets the job offer. Your past employers – anyone you reported to will be contacted. Do you know what they will say? will find out what is really being said about you.

Click here to find out how!