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Do You Know What Your Former Boss Will Say About You?

Press Room - Story

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 the 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.

The director 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. 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 ever 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 the director.

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.

The director 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."

The director also states that over the last few years, 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.


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,, 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, 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

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