Does It Really Matter?
You're this close to landing your dream job. You're uber-qualified, have gone through several rounds of terrific interviews, and just seemed to gel with the hiring managers. For some reason though, they pass you over at the last minute. Why? It could be a bad reference from a former employer.
Too often, job-seekers underestimate the importance of good references. "No matter what the nature of the job or pay scale, people should take their references very seriously," says Heidi M. Allison, managing director of jobreferences.com. "They can make or break a hiring decision."
Ann Wooley, Director of Operations at Alliance Resources Inc. a Human Resources consulting firm in Portage, Michigan, agrees. "Unless we have references from previous employers or supervisors, that candidate does not move on in the process. We need someone to validate what your accomplishments are."
Allison believes that most job-seekers labor under many of the same (unfounded) myths about references -- falsehoods that can ruin your prospects at an otherwise well-deserved job. Read on to dispel these myths and learn what you can do to optimize your references.Myth No. 1
If I had any issues with my former boss, I can simply leave him off my reference list and nobody will ever know.
Reality: According to Allison, "Many companies conduct what is know as a "social security check" to determine where you have worked in the past and then call the human resources department or office administrator at each employer for a reference. This practice is in place to see if a prospective employee has left any significant places of employment off of a resume -- another bad move that should be avoided at all costs."
What You Can Do: Serge Prengle, a career coach in New York City, says, "If there is a reasonable chance you could get found out, it makes sense to be up-front with the person you are interviewing with. If it is verifiable, you put yourself in a worse position by not telling them about it. Tell your side of the story."
If you had problems with one person, try to provide another reference who can then back up your side of the story. "Chances are an individual hasn't worked for just one person within that organization," says Wooley.
Potential employers are willing to understand about a single conflict in your past, but they aren't naive. "If a candidate continually tells you that they can't provide you with former references because they didn't get along with them, that's a red flag," Wooley warns.
It is also possible to do some damage control on the other end. Dr. Shirley Schaye, a psychoanalyst in New York City, suggests calling your former employer to plead your case, but not until you've done some homework: "Read your evaluation very carefully and read between the lines. Discuss it with a friend and brainstorm ways that you have improved. When you speak to your former employer, accept responsibility for the things they have a problem with because you are going to want to show some self-reflection, that you have really thought about these problems and have improved. Finally, show your former employer concrete evidence of what you have done to improve."
Your hope in doing this is to neutralize the problem, and ideally, turn a bad reference around by showing growth and improvement. Tread carefully though. Many former employers may consider your appeal to be too little, too late. Only contact a potentially bad reference if there is no way around listing them on your current application.