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Myth No. 2

Companies are not allowed to say anything negative about a former employee. In fact, most of them direct reference checks to their human resources departments, and these people won't say anything bad about me.

Reality: This is technically true. However, half of Allison's clients do receive a bad reference, despite the strict policies in place, so it is important to be prepared. "Companies are advised not to give negative feedback. HR will verify dates of employment, position, eligibility for rehire, and with a signed release, salary information," says Wooley, "But you have to expect that sometimes individuals will provide more information. Rehire eligibility will also tell you a lot."

Additionally, "reference checkers often evaluate how something is said. In other words, they listen to tone of voice and note the HR staffer's willingness to respond to their questions -- both critical factors, says Allison.

What You Can Do: Ideally, you should build a good relationship with your HR representative, but at the very least, be respectful of this person when you do interact with him or her. Wooley says, "HR works within all levels of an organization -- they're the people people. If an employee wants to try to build a relationship with the HR person, it's possible. And it's important to just be respectful of the HR person when they do meet with them. Make sure you pay attention during orientation procedures and read your employee handbook." If you are only going to make a limited impact on a person, you have to make sure that you're putting your best face forward.

Myth No. 3

I sued my former company and now they are not allowed to say anything.

Reality: "They may not be able to say anything definitive, but do not put it past them to carefully take a shot at you," says Allison, "There have been plenty of instances where a former boss or an HR staffer has said, 'Hold on a minute while I get the legal file to see what I am allowed to say about Mr. Smith.' Many employers may be uncomfortable hiring someone who has a legal history, dashing your job prospects."

What You Can Do: "Is this always a negative? No. If it is a legitimate situation, we don't always jump to a negative conclusion. The immediate thought I have is not always negative," says Wooley.

Just be sure to be prepared with an explanation if the subject comes up. While a lawsuit in your past doesn't seem to be a deal-breaker, the topic is also unlikely to be as off-limits as you might hope.

Continued on page 3:  Treat Them Well


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