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References Gone Bad: Why hire a reference checking service?  


The first week in May is Update Your References Week as sponsored by Career Directors International. If you are looking for a new job or career and haven’t yet renewed your acquaintance with your references, now is the time. If you’re called for an interview today, will you be ready?

You landed the interview and thought it went well. The interviewer said, “We just need to check your references, and we’ll get back to you.” But the next time you talk to the interviewer, there’s a different tone — they “decided to go another direction.”

Uh-oh, there may be a problem with your references.

If you left your most recent company on less than positive terms, this might not be a surprise. But that may not be the only time there is an issue. What if you recently left a company where you had a new supervisor who didn’t know you well? What will he or she say about you?

Even asking isn’t a reliable way of finding out. References respond differently to inquiries from you or other people they know than they will to third party requests — whether it’s a prospective employer or a third party reference checking firm.

Protect yourself with a reference check

If you suspect a previous employer may be a problem, one way to protect yourself is a pre-interview reference check. Like homeowners who order an inspection before putting their home on the market, it allows you to identify and correct deficiencies.

You could have a friend, family member, or colleague call and pretend to be a hiring manager, or you can hire a professional reference checking firm. In addition to more accurately simulating an actual reference check, these companies are also trained in techniques to elicit possible negative information, including reading nonverbal or subtle verbal cues.

With a professional reference check, you’ll also receive the information in writing, in case you need to pursue legal action. If damaging information is uncovered, you want a third party to be able to provide legally admissible information. Some services will provide certified reports and sworn affidavits for this purpose for an additional fee.

Why not have a friend make the call?

In addition, a friend or family member trying to check references on your behalf likely won’t be as diligent or persistent as a professional service, especially if multiple contacts are required. A “blocked number” on caller ID can be suspicious. And a professional service should be able to handle returned phone calls more easily, when a personal reference might receive a return phone call from a reference at an inconvenient time, potentially giving away that you’re checking on your references.

A friend may ask illegal questions inadvertently or allow something to “slip” during the conversation. Professional reference checking services know the law, and will protect your confidentiality. In addition, some states don’t allow you to record conversations without the agreement of both parties — you don’t want your friend to be sued if they don’t know the law.

Some companies have a policy to direct reference checks to the Human Resources department. An independent reference checking service can verify if that policy is being followed.

Do you know what your references will say about you? If you’d like help choosing, preparing, and checking your references, contact me today. 



References Gone Bad: Are Your References Sabotaging Your Job Search?

Coming up

  • References Gone Bad: How services check references
  • References Gone Bad: How to hire a reference checking service
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