Professional References: What Do People Really Say About You?

You may be surprised to learn how often professional references speak ill of the job seekers they purport to represent.

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Thu, April 02, 2009

CIO — Have you ever wondered what your professional references say about you when prospective employers call them? Perhaps you suspect that one or more of your references isn't providing the glowing review of you that he or she promised when you were laid off. How do you find out if bad references are preventing you from obtaining job offers?

Just as there are companies that employers hire to conduct reference checks on potential employees, there are also firms that check out those employees' professional references, to find out what those individuals are saying about the job seeker.

Jeff Shane is vice president of one such organization, the Rochester Hills, Mich.-based Allison & Taylor Inc. He says professionals come to his firm when they suspect their professional references may be doing them in.

For more stories that address professional references, see 5 Tips for Managing the Messaging About Your Departure From a Company and How to Start Your Job Search 2.0.

"So many of our clients have been unemployed for a while," Shane says. "They've tried many, many times to get a job, had excellent prospects, gone in for second interviews, and then suddenly the bottom drops out. They come to services like ours to see if we can shed light on the problem."

More than 50 percent of the time, Allison & Taylor finds a bad reference to blame.

In this dismal job market, a whiff of negativity from one reference could be all it takes for an employer to disqualify an otherwise A candidate.

CIO.com spoke with Shane about his firm's approach to investigating references, why references sometimes speak negatively about the job seekers they represent, and what job seekers can do to ensure they get good references in the future.

CIO: When you contact a client's references, what goes on?

Jeff Shane: We [say who we are and] indicate we're doing a reference check for the client named. Then the reference basically answers our consultants' questions , which can be fairly detailed. Our consultants will, as best they can, record in a report (not using tape recorders, but like a stenographer) what the reference said, their tone of voice and other nuances like verbal body language. They will try to quote the reference verbatim. We then make that information available in electronic form to our clients.

Do the references think you're the employer or an agency acting on behalf of the employer?

Because so many people are on the job market, a reference will assume that we are looking to hire that individual or that we are a third party hired to do the reference check for that individual. We will not misrepresent ourselves, but we don't dispel that assumption. Obviously, we want to get as candid a response from the reference as we can.

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