I’ve been a recruiter since 1972 and have checked many references.

I have never heard a former employer say, “Jeff, you would be doing a disservice to your client if you referred this person.”

or

“Jeff, tell your client to run, not walk, to the next candidate. This one is a human waste.”

No, everyone says nice polite things about their former colleague or subordinate. Once in a while, an employer will say, “Sorry, our firm has a policy against our giving references for all former employees.”

I’ll test that by trying to reference check someone else and invariably it is a company-wide prohibition.

So why do companies check references?

They are hoping for the one occasion where it is not a company-wide ban and they find the needle in a haystack who either gives them the name of someone who will say awful things about them (very unlikely to occur) or they find the one company that where someone whispers to them not to hire someone.

Since most people in management learn that if they do this, they open their company to law suits and themeselves to dismissal that isn’t likely to happen either.

This opens up an opportunity to you as a job hunter to coach your former employer or colleague into saying certain theings about you. Reminding them of stories where you went “above and beyond” your colleagues, where you won the contract or saved the firm money.

But remember, employers are trying to find out something wrong so surprising them with valuable and detailed information about how fabulous you are.

Don’t miss the opportunity.

After all, it will help you distinguish yourself from your competitors (remember, references are often used to narrow the field) and can afford you an opportunity to gain a negotiating edge during salary discussions.

What will employers ask about?

Confirming what your job responsibilities were

Outstanding strengths

Developmental needs

Ability to work under pressure

How well you work with management, colleagues, subordinates, people whose services your work affects

Self-motivation

Work ethic

Written communications capabilities

Personality

Reliability and Flexibility

Whether they might want to re-hire you

So stack your references with people who will take to some coaching from you about what to say.

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