What To Do About Negative References

Reference checking is often viewed as a routine matter. But not for the company or the job seeker when certain information is shared.

Allison & Taylor, a company engaged in the reference business for more than 30 years, offers the following:

It’s an all-to familiar scenario – a job seeker with strong employment credentials has interviewed well, and received positive feedback from a prospective employer.  After being asked to provide a list of references, communications suddenly stop; no explanation is provided, and the job seeker’s attempts to follow up elicit a vague “we decided to go in a different direction” statement.

What is happening here?

While there may be multiple reasons why a prospective employer has suddenly lost interest, one possibility is that a reference they’ve contacted has offered negative commentary about the job seeker.  When this happens, the employer begins to see the job seeker as an employment risk, and it’s highly likely that the entire process will stutter to a stop.

The employment process can be tricky, and there are three common ways that an unfavorable reference can derail even the most promising job prospect:

  1. The Supervisor Dilemma – A potential employer will often ask, “May we contact your former supervisor?”  If they are told “no”, it sends up a red flag and makes the employer wonder what a job seeker has to hide.  If the contact is permitted, a job seeker runs the risk that the reference may offer some negative feedback – supervisors often give a mix of favorable and unfavorable commentary about their former subordinates.    
  2. HR’s Influence – Human resources, which most former employees feel is a “safe” reference bet, can actually be quite problematic.  While company policy may not allow them to provide damaging commentary, they may indicate that the employee is not eligible for rehire or suggest that the separation was due to involuntary, unfavorable circumstances.  
  3. “Do Not Hire” – Still another possibility is that a job seeker is on a former employer’s “do not hire” list.  This could be due to any number of reasons, including a failed background check, minor corporate infractions or resume fraud. While most U.S. hiring managers rarely admit that they keep such records, they do exist.

Allison & Taylor reports that approximately half of all reference checks it conducts reveal negative input from the reference.

Where Are All the Workers?

While Indiana’s unemployment dipped to 3.6% last month, Utah is a full half point lower. The New York Times recently cites some of the challenges that brings. A few excerpts:

After eight years of steady growth, the main economic concern in Utah and a growing number of other states is no longer a lack of jobs, but a lack of workers. The unemployment rate here fell to 3.1%, among the lowest figures in the nation.

Nearly a third of the 388 metropolitan areas tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics have an unemployment rate below 4%, well below the level that economists consider “full employment,” the normal churn of people quitting to find new jobs. The rate in some cities, like Ames, Iowa, and Boulder, Colo., is even lower, at 2%.

That’s good news for workers, who are reaping wage increases and moving to better jobs after years of stagnating pay that, for many, was stuck at a low level. Daniel Edlund, a 21-year-old call center worker in Provo, Utah, learned on a Monday that his hours were changing. On Wednesday, he had his first interview for a new job.

But labor shortages are weighing on overall economic growth, slowing the pace of expansion in northern Utah and other fast-growing regions even as unemployment remains stubbornly high in Rust Belt cities like Cleveland and in regions still recovering from the 2008 recession, like inland California.

To Todd Bingham, the president of the Utah Manufacturers Association, “3.1 percent unemployment is fabulous unless you’re looking to hire people.”

“Our companies are saying, ‘We could grow faster, we could produce more product, if we had the workers,’” he said. “Is it holding the economy back? I think it definitely is.”

But the share of Utah adults who have withdrawn from the labor force remains higher than before the recession. Last year, 31.7% of adults in Utah were neither working nor looking for work, up from 28.2% in 2006. That is part of a broad national trend.

References Still Really Matter

Allison & Taylor estimates that approximately 50% of all reference checks it conducts reflect some degree of employer negativity.

Here are five false perceptions that explain why countless job seekers go for months, or years, without landing that next job:

Myth No. 1:
Companies cannot say anything negative about a former employee.

Reality:
While countless companies have policies dictating that only title, dates of employment and salary history can be discussed, their employees – particularly at the management level – frequently violate such policies. Former supervisors are particularly notorious in this regard.

Myth No. 2
Most corporations direct reference check requests to their human resources departments, and they are trained to ensure that nothing negative will be said about me.

Reality:
Most human resources professionals will indeed follow proper protocol. However, be warned that some will not. When asked whether a former employee is eligible for rehire, some will indicate they are not – and may go on to explain why this is the case. Even if they indicate “not eligible” and offer no further explanation, a potential employee is unlikely to take the risk of hiring you without knowing the reason why a past employer has described you as ineligible for rehire.

Myth No. 3
Assuming HR has nothing negative to say about me, I should be “ok” with that company, reference-wise.

Reality:
Prospective employers have figured out that former supervisors are much more likely to offer revealing commentary about a company’s former employees. Your supervisor(s) knew you personally and has formed opinions about you, favorable or otherwise. When asked for their opinion, supervisors frequently forget, or are unaware of, company policies that typically instruct them to refer incoming reference inquiries to HR.

Myth No. 4
I should have my references listed on my resume and distribute them together.

Reality:
You never want to list your references on your resume, or indicate “References Provided Upon Request.” You do not want companies that may have little/no interest in hiring you bothering your references. What’s more, you may be wrongly assuming that the references you list truly “have your back.” Countless job seekers offer up the names of references that ultimately provide lukewarm or unfavorable commentary about them. The candidate should have a list of their references readily available (in the same format/font as their resume) to be given to prospective employers. When offered at the conclusion of an interview – in a highly professional format – it can create a very proactive (and favorable) ending impression.

Myth No. 5:
I took legal action against my former company and they are now not allowed to say anything.

Reality:
They may have been instructed not to say anything definitive, but do not put it past them to make your life difficult. There have been countless 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 this former employee.” Most employers are uncomfortable hiring someone who has a legal history, probably dashing your job prospects.

Talent War is Underway

16342368As the economy has improved, unemployment rates have fallen, and employees have become more demanding. Manta polled small business owners about employee benefits and found that they are feeling the pinch — mostly from prospective employees — about benefits plans. According to the poll, about 47% of potential employees put the pressure on about benefits. Employers are also feeling the pinch from their competitors’ plans.

The most common benefit offered, according to the survey, is paid vacation (72%), followed by flex-time benefits (58%), paid sick leave (57%) and remote work options (46%).

A separate study by Aflac confirms this trend. Almost two-thirds of employees polled were likely to take a job with lower pay but better benefits. And 42% of employees said improving their benefits package was one thing their employers could do to keep them in their jobs — ranking higher than a promotion. What’s more, 16% admitted they have left a job or turned down a job in the last 12 months due to the benefits offered.

Finally, employees who are satisfied with their benefits are much more likely to be satisfied with their jobs (96% vs. 68%) and less likely to be looking for a job in the next 12 months (46% vs. 57%).

Fill Your Employment Needs at Veteran Career Fair

side profile of man saluting the American flag

The Operation Hire a Hoosier Vet career fair is coming to the Indiana State Fairgrounds on April 20. The event, in its 10th year, is the largest career fair in the Midwest focused on veterans, service members and their families.

More than 500 job seekers and up to 200 actively hiring employers are expected to participate. This is an excellent opportunity for employers to try and meet their workforce needs with talented Indiana veterans.

The fair takes place from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the Agriculture/Horticulture Building. A separate job preparedness workshop is scheduled for 5-8 p.m. on April 13. Additional information and registration is available at www.ohhv.org.

Survey Seeks to Assist in Veteran Hiring

sThere are still more than one million veterans looking for full-time jobs with tens of thousands of soldiers leaving the military in 2016. Many employers aren’t getting the right information and networking help they need to successfully hire veterans, Reservists and National Guard members.

Center for America (CFA), a nonprofit, is conducting a national survey among employers to identify the specific problems that employers in different industries and locations are having in recruiting military candidates. CFA is funded by foundations and Phillips 66, so it is providing its help to associations and employers at no cost.

“We realize many resources to help employers hire veterans are too general, too complicated or too costly to really help them find and hire military candidates,” said Brig. Gen. (ret) Marianne Watson, director of Outreach for Center for America. “So, CFA is developing free, industry-specific networking and web-based education resources to make it easier and faster for employers to connect with the right military candidates.

“We are asking for your help to complete a 10-minute online questionnaire – anonymously if you wish – that will identify the challenges you’re having in hiring veterans,” said General Watson. “Hundreds of employers from all over the country are participating.”

Here is the link: www.surveymonkey.com/r/36PW85F_CFA (In the first question, please input the code – G444.)

CFA has been coordinating the American Jobs for America’s Heroes national campaign for four years under a written agreement with the Army National Guard in Washington, D.C.

Contact Steve Nowlan ([email protected]), president of Center for America and coordinator for the American Jobs for American Heroes campaign, with any questions or for free help with your veteran recruiting. Get a head start by downloading a free copy of CFA’s Best Practices Guide for Veteran Hiring at www.CenterForAmerica.org/bpg.html.

Guides Provide Best Practices in Military Hiring

side profile of man saluting the American flag

With more than one million soldiers leaving the military in the next five years in addition to those currently looking for civilian jobs, veterans will continue to be a critical source of trained employees to fill the “skills gap.”

“To help employers improve their veteran hiring, we’ve compiled brief profiles of the techniques used by successful employers,” says Steve Nowlan, Center for America. “These free guides – one for small employers and one for large employers — will save recruiters and managers time and effort by clarifying what works and the mistakes to avoid.”

Download the Small Employer Edition (20 pages) or the Large Employer Edition (41 pages):

The Center for America coordinates the non-profit American Jobs for America’s Heroes military hiring campaign in which 1,600 employers nationally are participating.

Questions? Contact: Steve Nowlan, Center for America, at (201) 513-0379 or [email protected].

Managing Millennials

Born in 1993, I’m pretty certain I’m considered a member of the sometimes disreputable and misunderstood Millennial generation. As more Millennials are entering the workforce, some of their workplace habits have been under scrutiny, as coworkers and managers consider Millennials to be different from previous generations. I was surprised to run into an article combating some of these notions, or at least questioning them.

The Harvard Business Review article centered on four common blanket statements made about Millennials:

  1. They’re completely different from “us” at that age.
  2. Millennials want more purpose at work.
  3. They want more work-life balance.
  4. Millennials need special treatment at work.

The basis for the article’s conclusions came mainly from research done by Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of “Generation Me,” and her fellow researchers. Peter Cappelli, the George W. Taylor Professor of Management at the Wharton School, also offered his insight based on his studies of research done on Millennials.

All of the abovementioned statements were proven false aside from number three, which was found to be “somewhat true.” The basic conclusion was that Millennials are not drastically different from previous generations and the perceptions that they are derive from the age difference. In other words, Millennials are not that different from Baby Boomers when they were in their 20s and 30s.

However, when managing people, it is still helpful to recognize the differences that age can present, because people’s needs change as they progress through different stages of their life. What’s important to you when you’re 24 is not the same as when you’re 50.

The generational gap does not have to pose issues at work. In fact, Cappelli found in his research that teams composed of different-aged workers perform better, particularly because they don’t view each other as competition and instead collaborate to help each other.

Putting Veterans to Work for Your Company

Hiring Our Heroes job fairs, a program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, continue to make a difference in local communities. The mission is to help veterans and spouses earn meaningful private sector employment.

There are two upcoming events in Indiana:

In addition, the Chamber’s May 2 Policy Issue Conference Call will focus on the same topic with national and state guests discussing this important topic and providing practical guidance for employers. All Indiana Chamber members are eligible to participate.

Facebook: Employers Should Not Demand Passwords

There’s been some buzz lately in the social media and human resources arenas about the practice of employers asking for Facebook passwords from job applicants. While the practice sounded risky from the start anyway, Facebook is now chiming in, siding with those who think it’s way out of bounds. USA Today reports (via the Indy Star):

Facebook is warning employers not to demand the passwords of job applicants, saying that it’s an invasion of privacy that opens companies to legal liabilities.

The social networking company is also threatening legal action.

An Associated Press story this week documented cases of job applicants who are being asked, at the interview table, to reveal their Facebook passwords so their prospective employers can check their backgrounds.

In a post on Friday, Facebook’s chief privacy officer cautions that if an employer discovers that a job applicant is a member of a protected group, the employer may open itself up to claims of discrimination if it doesn’t hire that person.

"If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password," Erin Egan wrote.