The other day I was forwarded a press release put out by a reference checking firm. The title was ”Cease & Desist: Your Weapon Against Negative Job References.” The subtitle was “Letters Can Put A Stop To Career-Damaging Feedback.”
I think not. More like “Letters can make a bad situation worse.”
Let’s first look at how references are done. Formally, one HR person calls another HR person, checks dates of employment and eligibitlity for rehire. For legal reasons, you can’t do much more than that. So it’s not going to help much there. Eligibility for rehire? “No.” That’s about it. Cease and Desist won’t change much there.
On the other hand, there’s a whole lot of informal reference checking that takes place and this is where the cease and desist is applicable and counter productive. If you’re looking in the same industry or geographical area, there’s the possiblity that the company doing the reference knows the company where you worked. It goes like this:
Hey Joe, this is Sam over at Magnificent Magic Marbles. There’s a guy named William Williams applying here for a Director position. Off the record, what’s the scoop on him?”
Sales and construction are two industries where more than previous employers, you’re looking at informal reference checks with clients and subcontractors. It’s a network. People know each other. As a recruiter, I did it all the time, because I knew people who knew people.
What do you do instead? A scarier but far more productive method is to heal it. Remember this is a blog post, so it’s just an overview of what to do.
I used to sometimes get great references on people who were fired. But I knew how to do a reference. Most people don’t. I also know people, psychology, and am adept at balancing things like that out. What I did with the reference and what I told the client depended on the bad part of the reference. That’s not human nature. Human nature wants to avoid mistakes and is going to hear the bad, not the good. And jettison any possibility for problems.
How do you heal it and effectively temper the problem? You call the person up and you ask why they’re giving you a bad reference. And then you work through it until you come to some understanding of what will be said in the future, and how you’ll both present that.
There are other ways to handle a bad reference, and in fact, handle references in general, but this post is specifically in reference to the “cease and desist.”
In any case, rather than go the combatative route, try a little relationship building. Try more understanding and less assumption. Move to the positive rather than accentuating – and exacerbating – the negative. Your job search will be so much better for it, and so will you, especially since it took a lot of guts to make that phone call.