What If Your Ex-Employer Has A No-Reference Policy?

Jan 30 2012 in Featured, Job Search Strategy, reCareered Blog by Phil Rosenberg

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How can you get references when your ex-employer has a policy against giving references?

It’s not just if your old employer won’t give references, you also have problems if your ex-employer will only give minimal references and only confirm dates of employment. While technically a reference, confirmation of employment doesn’t say if your old employer liked you … or hated you.

Many companies have become shy about giving references, or giving references that give any detail … to avoid risk of lawsuits. As job seekers started to win lawsuits against ex-employers who gave unflattering references, employers started to rethink their policies on references.

Let’s face it, giving a reference on behalf of an ex-employee doesn’t do anything for the ex-employer. As employers’ lawsuit risk increased, why should an employer continue to give references? It doesn’t benefit the ex-employer, and they are not legally required to give them.

Limited info references provide little help to you as a candidate. Employers who want to continue the positive karma of reference-giving, but limit their risk, just give date of employment or other limited information references. Some companies outsource references, while others provide a faxed limited-info reference to potential employers who leave a message with an auto attendant protected phone number.

Employers and recruiters don’t want these limited information references – they are looking for a reference that will either say good things about you as an employee, or say not-so-good things. Employers and recruiters want a reference that will take a stand … otherwise it’s not much value to a hiring decision.

So what do you do in either of these situations?

Take a lesson from recruiters … recruiters are experts in getting references, even when there’s a company policy against giving references.

Here’s 5 ways to get a full informative reference, when a company’s policy is against giving references (or if the company’s policy is giving limited-info references):

  1. Ask the manager’s permission explicitly: Specifically ask your manager for a personal reference, asking to discuss positive details personally, rather than referring the reference question to HR.
  2. Ex-Manager: Ask your ex-manager to give a reference. If the ex-manager quotes corporate no-reference policies, ask if they would give a “personal reference” off hours (via cell phone). Many ex-managers will give a personal reference for an employee they appreciated.
  3. Prior Ex-Manager: Who says you have to give your most recent ex-manager as a reference? What about prior ex-managers? Would one of your prior ex-managers at the same employer provide a glowing personal reference? What about your manager’s manager?
  4. Ex-manager who has moved on to a new company: Who says your reference still has to work at their old company? An ex-manager who is no longer with the company isn’t bound by a company no-reference policy.
  5. Call your reference prior to each potential employer/recruiter call: Not only is it the polite thing to do, by calling you alert your reference to expect a call from company X, recruiter y, hiring manager z. This will get the reference’s call returned more quickly and not encourage calls to HR (where there is an expectation of no reference or limited reference).

Recruiters – do you have other suggested ways to get a reference from a company with a no-reference policy?

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Author: Phil Rosenberg

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