They said what? Real responses to employment reference checks

(MoneyWatch) When called for a reference, your former employer can only verify dates of employment and job title, right? Wrong. Employers can say anything they want to about a former (or current) employee, as long as it's true. And while many companies have policies that prohibit managers from doing anything other than confirming service, most managers ignore the policy, and are happy to speak up when someone calls for a reference.

Reference-checking firm Allison & Taylor estimates that 50 percent of their reference checks come back negative or lukewarm. Below are some real responses:

We would like to verify that (the candidate) held the position (title) from (dates). Is this correct?

  • "He was an account executive, not a Senior V.P."
  • "His name doesn't ring a bell."
  • "We do not have this person anywhere in our records."
  • "I am not allowed to say anything about this person, as she was fired"

Is this person eligible for re-hire?

  • "He is not. I'm really not supposed to say much but he was unreliable and sick a lot."
  • "Probably not. She had a hard time working in a team environment."
  • "No, but I can't say why."
  • "Probably not, but it's just a suspicion of mine."
  • "No, because he didn't want to work here and made it clear he didn't want to work here."
  • "I wouldn't re-hire him. He was disorganized and dishonest."
  • "No, it was the departure - kind of burned his bridges when he left."
  • "No, she stole from the company. We have an investigation pending."

Responses to questions about performance.

  • Decision Making: "He couldn't make a decision if his life depended on it!"
  • Leadership: "He had no leadership skills."
  • Crisis Management: "He [fireman] totally ignored the emergency call when it came in. He said he didn't hear it!"
  • Short Term Planning: "Lousy, can't remember something that was completed on time!"
  • Personal Integrity: "I don't think she had any integrity."
  • Overall Performance: "Inadequate would be a positive word for him!"
  • Managerial Skills: "He couldn't manage a group of children!"

We are calling you as a reference regarding (the candidate).

  • "I do not care to comment at all. I let him go and that's all I care to say!"
  • "Are you certain he gave you my name?"
  • "I cannot believe you were given my name as a reference."
  • "Hold on, let me get the legal file to see what I am allowed to say."
  • "Never heard of him!"
  • "I'm surprised she even listed us on her work history."

The lesson here: Next time you're job hunting, make sure you speak with your references first to find out what they are going to say. If you don't, you may get some responses you weren't prepared for.