The ABCs of References in Your Job Search

When it’s no secret that you’re going to leave your current job, ask your company’s human resources specialist to explain the company’s policy for providing references. Here’s why you want to know:

  • Although a former employer legally can say anything about your work performance that’s factual and true, legal advice to ward off defamation lawsuits causes many employers to limit reference information to dates of employment, position, and compensation. If you’re an ace, that puts you on notice to cultivate recommendations from many sources.

  • You may find out that your company is outsourcing reference data to private companies that charge a fee to prospective employers for your reference information. For more information about this practice, search for “outsourcing reference checks” on the web.

  • You may discover that your employer uses software to numerically measure your value, using such companies as SuccessFactors, Halogen Software, and Oracle.

    A numerical presentation creates a ranking value. For example, if the ranking scale is 1 to 10 and your performance is ranked at 9.5, you’re a star; if you’re ranked at 2.5, you’re in trouble.

    A numerical ranking is intended to be highly confidential company information that’s used for merit increases and bonus money, for example — not as the basis for an employee reference. Confirm that if a numerical rank is in your files, it won’t be used in your employee reference.

While you’re checking out details on what to expect on the reference front from your current employer, also obtain a written copy on letterhead of your work history before you leave your job. You never know when the work history document will come in handy to save a prospective employer time, money, and frustration.

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