Negative References Costing Applicants Jobs

By Yaffa Klugerman
October 26, 2009

Hiring managers are going to great lengths to check the references of job applicants--and the increased scrutiny is causing many missed job opportunities. reports that hiring managers are using social networking sits such as LinkedIn and Facebook to connect with references whom job applicants may have never listed. Others are contacting past employers and even asking job applicants to sign waivers promising not to sue a former boss for saying negative things about them.

"They're going above and beyond, and they're going underground," said Julie Bauke, a career expert and owner of Congruity Consulting in Cincinnati.

Andy Dunn, CEO of men's apparel site, told that he uses LinkedIn to contact at least six off-list references for each applicant he seriously considers for a job. He noted that a former employer who refuses to talk about an applicant--even because of company policy--ultimately reflects badly on the job candidate.

"Unfortunately, if a candidate can't convince or persuade people they worked with in their career to take my call, then that's not the right person for the job," he said.

ABC News reports that job applicants also often fail to inform their references that they might be contacted--a mistake which can easily cost them a job.

"The biggest faux pas is that people don't ask their contacts to be their references or notify them when they're going to be called," said Megan Slabinski, executive director of The Creative Group, a North American staffing agency. "Even a subtle lack of enthusiasm on the part of a reference can work against job candidates."

Some references even provide negative feedback. A recent survey conducted by the agency found that 250 out of 2000 hiring managers had contacted references who said unflattering things about job applicants. Some reported that the candidates were habitually late to work, fell asleep at their desks, or hated the industry in which they worked. One hiring manager said one person was so astonished at being listed as a reference that he couldn't stop laughing.

"You have no idea how many references I check that give the person a really awful reference," said Ryan Watson, a recruiter with the Philadelphia office of Global Employment Solutions. "Who knows how many opportunities they may have missed out on due to this?" advises job candidates to think carefully before connecting with friends on social networking sites, and be sure those who are listed will give positive recommendations. In addition, candidates should let references know what jobs they are applying for and why they left previous positions in order to be better prepared for questions.

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