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Employer Won't Give Job References

Employer Won't Give Job References

Alison Green l Ask A Manager

A reader writes:

I have recently been on two interviews with a company. “When can you start” and “will this salary be acceptable” have been discussed.

My issue is that my former employer of 12 years has a strict reference policy that only allows them to confirm dates of employment and salary. I provided additional references at the potential new employer’s request, one former employee of my former company who now runs his own company, and a current client and current supplier of my former company, as well as a former co-worker of my former employee.

It seems that my potential employer is not aware of this growing trend of strict reference policies and we keep going back and forth: “I still haven’t heard back from this person, or that person you provided.” “Can you provide more?”

I’ve been searching for a year with no results and I fear my references situation may be part of it. I did not leave my former employer on bad terms, just felt I need to move on and better myself.

What can I do? I feel like I’m being held back because of this procedure of my former employer and this will affect any future tries at employment. I feel stuck and not sure how to proceed. Can you advise me?

I’d be concerned if a candidate couldn’t get a former employer to give her a reference. Yes, many companies do have the type of policy you described, but I’ve never — and I mean literally never — had a problem getting someone at those companies to give a reference anyway. HR may stick to those policies, but the actual managers usually don’t. And I would be very surprised if a former employee who shone on the job didn’t have past managers jumping to help her.

Have you tried reaching out to your former manager(s) directly, despite what the company says its policy is?

Also, you said that the new employer is telling you they haven’t heard back from the references you did provide. That’s not a good sign either. Have those references told you that they’re able to provide you with a good reference? And that they’re available this week (as opposed to out of town, for instance)? You want to prep your references beforehand, to make sure they’re going to speak well of you, as well as simply willing to return the calls promptly.

If a candidate told me that they weren’t able to get any past manager to serve as a reference (despite the reason) and the references they did give me either weren’t getting back to me or weren’t in a position to be able to really speak to the quality of the person’s performance (which can be the case with peers), I’d consider it a red flag.

I think you do have a reference problem here. I don’t know if it’s because your references aren’t particularly enamored of you or if it’s because you haven’t been hands-on enough in managing the process, but I recommend being more aggressive in figuring it out. Specifically:

    1. Contact your former manager(s) and tell them your job offer is contingent upon the company being able to speak with them. Ask for their help.
    2. Contact the other references you offered and say, “The employer is becoming concerned because they haven’t heard back from you, and my job offer may be on the line. If you’re not able to serve as a reference for me, would you let me know so I can find alternatives?”
    3. If all else fails, ask the new employer if they’d accept (hopefully glowing) past performance reviews in lieu of speaking with your manager.

Good luck.