A friend of mine recently landed a high-paying, responsible professional job. As a courtesy, she called the people whom she listed as references to thank them for their help in her job hunt.
Not one of them had been called by the company that hired her.
So it goes in the complicated field of job searching and hiring. Job hunters must assume that their references will be checked, just as they have to assume that they’ll be asked to provide a urine sample for a drug analysis. But neither might happen.
A new survey for CareerBuilder by Harris Poll reported that about three-fourths of employers conduct background checks before they hire someone, and slightly more than half require drug tests.
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Job hunters: You aren’t likely to know exactly what your prospective employer will do.
Even organizations that require a list of references may end up not making the calls. Chalk it up to being rushed in the hiring process or maybe being frustrated at repeated refusals by former employers to share any valuable performance feedback beyond basic information such as dates of hire and departure.
But consider even that bit of information. It’s a reminder to be honest and accurate with any dates you list. And be sure you get the name of schools or organizations exact. If a background check reveals discrepancies, that may throw your application into the round file, even if it’s just a minor error.
Many employers hire reference-checking firms to dig into applicants’ work histories, possible legal or criminal records and ask for comments from previous bosses or human resource departments. Dozens of firms provide such services. Other organizations rely on their own human resource officials or managers to do the background checks.
There’s no foolproof way for you, the job hunter, to know how wide and how deep a prospective employer will probe.
There are, though, a relative handful of reference-checking firms that will work directly for you. For a fee, they’ll call your references and do other checks to see what turns up — without revealing that they’re working for you. Allison & Taylor, CheckMyReference, CheckYourReference and GoodHire/TrueMe are a few of the sites that sell directly to the individual.
If you suspect that a former reference is bad-mouthing you unfairly, or if you worry that, say, your credit report is hurting you, it might be worth your time and money to hire your own check.
I also know of job hunters who had friends pose as potential employers and call references to see what they’re saying. While I can’t endorse subterfuge, it’s been known to uncover bad references that job hunters had no idea were hurting them.
Allison & Taylor recently shared an amusing — and instructional — list of actual responses received by their reference checkers, things like “I can’t believe you were given my name as a reference.”
Job hunters: Contact anyone you list as references. And get a clue as to whether that’s OK with them…and you.