You’ve been getting interviews with your target companies . . . the companies you’ve determined are a mutual good fit. So you’ve probably done these things right:
- Researched your target employers to align your value proposition with what those employers need
- Built an enticing personal branding that generates chemistry for you
- Built a “clean” online presence with diverse search results for “your name”
- Created a solid networking strategy that keeps you connected to people who can help you meet your career goals
Employers have scrutinized you and vetted you enough to take on the expense and effort of moving you into the interview process.
So far, so good.
Here’s an all too typical scenario. You have an interview or two and:
- You’re not called back for another,
- You hear that they’ve chosen another candidate or
- You don’t hear again from them.
What’s happening here? Why aren’t you landing the job?
Something must be happening during or after interviews that’s keeping you from landing the job.
It could be one of these things:
- You don’t perform well in interviews
- They’ve found a better qualified candidate
- Your references are bad-mouthing you
How do you fix these things before interviewing at another one of your target companies?
- You can fix the first problem by prepping better for interviews.
- You can’t do anything about the second problem. But, if they inform you of this, you can let them know that you’d like them to keep you in mind if something else that’s a good fit for you opens up. Do this in a thank you note.
- You can also do something about the third problem.
First, understand this. You may feel you’re providing the best possible references – people you’re sure are saying great things about you – but you don’t know what they’re actually telling people.
Even more concerning, a prospective employer will probably never inform you that an unfavorable reference was the reason they didn’t hire you.
More likely, if you hear anything, it will be that they’ve decided to go in a different direction, which doesn’t reveal very much at all.
You’ll be left wondering what kept you from landing the job, while the real reason costs you job after job.
Your list of references are not the only people contacted
Don’t think that employers will only check the references you provide.
They may contact others you worked with in the past.
What will your disgruntled ex-bosses say about you, if you quit the job or were fired?
Even if you left on good terms, there could be underlying issues or problems they had with you that are coming out with reference checks.
Even if a reference doesn’t have a particular gripe with you, they may not think as highly of you as you think they do.
If they give you a lukewarm recommendation, that can jeopardize your chances, too.
Fixing the problem and (hopefully!) landing the job
If you want to head this problem off at the pass, you need someone to help you qualify your references.
Then you can weed out the people bad-mouthing you and replace them with people who will say what you need them to say.
Should you have a friend do it?
That’s not a good idea unless they have experience and can truly handle all the ins and outs.
And this puts your friend in an awkward position that could impact your friendship.
As with most things, it’s best to bring in a professional who knows what questions to ask and how to steer the conversation.
I recommend that you have Allison & Taylor, a professional reference checking service, do the work.
Along with documenting the reference’s commentary, they document tone of voice. Hesitant, evasive or annoyed responses are other things that can turn off a potential employer.
What some references actually said about real candidates
To give you an idea of what may be happening to you, here are some excerpts from actual professional reference checking interviews conducted by Allison & Taylor staff:
Could you fully describe the circumstances and reason for the separation?
“She was fired.”
“She was let go – she didn’t do her part as expected.”
“He was let go … he didn’t follow safety standards and guidelines.”
“I fired him! He and his buddy had some illegal things going.”
“She had been written up and she walked out on work … because she was upset.”
“It was a rather delicate and awkward situation. You should call her other past employers. I made the mistake of not doing that.”
“She was terminated in an investigation…” The reference then got very quiet and said he had General Council in his office and couldn’t say anything more.
“ Hold on, I will get the legal file to see what I can say “
Comments ranking a candidate’s skills on a scale of 1-5:
Oral Communications: “Can I give a negative number?”
Interpersonal Relations: “He had a problem with a few of the people. I should have ended the relationship just after he started.”
Productivity: “Is there a rating less than inadequate?”
Decision Making: “He couldn’t make a decision if his life depended on it.”
Managerial Skills: “He couldn’t manage a group of children.”
Financial Skills: “That’s why our company had a major layoff – we left her in charge of the finances!”
What to do if your ex-boss is bad-mouthing you
You can’t keep potential employers from contacting your ex-employers.
But once you know what kinds of things they’re saying about you, you’ll have the information you need to deal with the problem.
Be upfront with potential employers. Fully disclose whatever happened (that you either knew about before or you’ve found out about through your reference checks). Do it before they make the call to your ex-boss.
If you have glowing references for the most part and just one or two negative ones, people will likely pay more attention to the good feedback.
You can try talking to your former boss, to see if you can convince her or him not to say those negative things about you, because it’s keeping you from finding a new job.
You can try going to HR at the former employers to see if they’ll speak to your ex-boss and put a stop to it.
Especially if they’re saying things about you that are factually inaccurate, you need to try to get them to stop.
If the measures above fail, you may need to send a cease-and-desist letter. This is one of the services Allison & Taylor offers.
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