“What will your employer say about you?”

If you applied for a job with me and I called your former employers to check you out, what would they tell me? You have no idea? Most likely you don’t know because you never ask.
Yes, that’s something you can–and should–do. Like many workers, you might be afraid to discuss it. Or figure, “Why bother?” But it’s a mistake not to sit down with your human resources representative and boss and agree on what information will be shared when potential employers call.
Before you part ways with a company–whether or not you’re leaving on good terms–you need to ask: What will you say when someone calls to inquire about me? You may even want to get it in writing.
Doing this can:

Give you more peace of mind that they won’t badmouth you
Better ensure that you and your former employer have a consistent story as to why you left and how you performed before you left
Make you less likely to speculate and worry that what your old company is saying is the reason for your difficult job search
Make it less likely that a former employer will say nasty things about you.

Of course there are no guarantees on what someone will say. And tone of voice–even a pause–can imply something negative without actually saying it. But don’t assume you cannot influence what might be said.
Some companies have policies against giving out information because they don’t want to be liable. Their practice is to confirm the individual worked there, their title, and dates of employment. Others will verify someone’s last salary if the correct salary is quoted to them, but that’s it.
Other companies also say they won’t share performance reviews with prospective employers, nor ask other employers to share a performance review for an employee they’re investigating, saying that information is private and confidential.
I’ve also heard of some companies now asking potential employees to sign a release allowing their past company to talk about them.
Unfortunately, most workers do not discuss what will be said before they part company. Instead I see more and more people hiring reference checking companies where someone poses as a would-be employer to find out what an ex-boss is saying about them.
It may not always be ideal or even possible, but addressing the issue head on–even after you leave a company–could open the way for a mutual agreement between you and your former employer. Then you could focus on what’s just as important: the people you do want to act as your reference.
This is an area most people don’t give nearly the attention it needs. You might erroneously assume someone you’ve known in the past will say glowing things about you. Or it’s been so long since you’ve made contact, they wouldn’t feel comfortable acting as a reference.
Instead, pick up the phone and ask people with whom you have mutual admiration to be your references. Update them on what you’re looking for and what you’ve been up to. Let them know who they might hear from.
There’s a lot you don’t have control over in a job search. But you can decrease the snags and influence how things go by having constructive conversations with former employers up front and potential references before you need them.

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Talking about workin’ for a living with WGRR hosts Janeen Coyle and Chris O’Brien.