Professional References Problem

iVillage Member
Registered: 10-25-2012
Professional References Problem
Fri, 10-26-2012 - 12:07am

Hi.  I kind of need to vent and also get your opinion on something.  Let me start out by saying that I am not a confrontational person, and I can usually work things out with people when there is a misunderstanding, but I am kind of confused about something a professional reference did.

I interviewed for a job, and was offered the position pending a background check and reference check.  In my past two jobs, no one ever checked my references, but I knew in this case they would.  I called the 3 professionals that I had previously asked and made sure it was OK to have HR call them. No problem.  One of my references is a woman I worked with for 5 years at my last job.  I was at the organization nearly seven years and she was there for five.  She was admin support, and I was an analyst but we worked together regularly due to her department's data needs.  Anyway, I felt she had a good understanding about what I did for the organzation.  I have been friends with her since about a year or so after we met at work.  She and I both left the org because we were unhappy with management, but she burned her bridges and I feel that I did not.  In fact, in my exit interview I said I was pursuing a different line of work, and then I trained a temporary replacement to do my job so that they wouldn't be left high and dry.

The HR department from the new company called this reference and afterwards my reference called me to say what she told them (talk about nerve-wracking).  The more she said, the more upset I became but I didn't say so.  She started by telling me that she told a few white lies.  I expected this because sometimes people have difficulty understanding what I do with data and what software I use.  BUT that is not what she lied about.  She told HR that she was at the organization longer than I was and that she knew me before I went to work there (untrue and not necessary). She also said that the person I replaced was difficult to work with and that I was more pleasant.  (While that might sound like a compliment it isn't--you see, before me, the organization never had an analyst.  They brought me in to become more modern, and I changed how they did all of their research and reporting so it is a very big thing and I usually mention this in my interviews.  My reference KNOWS this.  She also decided that she was chummy with the HR person and told them she didn't know my work style because I had a bad manager and so did she.  The way she said it makes me feel like I came off as a disgruntled employee.  This is NOT the image I want to start off with. 

I don't think that my job offer will be pulled because of this, but I also am a strong believer in who you associate with says a lot about you.  And now I am wondering about this association.  I honestly don't know if she is so naive to think what she did was helpful to me or if for some reason she was trying to sabbatage me.  I just don't get it.  I have already decided that I will not use her has a reference in the future if I have to pursue another job, but I still feel confused and a bit hurt.  Am I just being silly???


iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999
Mon, 12-03-2012 - 7:47pm

All the places that I've worked for have been small and never had a HR dept.  I do understand that some large companies will use the policy of just confirming whether someone worked there or not, but in applying for professional jobs, you actually need to get reference people who will put in a good word for you about your work.  I think if you couldn't find someone, then the new company might wonder if you were a bad worker.

iVillage Member
Registered: 06-03-2009
Sun, 11-04-2012 - 9:48am
This is precisely why when asked for professional references you should always provide the name and phone number of the Human Resources Director. They will know what they are legally allowed to say and what puts them at risk for a lawsuit and therefore should avoid saying. The HR Director has access to all of your company files which would include reviews and evaluations, attendance, your job description and promotion/salary history. If they need additional information to assist someone seeking a reference then they can do the necessary leg work to get it. Because our country is so sue happy and so many states have laws preventing past employers from really saying anything other than "this person worked here from x date to y date, they held this title, and yes/no they're eligible for rehire" I've long said references are a complete joke. Potential employers usually want to find out information that past employers aren't legally allowed to provide which makes the reference superficial and the whole process a waste of time. Also quite a number of companies now have a policy against providing references for any reason and will say so to anyone calling and asking.
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iVillage Member
Registered: 10-27-2012
Sat, 10-27-2012 - 11:09pm
eeeks. How embarrassing! I hope you get the job! But, I have to say, in this litigation-happy age, I am actually instructed to not give any information other than dates of employment and job title if someone calls for a reference from our HR dept. I can't believe that woman said all that, her manager should get a heads up.