References, Negative

In January, Seth Godin asserted that you are your references. A recent article in ePrairie further bolsters that fact — indicating that it's even more important than previously thought.

Recent research indicates that organizations are increasingly clamping down on employee references, prodding leaders to stick to a simple story of name, rank, and serial number. For the most part, HR departments are doing this for fear of lawsuits; if someone gives a negative reference — or a reference that negatively impacts someone's job prospects — they could be sued.

Huh. It seems silly to ask someone for a reference unless you actually worked closely with them — and had a positive work experience with them. So I don't quite get the concern about negative references. You shouldn't be seeking references you're unsure about. But the article does offer some good advice — and indicates why this should be a concern.

  • What you want (and what your next employer wants) is good and pithy information about what you can do. That's much more likely to come from a long-term colleague or mentor/boss than from the HR department at your last employer.
  • You should take the time to prep your reference givers before you give their names and contact information to prospective employers.
  • Prep each reference giver with specifics about the job, the company and how you're promoting yourself as a fit for this opportunity.

But let's get back to the main point of the piece — that some companies no longer let employees give reference. I think the writer, Liz Ryan, caps that concern well.

This is unfortunate for two reasons: for one thing, companies run the risk of hiring less-than-wonderful employees if they can't get useful references from former employers. For another thing, former employers who might be happy to give you a terrific reference could very well hesitate to do so if they generally shy away from reference giving.

How do you handle asking for — and giving — references? Any interesting reference stories to share?

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  • Cynthia Typaldos

    Actually, work references are just a proxy for - what can this person do for my company?. Using the internet most knowledge workers now have a way to SHOW their work, and to provide connections and validations for what they have done. It has been proven that, when it comes to doing a job:
    * Competencies are important, but past performance is the best predictor of future success. *
    Quoted from AIRS class on interviewing at
    Connections and Validations specification at

    I believe references will become less and less important as a person's career accomplishments (or lack of) becomes more and more visible thru an internet search. Every presentation, every article, every white paper, every press release, every egroup posting (if RSS is turned on) that involves YOU is now on the internet. So Google now defines WHO you are. You need to manage that visibility by making sure that the right stuff comes up first!

    For more on this topic please go to and the other websites listed in my signature.

    Cynthia Typaldos
    my ResumeBlog at
    my regular blog at
    the ResumeBlog blog at
    ProfGuilds homepage at at