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5 Things You Don't Want Your References to Say About You

5 Things You Don't Want Your References to Say About You

5 Things You Don't Want Your References to Say About You

By Catherine Conlan
Monster Contributing Writer

You’ve come a long way in your job search and you can practically feel that offer letter in your hands. You just need your references to confirm you’re the right person for the job.

Don’t let them undermine all your hard work. Watch out for these five things you don’t want your references to say about you -- make sure you tell them!

1. Anything About Your Private Life

Your reference might think that mentioning information about your personal situation can add to the profile a potential employer is putting together, but it’s a bad idea, says Farrah Parker, a training and development consultant. “A reference is disastrous when the person mentions your private life in an attempt to garner sympathy on your behalf,” she says.

Encourage your references to talk only about your job history. And when you’re putting together your reference list, “carefully select professionals who will not integrate phrases that expose that you are a parent, spouse, or caretaker of an elderly parent,” Parker advises. “While it is illegal to ask about your external responsibilities, it is not illegal to collect facts through an overly chatty reference.”

2. Anything They Can’t Say With Enthusiasm

When you go through your list of references, consider how they will talk about you in addition to the content they will share. You want your references to be your advocates, and if one isn’t able to speak enthusiastically about you, consider whether you want to include her.

If you have a manager who can’t sound excited about anything, it may be unavoidable, but if you know people who can speak warmly and genuinely about you, definitely include them.

3. That They Didn’t Expect the Call

If you are looking for a new job, it’s easy to forget to keep your references up-to-date about what you’re doing, even if you’ve asked them in the past to serve as references for you. But “the worst thing your reference can say is that he or she didn’t expect the reference call,” says Jené Kapela of Jené Kapela Leadership Solutions.

“Make sure your references are prepared by knowing the job you are applying for, the specific job requirements, and what they could highlight that will put you in the best light for that particular position,” she advises.

4. The Amount of Your Severance

If you’re negotiating a severance as you leave your company, watch what for your former employer might say, says Donna Ballman, an employee-side employment attorney and author of “Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired.”

“I’ve seen HR get cute when employees have negotiated for neutral references (dates of employment and job title only) in an agreement,” Ballman says. “If they want to be spiteful, this sneaky line tells the potential employer something went wrong. I always ask that confidentiality of a severance agreement be mutual.”

5. Any Problems You’ve Resolved

If you’ve behaved badly in your past jobs, but are now reformed and trying to move on, don’t list references who bring up your misdeeds.

“You wouldn’t want a reference saying you lied on your expense report,” says John Paul Engel, president of Knowledge Capital Consulting. “You wouldn’t want the reference to talk about the Christmas party where you got drunk and harassed both the female and male members of your staff asking for sexual favors. And you wouldn’t want your reference to reveal the series of mistakes you made that almost crashed the company. If you were fired, be sure to have someone other than your boss give you a reference for your next job.”