Dear J.T. & Dale: What can a former manager or employer disclose? If I were a hiring manager in the HR department, I’d want to talk to the prospective employee’s manager. I have interviewed, and after a very successful interview, the company simply stops all communication. So whatever occurs after the interview (where I presume references are checked) leads to “Thanks, but no thanks.” — Brice
J.T.: Former employers can say whatever they want about you in a reference check; however, most smart employers have strict policies on this. Why? If someone says something that is inaccurate or subjective and that results in your not getting a job, you could sue the company. So, I would contact your former HR department and ask for the reference policy. They should tell you what they verify, such as payee, dates of employment and whether you are eligible for rehire. Next, have someone you know call HR and pretend to do a reference check to confirm whether they are staying true to the policy.
DALE: Your former HR department is highly unlikely to be chatty with people making inquiries about you — they are busy, and there is nothing in it for them but potential problems. It’s likely that they will provide only dates of employment, nothing more. However, that doesn’t mean your old manager isn’t trash-talking you. He or she might not know the company policy, might feel immune from it or might simply have uncontainable animosities.
J.T.: Checking that possibility will require your friend to make a second phone call. If you discover that your manager is undermining you, you can contact the employer and warn that if it happens again, you will be seeking legal remedies.
DALE: Those two calls, however, are very unlikely to produce anything sinister. They will serve only to provide you with peace of mind and let you focus on becoming a better interviewee. Remember, it is typical for a company to interview five people in order to hire one. Thus, four of five are getting the “No thanks” response. To be the one “Yes,” you must differentiate yourself. It will help if you simply ask, near the end of the interview, “How do I stack up against the other candidates?” This strikes some people as rude, but I’ve never heard of hiring managers taking offense; instead, they appreciate the chance to be candid. The answer will afford you the chance to respond to perceived weaknesses, right then and in your follow-up communications. You are following up, aren’t you?
J.T.: Meanwhile, given your concerns, Brice, it seems unlikely that you are going to get a good reference from your old boss. So make sure that you have other people at the company who are eager to talk positively about you. Bring a list to the interview, with contact information. Make it easier for the hiring manager to talk to your allies than to your enemies.