In recent years, the reference-checking landscape has changed dramatically for prospective employers and job seekers alike. The advent of social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook allow prospective employers to quickly research reference data on a prospective candidate, says professional reference checking company Allison & Taylor.
This is a boon from the hiring manager/recruiter perspective, as vast personal and professional networks can be accessed – the membership of LinkedIn alone exceeds 135 million members. Social media opens up the candidate pool; estimates suggest that a significant majority of hiring managers recruited through social networks in 2011- and that this trend will continue.
In addition, many hiring managers use social media such using as LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook (in addition to general Google searches) to check a potential candidate’s background. An employer can type in the candidate’s name, previous employers and dates of employment and might well come up with the names of a wide variety of current and former associates. What’s more, prospective employers can access the information on these sites even before a candidate is interviewed in person.
What are the ramifications for you, the job seeker? For one, a prospective employer might be able to access former references who are not those you would normally provide as references. Simply offering up the name of your former Human Resources representative, or of your immediate supervisor, might not be sufficient if an employer is able to utilize social media tools to access the names of your second-level supervisors or other key associates.
This being the case, what steps should you take now to ensure that your social media data isn’t used against you?
Consider these five proactive steps to manage your references in the Internet Age:
1. Take the time to research yourself online prior to beginning your interview process. (One example: “Google” yourself.) The odds are very high that your application, resume and credentials will be reviewed by prospective employers for inaccuracies – better that you identify them first, if they exist.
2. Consider expanding your reference list to prospective employers beyond simply an HR contact or supervisor. Associates like a supportive second-level supervisor or a matrix manager(s) can be key advocates in your behalf and might be more supportive than traditional references like immediate supervisors.
3. Find out what your references will say about you prior to beginning the interview process. Use a third-party reference verification firm to find out what references at your most recent places of employment (in particular) will actually say about you. Increasing the scope of your reference search (to second-level supervisors, etc.) may identify additional favorable references in senior positions whose names you may wish to invoke during the interview process.
4. When negative references are identified during a third-party search, consider taking remedial action intended to discourage such references from ever offering similar negative input to your future employers. Tools such as Cease & Desist letters have proven extremely effective in neutralizing future negative input from unfavorable references.
5. Know your rights. Be aware that employers are legally prohibited from using certain social media data they may discover about you during the hiring process, (e.g. data pertaining to your race, religion, age, sex, sexual preference, etc.). Employers open themselves up to lawsuits if they base their hiring decisions on such discriminatory information.
The ever-increasing prevalence of social media is a doubled edged sword; it has opened up countless employment opportunities, but has also given prospective employers added tools to investigate your background. By recognizing this and taking proactive steps, you use social media to your advantage – and gainful new employment.
Will my employment references know that I am having them ‘checked out’?Answer:
Absolutely not. At no time do we reveal who has hired us to do this research.
Isn’t it illegal to ask about things other than title and dates of employment during a reference check?
No, and that is one of the interesting things about references. It is a private conversation between two people, your past employer and a prospective one. Anything can be said, regardless of what the laws are. Go to your local legislator’s office. They can find the most recent laws for you but remember, every road we drive on has a speed limit. When we are running late, if a police officer is not in sight, we speed. There is not a reference police officer watching over you past employer. Essentially, your past employer or reference can take 5 minutes on the telephone with a total stranger and either increase your chances of obtaining a new position or absolutely ruin them.
If my employment references are bad, what can I do?Answer:
A bad employment reference can be strategically dealt with depending on what is actually being said and to what degree things are explained. You need to first determine what is being said before you can develop an appropriate strategy. Depending on what the research reveals as well as the laws within your state, you may be able to take legal action. We suggest taking our report to an employment attorney for proper legal advice. Allison & Taylor, Inc. will be available to supply our research evidence and to testify in support of your situation should the need arise. Although we will not make a referral to a specific attorney, we do suggest finding one through NELA – the National Employment Lawyers Association. Additionally, very good legal advice and information can be accessed at US Law Books.