Ivy Exec Spotlight - When Your Organization Refuses to Provide References


This is an all too common problem, as companies have become more and more reluctant to provide references. Let’s start by first understanding why some companies have adopted non-reference friendly policies.

There are two basic types of non-references policies employed by companies today:

Limited references Only: This type of company policy forbids employees or managers from providing references, so that all reference requests are directed back to the HR department. The HR department then manages reference information given, limiting it to name, dates, and sometimes salary. More and more often, this is becoming an offshore, online, or fax function to limit interaction with company employees

Absolutely no references: This type of company policy goes further, requiring employees to state that the company policy is not to give any references, and referring questions back to HR. Any questions are typically fielded by low level staff, offshore or email to block communication with anyone inside the company possessing authority.

Why have companies adopted no reference policies?

Fear of litigation: So many companies have been sued for giving negative references, that many companies have decided it’s just not worth it.

Cost: It costs money for a company to staff people to give references, or to have it’s managers provide references. Some companies have decided it’s just not worth the cost, since the company gets little direct benefit.

No legal requirements: Companies aren’t required to give references about their past employees. References developed as a tradition that companies would give, almost as a benefit, to their ex-employees. Many companies have decided that they get no direct benefit, they take on risk of lawsuit, and it costs them money – so it’s just not worth it.

What can you do if you discover your past company refuses to provide references?
All is not lost – you have many options. Learn from recruiters who have to go past this issue every day. Here are some tips that recruiters use:

Convince your manager to break the rules: If your ex-boss loved you, you might get them to break the rules and give a “personal” recommendation. While the manager can’t give an “official recommendation” on behalf of the company, some managers are willing to go rogue by suggesting after hours calls or by giving a cell phone number to call in the evening. Be careful, you’re not likely to get your ex-boss to break company rules unless they thought you walked on water (incriminating pictures could work also).

Find an ex-boss no longer with the company: If the ex-boss is no longer with the company, they aren’t bound by company policy any longer. This doesn’t have to be your most recent manager – this could be someone from 20 years ago at this company. Just find someone who managed you, who remembers you, who liked you, and who’s willing to do you a solid by taking a call and saying something nice. If you go too far back you’ll probably have to remind the reference about the tall buildings you leaped in a single bound, and various feats of strength you exhibited on the job.

Go up the food chain: You don’t have to rely on just direct managers – you can reach out to any of your ex-boss’ bosses for a reference. Again, make sure the reference remembers what you accomplished, or remind them … just in case.

Peer references or subordinate references: This is better than nothing, but recruiters and employers generally give these references much less credibility than an ex-boss. Exception: If the subordinate was Mark Zuckerberg, they’ll probably have plenty of cred (better plan on the recruiter asking Zuck for a job).

About Ivy Exec

This article was originally posted on the Ivy Exec Blog, career resource partner of AESC/BlueSteps. A highly selective, invitation-only career site; IvyExec is founded by a team of Columbia MBAs to address the unique career needs of top executives. Ivy Exec is a trusted recruiting tool used by companies such as JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank, Deloitte, Google, Prada, and other upper echelon firms looking to hire high-calibre executives.

Ivy Exec has agreed to provide the AESC and BlueSteps community complimentary All-Access membership should you be approved to join. As an All-Access member, you will have access to over 17,000 international job listings, industry intelligence reports, and the option to build a profile searchable by over 600 leading companies.  


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