16th March, 2016
A lot of companies will ask for your references and then never call them, but it’s still important to prep the reference-givers listed on your reference sheet just in case they get a call or an email message. Reference-checking is different from a background check, but in small companies in particular the two processes can intermingle.
In a background check process, sometimes called employment verification, your new employer just wants to make sure that everything you told them about your employment history is true.
Your past employers can’t verify your salary history without your written permission but if you filled out an online job application you may have given that permission without even realizing it. In the background check process they’re also going to verify the dates of your employment and your job titles.
As an HR leader for a gazillion years I did not worry about small deviations between the background that a job-seeker reported to us and what came back in a background check, but I would worry if somebody said they worked for a company for three years and it turned out to be six months. In that case we would get the job applicant on the phone and ask them about that difference.
I can understand why people ‘pad’ their experience but it’s not a good idea. When a company is thinking about hiring you, the last idea you want to put into their minds is “Can we trust this person?”
It’s just as big or an even bigger problem to fudge the details of your formal education. Don’t say you hold a degree from an institution of higher learning if you do not. If you got most of the degree completed but are still missing a few credits, just say so. Many companies will immediately end the hiring process of a person who says they have a degree that they didn’t actually complete.
Even though there are laws governing what past employers can say about you in a background check, those laws get broken all the time. People talk, and if someone has it in for you at your last employer they can slime you, illegally, and you may never know about it. I don’t want you to get paranoid, but if you’ve had a good interview and you think you’re going to get the job and then you don’t get it, and especially if that happens more than once, somebody at your old job may be defaming you.
There are services that will reference-check for you because this problem is so common. They will call you ex-employer or write to them as though they were about to hire you, and they’ll ask your ex-employer about you. If you don’t want to pay a service to check with your last employer, maybe you have a friend who has a business and can do it instead. They can contact your previous employers for you and ask them when you worked there and whether you are eligible for re-hire.
If you learn that your ex-employer is saying negative things about you, you can get a lawyer to send them a letter and make them stop.
The best remedy for a bad break-up with your last employer is another job between you and them. If you can get a job and keep it for a year it will take away most of your previous employer’s ability to hurt your future job hunts, because no one cares as much about the jobs you held prior to your current or most recent job as they care about the job you’re in now or the job you’ve just left.
They say that time heals all wounds, and the more time that elapses between your unfortunate experience at one employer and the employment verification-slash-reference-checking process with a new employer, the less likely that your old boss can do you and your reputation any damage. Be sure to report your employment and educational history faithfully, and sail into your future!