The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


January 29, 2013

Applicants hit another reference-checking barrier

If you haven’t been in a job hunt lately, you have no idea how things have changed.

Let me say right up front that the best way to get a job is still through personal contacts. That’s how you avoid some of the screening tactics that are shocking some applicants.

One of the surprises is being required to present your W-2 form from last year to proceed in the interview process. It’s a way for employers to see your salary history and whether it fits with their budgets and expectations.

Another shocker was sent to me by Brian, a job hunter who will remain otherwise anonymous. Here’s a sentence verbatim from a job posting he was considering:

A final step in the hiring process is for candidates to arrange personal reference calls with former supervisors as well as others we may choose.

Let that sink in. You, the candidate, will be required to do what hirers themselves have found that they can’t do - get good reference comments from your past employers.

And why is that? Because the very same human resource department that is requiring you to set up your own reference interviews has told its employees that they aren’t supposed to give out any substantive reference information to other employers.

For years, human resource departments and the employment law attorneys who advise them have mandated company policies that say bosses and co-workers should give out only the scantiest information if called in a reference check.

They have pared down the list of acceptable information to verify only the name of the former employee, dates of employment, job title, pay level and eligibility for rehire (that’s being code for whether the employee was fired “for cause“ and thus ineligible to be rehired).

So the chicken’s come home to roost. Employers aren’t getting good reference information by following the rules they set, so they’re burdening applicants with the task of circumventing those rules.

It would be funny - except for qualified job hunters who can’t get those phone calls returned because of their former employers’ policies.

Diane Stafford is the workplace and careers columnist at The Kansas City Star. Her “Your Job“ blog at includes daily posts about job-related issues of wide interest. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or by email at


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