Employment Verification and Reference Checks

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When you’re interviewing for jobs, expect potential employers to check your resume thoroughly in order to verify your employment history. They will also likely check your references to make sure that they can vouch for your skills and abilities.

Address Resume Red Flags

What does this mean? For one thing, it means that it’s important to address issues such as employment gaps, potentially negative references, or other red flags—before the employer runs across them during employment verification.

None of these issues are insurmountable, but it's important that you be honest and prepared to address them in a way that shows how you've grown and learned from the circumstances.

What Employers Check

How much verification should you expect employers to do during the hiring process? It depends.

Comprehensive Background Checks

Some employers will confirm, very thoroughly, every detail of your resume or job application. This includes calling all of your references. They might even ask your references for a summary of your character and/or work ethic.

If they call your references, they will almost certainly ask them if they would hire you again, if given the chance.

Employment Verification

Other employers may do a cursory check. They might simply verify a few details on your resume or call only one of your references. Some employers won’t check any of your information—and might not even call your references at all.

Background Checks

However, it is a good idea to assume every employer will conduct a thorough background check on your work history. Even something you might think of as a minor embellishment could be perceived as a lack of honesty, and the negative that comes with that outweighs whatever positives might come from the embellishment.

Even if it is discovered after you've been hired, such a discrepancy can cost you your job. So, the bottom line is that you need to be honest.

Employment Gaps

When listing employment dates on your resume, you don't need to list the month and year if you were in a position for more than a year. For example, you can list 2018–2020 instead of May 2018–August 2020. By only including the year, you can cover some employment gaps that were only a couple months long.

You also don't need to list all of your positions on your resume. The rule of thumb, typically, is to limit your experience to 15 years for a managerial job, 10 years for a technical job, and five years for a high-tech job. You can leave other experience off your resume or list it without dates in an "Other Experience" category.

Finally, if a hiring manager asks why you weren’t working during a given period of time, tell the truth. It's perfectly acceptable to say you were home with your family, laid off, or whatever else you might have been doing. Just focus on emphasizing your strong work ethic, before, during, and after your time out of work.

Limited or Unrelated Work Experience

What if you have work experience, but you have had only entry-level or unrelated jobs? It's fine to include it on your resume.

One solution is to be creative and write descriptions of your positions that put a positive slant on your responsibilities.

For instance, "Extensive work with visual standards and merchandising high-ticket items" sounds much better than "Set up clothes racks."

Emphasize responsibilities that are related to the job you are applying for. For example, if you have only worked in restaurants and are applying for a job in retail, highlight your customer service skills and experience.

If most of your jobs were entry-level, and you are applying for a position with more responsibility, include any examples of experiences that involved you stepping up and taking on additional responsibilities. For example, perhaps you gave a presentation to your coworkers or led a team project.

Remember, too, that any volunteering, freelance work, or consulting can be listed in the employment section of your resume. List it just as you would list your other jobs—with job title, company name, dates of employment, etc.

Don’t forget that you can simply leave certain jobs out of your resume. You do not need to include all of your experience. Therefore, you can leave out jobs in the past that are completely unrelated to the position you’re applying for. It's also a good idea to review resume and cover letter samples to get some ideas on how different situations can be handled.

Negative References

If a job application requires you to include the contact information of your last employer, but you know that person might give you a bad reference, there are things you can do to make yourself look better.

First, include other references on your list who you know will give you glowing reviews. These can be other former employers, clients, vendors, or personal references.

Second, you might also be proactive and reach out to the person you are concerned about. Explain to the employer that, while you may not have parted on the best of terms, you are passionate about the job you are applying for and would appreciate a positive reference.

Many people are willing to let bygones be bygones, and you may be able to end up with a reference that both you and the former employer feel comfortable with.

Key Takeaways

Assume That Employers Will Verify Your Work History and Check Your References: Prepare to explain any red flags, like employment gaps or bad references.

Be Honest and Accurate: Don’t fib about job titles, responsibilities, or work history. Even an honest mistake might look like an attempt to stretch the truth.

Get Ahead of Any Bad PR: If you think a former manager or colleague will have something negative to say, be proactive and attempt to negotiate a better reference. 

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