Allison & Taylor公司专门分析推荐信的真实含义，公司执行董事海蒂•艾莉森指出：“约99%的情况下，我们打电话要求提供推荐材料时，对方都不问我们是谁，就开始大讲特讲。”
Dear Annie: I read your article about quitting over ethics, and I have a somewhat related question about my own situation. I was recently forced out of my job, following a dispute with my boss that was partly about ethics. I spoke with both an attorney and the local labor board, and because of the unusual circumstances surrounding my firing, they both think that I could win in court if I decided to sue the company, but I'm not interested in a long, costly legal battle.
However, I did work out a separation agreement with human resources. One of the provisions in it states that my former employer will not discuss the reasons for my departure with people who ask for a reference. I suspect my old boss is violating this agreement, because I just had a job offer withdrawn after the hiring manager contacted this person. Keeping in mind that I really don't want to sue, what can I do about this? –Norm
Dear Norm: This problem is a lot more common than you might think. Even without a separation agreement that specifically prohibits a former employer from badmouthing an ex-employee, most big companies have blanket policies in place that permit references to confirm nothing more than dates of employment and job title.
Unfortunately, like so many corporate policies, these are honored mainly in the breach.
"About 99% of the time, people we call for a reference don't even ask who we are before they start talking," says Heidi Allison, managing director of Allison & Taylor, a firm that specializes in finding out what people's references are actually saying about them.
People's tendency to reveal more than they're supposed to isn't new, but Allison notes that it's gotten worse since the recession started. "HR departments now have a lot of young, inexperienced staffers answering the phones. Sometimes when we've been referred to them by managers we've called, they've read us someone's entire personnel file verbatim -- the good, the bad, and the indifferent," she says.
"Or some companies have no in-house HR department at all anymore," she adds. "So a request for a reference gets shuffled around to employees in other areas. They're busy, it isn't really their job, and they may not be familiar with company policy, so they have a tendency to say whatever pops into their heads." Yikes.
Even a less-than-enthusiastic tone of voice or a terse "no comment" can be as damaging as a negative remark. So how can you make sure the people you're giving as references aren't sinking your prospects?
In your case, where you have reason to believe your boss is violating your separation agreement, a possible solution is a cease-and-desist letter, written by an attorney on your behalf, reiterating the terms of the agreement and requesting that the boss abide by it.