Resume Q&A: What Can My Former Employers Say About Me?
Q. I am in the middle of my career as a manager in a call center. In the past, I was part of a layoff when the company I worked at downsized. Recently, I left a job because the job description I was given during my interview turned out to be completely misleading when I actually started. I wish I knew what those companies will say about me if hiring managers and recruiters contact them. Should I be defending myself in my resume?
A. On your resume, you can certainly mention downsizing as the reason for a layoff, although layoffs are so common now that they should not cause a problem for a hiring manager or recruiter. However, it is not always wise to defend yourself from a possible problem on your resume; you may end up raising questions that no one thought to ask. What can you do instead?
First, you should check your state laws. Although there are no federal laws governing what an employer can say about you, there may be state laws. Your state department of labor will explain what those laws cover. Many states allow employers to share details about job performance, responsibilities, and professional conduct, including the reasons for termination.
Second, you can outright ask a former employer what they will tell potential employers if they call. Company policies differ widely, with some companies restricting information to job titles and dates of employment and others having no restrictions at all (except the truth).
Third, you can ask for a reference from someone in the company who will definitely give you a good reference. This approach is useful if you had a fraught relationship with a boss. A coworker, vendor, or higher ranking employee may be a good alternative.
Fourth, you might want to add a testimonial to your resume to reinforce your expertise and good qualities. Also, be sure to collect testimonials on LinkedIn.
Fifth, if you have evidence that a former employer is lying about you, you have the basis for legal action. That will not reverse the damage done, but it will prevent further damage if it seems worthwhile to pursue legal action.
Another way to approach this problem is to consider what a hiring manager or recruiter is likely to ask. Basing a hiring decision on information like race, religion, or disability is prohibited by federal law. Therefore, most hiring managers will stay away from questions that would generate that information and lead to a possible discrimination lawsuit if the candidate is not hired.
Writing about your up-and-down employment history on your resume may be tricky. If you find yourself floundering, please contact me. I have years of experience in writing resumes that deal with employment issues.