The last thing a company wants to do is hire someone who lies about his or her experience or qualifications. Thus, companies will often take steps to verify job applicants' work histories or claims -- namely, by reaching out to former employers.
The question is: How much information about you are companies allowed to share? And the answer, like it or not, is "a lot."
Your work history, exposed
There are no federal laws dictating what a former employer can or cannot disclose about previous employees. And while some rules do exist at the state level, they can vary from one state to the next. Generally speaking, however, it pays to prepare for the possibility that a company you used to work for will share information about the following items:
- Job title and responsibilities
- Nature of termination
Of course, it's a former employer's responsibility to make sure it's speaking the truth. If not, it opens itself up to a defamation suit. On the other hand, companies are generally allowed to confirm the aforementioned items during a reference check. This means that if you were fired for cause, there's nothing to stop your old employer from saying so if that's what actually happened. And if that's the case, your old employer might have no problem sharing why you were let go -- say, because of your chronic tardiness or inappropriate behavior in the workplace.
That's why it's a bad idea to lie on your resume or misrepresent your employment history in any way in pursuit of a new job. If you share details with a prospective employer that don't match what your former employer has to say, you could ruin your chances of getting hired. Furthermore, if you are hired but get caught in a lie after the fact, you risk losing that new job, too. And that's not a situation you want to be in.
Honesty is the best policy
If you were fired from your last job for cause, explain what went wrong and show the company you're looking to work for how you've learned from your past mistakes. For example, if you were let go for consistently failing to meet deadlines, you might explain that you've since attended a seminar on time management and are better equipped to meet expectations.
Furthermore, if you were unhappy with your former job title or salary, don't fudge that role or number in an effort to do better elsewhere. Instead, explain that while you were perhaps stuck in the "associate" role for quite some time, you feel that based on your skills and experience, you're suitable for a management position. Similarly, you might explain that while you were willing to accept a $48,000 salary at your last job, after doing some research, you've learned that you were way underpaid, and that $60,000 is a more reasonable number given your qualifications.
Like it or not, your former employers might have plenty to say about you if a prospective employer comes digging for information. One thing you can do to come out ahead in this situation is to be proactive about rounding up professional references. If you have a former manager who was always in your corner, for example, you might be best off giving out his or her name rather than having a prospective employer call your old company and be put in touch with someone random. Still, the most important thing you can do with regard to having your employment history checked is to be truthful, even if it means having to explain yourself a bit more on the road to getting hired.