So Farley is considering paying a reference-checking company to tell him what it finds. It'll cost him at least $90 to get a report, and he isn't sure he wants to spend the money. But many individuals do.
In the last few years, background checking has extended even beyond applicants to inside employees being considered for promotions. No wonder many workers say they're paranoid.
"Yet in theory, we shouldn't get any negative references at all," Shane said.
That's because employment law attorneys tell employers to confirm only a "name, rank and serial number" - to give out only dates of employment, job title and rate of pay.
Some also permit an answer to a standard question: Is this person eligible for rehire? A "no" may indicate the employee was fired.
Lawyers, insurers and employers fear that spilling more information might make the organization vulnerable to lawsuits from disgruntled applicants who learn that negative things were said.
"In theory, we shouldn't be getting unfavorable input for any reason because of lawsuit fears," Shane reiterated. "But the fact that we do many thousands of interviews and about half come back with negativity, it's fair to say it's not all worker paranoia by any stretch."
Skilled researchers, even when stymied by name-rank-serial number responses, often get names of others who talk.
Then there's social media. LinkedIn and Facebook are treasure troves to find who worked with whom.
"You don't really get official references any more, since most are circumspect," said Barbara Griggs, executive director of Concerned Care Inc., which hires workers to help people with disabilities in their homes. She needs to be sure about the character and credentials of her employees.
So without endless time or dollars to pay for probes, "what helps is to have any personal contacts," she said. "The best is to have someone referred by someone we know and trust."
The downside? Personal references tend to create workplaces based on "who you know."
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In reality, an applicant is unlikely to successfully sue an employer for a reference that was or wasn't given.
To win, a worker must prove that a reference defamed or libeled them, or that comments violated sex, racial, religion, pregnancy, age or other forms of anti-discrimination laws.
If laws are followed, "someone would be hard-pressed to find legal grounds to go after anyone," said career coach Meg Montford. "But face it, it's not always run by the book."
Montford tells her clients to be upfront about negative things that prospective employers will unearth about them.
"That's the only way to have the possibility of an interview in which you're able to talk about it and overcome it," she said.
Executive recruiters Katey Tryon and Mary Heideman said they also advise job candidates to make sure the people they list as references know they're listed by name and let them know what kind of job is being sought.
Then be open and ask your references whether they'd have any problem advocating for you in connection with any aspect of the job, Heideman said.
Many applicants won't get that far. Often, Dupriest said, a criminal conviction - or even a misdemeanor - puts a candidate in the reject pile.
"A lot depends on the job," he said. "If the job involves driving or bartending, even that old minor-in-possession case may have an impact, while it might have very little effect on most other jobs."
Long-term unemployment also has elevated another kind of background check to importance: the credit check. The theory is that if someone poorly manages personal finances, they may be a judgment risk as a worker. Long-term job hunters say that's an unfair takeaway from their situation.
"But there's no question that credit checks are playing an increasing role in background checks," said reference-checker Shane. "They're not on the same level as background or reference checks, but they've been on the ascendancy."
The Fair Credit Reporting Act, which covers more than credit checks, offers workers the right to get free copies of background reports obtained by prospective employers.
Applicants are supposed to sign waivers, allowing prospective employers to launch the checks, though experts admit that the waiver presentations don't always happen as they should.
But there is one thing to bet on, said recruiter Snodgrass: "Honesty will prevail."
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