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Jeff Shane, executive vice president of the reference and background checking firm Allison Taylor Inc., says prospective employers more often are looking beyond traditional references before hiring.

Beyond references, what types of things are employers looking at in employee searches?

They are more inclined to conduct "due diligence" by checking out not only an applicant's human resource reference (the traditional venue), but a former supervisor's, as well. Their motive is an awareness that HR personnel receive more training and emphasis in confirming only employment dates and titles, whereas some supervisors — who knew the applicant personally ­— tend to be more inclined to verbalize their impressions of the candidates. Employers are eager to get that kind of candid feedback.

How do employers use job interviews as a reference-check tool?

Candidates might be asked, "What was your boss's name at your last place of employment?" or even "What would your former supervisors say about you as an employee?" Realizing that the prospective employer might contact their former supervisors or co-workers, candidates might think twice before embellishing their employment history or performance.

What can applicants do to discover what former bosses may say about them?

Applicants should have a reputable third party conduct reference checks on their behalf to determine what a former supervisor, colleague or HR representative will say. Third-party firms that do this might charge around $80 for a typical reference check. Employers typically instruct reference givers to limit input to confirmation of employment dates, title and a "yes or no" to the question of eligibility for rehire. However, a very significant number of reference givers offer negative comments that are beyond this purview and are a violation of either legal statutes (discrimination, defamation of character, wrongful discharge, etc.) or corporate policy, or both. Where such negative input from a reference is uncovered, it can be legally addressed and neutralized.

How can applicants best portray their employment histories?

Your résumé will be a key tool in this regard. Here are some tips to ensure that yours will stand out from the pack:

• Create a "Professional Highlights" section, briefly recapping the accomplishments (key metrics hits or performance measures, promotions and management recognition) of which you're most proud.

• Put your focus on your individual accomplishments. Prospective employers are most interested in what you will "bring to their party."

•. Modify your résumé format to include — at a minimum — some "bullet items" and other similar tools that will add visual interest to the document.

• Make sure your employment dates are consistent, leaving no gaps between dates. If this cannot be accomplished, have good reasons for any between-job intervals.

• Keep your résumé length to two pages or less if possible. Most beyond this length will never get a serious look.

Recall the adage that you only have one chance to make a good first impression. Employers tend to be inundated with résumés for review, especially in today's economy, and most get only a very cursory review. So, it's critical to get the reviewer's attention right off the bat. Otherwise, most will never make it past the first page.

Dawn House

Twitter@DawnHouseTrib Jeff Shane, consultant