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September 30, 2008


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My reference tip is to be pro-active about potentially needing references. This starts with being careful not to burn any bridges with anyone at your former workplace. Too many people use those last few days as opportunities to vent about negative experiences. These rants have a way of working back to people that you might need as a reference. Instead, keep your mouth shut except to say what a wonderful experience it was to work there.

Agree 100% with TougyMoneyLove. Also, if you work in a business-to-business or even business-to-consumer type environment, I would reccomend using clients/customers as references. If you do a good job and have a good rapport with them they will gladly speak highly of you.

Was it termination, or did they ask for your resignation?

Why would the reference be less than stellar? Can you phrase it in a proactive way? Show how you took action and initiative?

If you word it well (and it is true), you can communicate that your former boss or company was lacking, while not criticizing them (never criticize a former boss or employer).

For example: "I left Company X because our values were different. One value area we disagreed on was that all employees have the moral obligation to work at Company X until they retire."

If you were, in fact, negligent and deserve the lousy reference, explain what you learned and how you have taken steps to make sure it never happens again.

The second point brought up in the article is the best way to go. You can never control what an old boss will say. HR departments will be very risk averse and will tell the old Boss to clam up. Violating a directive by HR would get the boss in trouble.

Let HR know that you will seek legal assistance in the event that the boss does this again and you will see your problems will disappear very quickly.

As a former HR professional and current executive recruiter, I think some of these comments are naive. If a candidate gave me a list of references that only included peers, I would push it back and ask for names of people he or she reported to. I can understand not calling current bosses, but anybody else is fair game.

Let me set everyone straight on a couple of things: My clients, and I, talk to people you have not listed on your references sheet. "Who else would you suggest I talk to regarding Bob's work history?," is a question asked every day of a reference. If you list three people, I will personally talk to six. Keep your noses clean. Never lie or embellish on your resume. It's a small world. Everybody knows somebody. HR may not be able to give full disclosure because of legal issues, but trust me, everybody else LOVES to talk. And the more senior-level the position, the longer the conversation.

Also, credit and criminal background checks are becoming more and more common for any type of position. You will know if a potential employer does these checks as you will have to give them permission to do so. However, if you decline, they will move onto the next candidate. If you have a FICO score lower than 650, they likely will move onto the next candidate. If you have a bench warrant for unpaid parking tickets, they won't even return your calls. It happens. It happens every day.

Early in my career I had the misfortune of finding out that my mentor gave me a bad reference - this is after he had agreed to be one. The hiring manager listened carefully to his rant and hired me anyway, then clued me in about what happened. It seems that my so-called mentor was upset that I'd taken my career in a different direction than he thought it should go but he never bothered to inform me of his feelings on the matter. The hiring manager said that the rant sold him on my ability to work for difficult people in challenging environments. I hadn't given my immediate supervisor from the same company as a reference because he screamed at me for 2 hours when I gave notice. He took it as a personal insult that I was leaving the company - it didn't matter to him that the company was laying people off in droves. Ironically, they were both out of work shortly thereafter when the whole thing folded.

At another company, an employee thought his immediate manager was giving him a bad reference when he tried to do an internal job change. It wasn't - it was the manager he'd had prior to the current one. The previous manager had given him a glowing reference in order to get him out of his department. Once the employee was no longer his problem, he had no reluctance to tell it like it really was. We ended up terminating the employee but the documentation required to do so, and the length of time it took, was mind-blowing.

I seem to remember, either from college or from reading, that if you ask an employer if you they will provide a positive reference, they are legally obligated to do so. They can not say they will give a good reference and then not do so. Any one that deals with this daily know for sure?

I usually recommend that you provide a current resume to anyone you are asking to be a reference, and give them a heads up when you've had an interview for a specific job. That way, you can drop hints about particular skills or accomplishments you'd like them to emphasize, or refresh their memory about successful projects and so on.

I have been given bad reference by an old emplyer. It has kept me out of work for almost 3 years. Now, I am underemployed. I am not sure what to do?

Therein lies the rub. Sometimes one can find themselves working for someone who turns out to be a total nut case. Just because someone is the owner of a company, or in a position of authority, does not mean they are always of sound mind. I found myself working for just this type of person. As soon as I realized I had accepted a position in a very hostile environment, I decided to move on. However, I stayed on for nearly 6 months to complete the project I committed to doing before resigning. My resignation angered the unstable owner/president of the company, and I'm now afraid that he may be providing false information in the form of a bad reference and impacting my ability to obtain new employment - even though I was praised for doing a great job prior to my resignation. The job was full of such wonderful experience to add to my resume, but knowing what I know about this person (past boss) makes me wonder if I should remove the job from my resume. (I only had 2 employers in 20 yrs, so it's not like I have alot of different companies to fill up a resume.) What should I do? Any way to find out what he may be telling potential employers? I've interviewed for positions that I'm very qualified for (even over qualified for), everything seems to go well in the interviews, and then later I receive a rejection email, and of course I never get to know why.

Baffled, I think I would leave that job right off the resume. It was for only 6 months.. but you have 20 years at 2 jobs and that really speaks volumes to an employer about your long term commitment potential!

Anyone else think Baffled should take a chance and leave it off??

And also, do you have great references from your last job, and even the one before that - you can use?

I'm in the same boat with a former unstable employer but my job was 3 years.. so can't exactly hide that! He did give me reference.. altho I used it in hopes that a prospective employer would read it and NOT call him...

I have an interview today and one tomorrow, I am now not using him as a reference as I have 3 other good ones, but I am still having a friend call him up and do a fake reference check.

The problem is too, with these nut jobs... from one day to the next, you don't know what they will say.

Good luck to us :) :)

Me again.... the other option I just thought after hitting submit, if you do keep the job on the resume..I'm not sure if he gave you a reference letter or not, but somehow to convey not too negatively, that you and your boss didn't see eye to eye... so you're not expecting a great reference. So they have a heads up.

I'm either going to say that today, or just leave him out of the conversation completely. I'll see how it goes.

But if you can, get someone you trust who can do a phony reference check for you and report back to you.

Please people, when you think someone is giving bad references, have a friend call them and pose as a hiring manager. It's very, very simple.

"Please people, when you think someone is giving bad references, have a friend call them and pose as a hiring manager. It's very, very simple."

and then what?

Snorty --

If they give you a good reference, keep them on the list you give potential employers.

If they give you a bad reference, take them off the list you give potential employers.

I tend to think that the interview can overshadow the references. Sure, if you have 5 references, and they all speak negative about you, your out of luck. But if you give a killer interview and have one bad reference, I think the interviewer will lean your way.

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