How To Handle A Bad Job Reference

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Imagine having to think this to yourself :

"Last couple of job interviews I've noticed that I'm not getting any call backs after I submit my references. I'm beginning to wonder if the references my past employers and supervisors are offering are not as positive as I was led to believe they may be. How can I verify what my past employers are saying about me? If it is knocking me out of the hiring process, what can I do about it? What can I do to fix this?"

The circumstance described happens all the time. Sometimes past supervisors or co-workers feel inclined to cooperate with your job search by supplying a reference, but they aren't quite as honest with you about the nature of the reference they will actually give to a potential employer. Sometimes jealousy kicks in, and that taints the reference offered. Sometimes the issues are leftover complaints from them relating to your past job. Whatever the cause behind the tainted reference, it's important you confirm the source and fix it.

One easy way to fix this issue is to have multiple references in-hand. That way you can offer a choice of references if you question the flavor of specific reference partners.

Another method, and the one I prefer to use, is to have references written down on paper, signed, dated and have it include contact information on the person offering the reference and their responses to specific reference related questions. Further, to use a standard reference sheet for each professional reference asked to help you in this regard, whereby the reference sheet addresses specific elements of your employment in a question/answer format, rather than an opinion format. For instance, at the top of this sort of reference sheet, identify yourself as the person being referenced, and identify the person offering the reference. Offer contact information to reach the person offering the reference. Include that person's current employer (should it have changed) and their current title. The Reference Sheet should ask the timeframe (year/months) that the reference worked with you. It should ask the reference the scope of their duties and how long they had supervised or were a co-worker with you. Then it should ask specific questions going to the heart of your work performance, like how were your results as compared to others? Or, ask them to describe briefly the your work style. Have them report how much you earned (if they know)? What were your strengths and weaknesses in that job? What other titles did you hold? Are you elegible for rehire? Focus the reference questions on your work skills, demeanor and results, rather than on someone's emotional reaction about you after you left employment with that firm.

At this point, you see the references before hand, complete with signature, a date and the details of what that reference had to say about you. Now, even if the prospective employer calls the person relating to such a written reference, it's hard for them to report something different after they've signed their name to a document.

Such an approach may not cure all referencing issues, but it goes a long way towards controlling your job search, so there are fewer surprises. In most cases, don't get twisted by what some past employer, supervisor or co-worker may say about you. It'll seem hurtful, when one hears negative feedback, but your best reaction should be to get a great career job. That'll put an end to all questions concerning your abilities and skills.


Mark Baber has 20 years experience as an Executive Search recruiter, with placement background in many industries, including: Retail, Manufacturing, Sales, Accounting/Finance, MIS/IT, and many others. Mark is Recruit Consultant to where Jobseekers access 2 Million job transactions monthly, and can submit their Resumes Free and have them distributed freely to Employers they choose by industry, vocation, City or Region. Further JobNewsRADIO offers FREE Job Seeker resources like career and personality assessments, free Trade magazines, free Job Search tutorials that help increase your odds of finding a career job position, and many other valuable resources. Or visit Mark's recruitment web site at


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