Getting A Reference When You Left On Bad Terms

So you are out there job searching and you feel entirely confident that you have an excellent resume, cover letter and your interview skills are second-to-none. However, what irks you to no end is that you have just left a job where you were fired or left on really poor terms, and now every new employer wants a reference from your most recent Employer. You just feel so ticked off because you know this is where your weakness lies.

The reason most people with poor past business relationships fear giving a reference is because of the loss of control. You can control your cover letter and resume that get you the interview., and you can control what you share and how you share it at the interview but what a reference will say about you is beyond your control.

Here’s some ideas of what you can do on a concrete basis to counter anything bad a reference might say about you.

1) Have a big bite of humble pie and pick up the phone or speak in person with your past Supervisor. If this is the person you fear will bad mouth you, let the person know you are just trying to move on and land another job. Ask them politely if they would perhaps just verify your employment dates and nothing more. There is a chance they may laugh at you and decide to stick it to you good, but what have you lost? Nothing. If they were going to give you a bad reference, they still are, and now you know for sure rather than assume they will. You can minimize the impact of this person at an interview if you are honest and up front and just tell the interviewer that you left on poor terms, have learned from the experience, and articulate how you will really appreciate the opportunity to work hard to justify the new employers confidence in you.

2) Find out if your previous companies policy re. reference is to perhaps just verify employment periods. If this is the case, your past employer won’t say anything good or poor. This is because some employers in the past have been held legally accountable for what they said as a reference by companies who made hiring decisions based in part on their recommendations. You may be worrrying for no reason.

3) Consider that if the new employer wants a reference from your past employer, it’s still up to you as to WHO you provide. Maybe you could provide the name of another Supervisor who you often dealt with in a positive way, rather than your own who you didn’t get on with. There’s always the option of giving your HR department as well, or a co-worker.

4) If the job you left on poor terms was of an extremely short nature, don’t even put it on the resume and the new employer won’t know about it at all.

5) Consider getting a job – ANY job, so that when the new employer asks for your latest professional reference, you can confidently give the name of the current employer rather than the one two jobs ago that you are worried about.

References are needed by employers to back up the information you have provided in the job interview. It’s important to think about your references not after you have left a job, but actually while you are still working successfully. Nuture and build a relationship if possible with your immediate Supervisor that is positive and healthy. This doesn’t have to mean you both join a bowling league and hang out after work. It does mean that you show the respect that is due someone in a senior position to yourself, and work hard to demonstrate your skills.

I’ve known people who are highly stressed about what their former employers are going to say about them to the point where they cease to job search because they ‘know’ that the whole thing will end badly when references are checked. Interestingly enough, I’ve called some of the businesses and asked for a reference to see what is being said, and it is no where near the disaster the job seeker was under the impression would be shared. If you don’t have the luxury of a good reference, do what you can now to repair the relationship and minimize the damage.

In the worst case, if you have proof that your previous employer is slamming your performance and has no reason to do so, you should consult with a lawyer to take action if your character is being challenged and demeaned.


8 thoughts on “Getting A Reference When You Left On Bad Terms

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  4. It’s my understanding that a past employer can not state if you were a good or bad employee, they can state the dates employed,and I would think wether or not you were on time. But to run your character down,I thought that was illegal in Ontario.If it is legal,it shouldn’t be.


    1. Well actually James an employer is permitted to provide both positive and negative references – as long as they stick to the truth. To run down one’s character says more about the employer than the employee. Many companies these days only do as you say however; provide verification of the person’s employment period. This way they avoid any possible litigation.


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