Your resume lead may get a prospective employer interested in hiring you, but bad employment references can be deal-breakers.
What Former Employers Can Say About You
When asked about your work performance, a former employer can give a bad reference and be protected from legal action under the law in most states. As long as the following conditions are met, the former employee would have no recourse:
- The comments are work related
- Comments are based on credible evidence
- The statements are made without malice
Former employers who are concerned about being exposed to possible legal action may opt to say very little about a former employee and only confirm the dates of hire and the person's position. Unfortunately, this may create a negative impression in the mind of the prospective employer, who may be wondering why they are not being given more details about the kind of employee the applicant was.
How to Avoid Bad Employment References
There are some things you can do as a job applicant to avoid bad employment references. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind:
- Consider your choices carefully.
A wishy-washy reference is almost as bad as a negative one, so make sure that the people you are putting on your list know you well enough to be able to give you an accurate reference. You can choose to include former professors and work colleagues on your list. If you had a good relationship with a former client or customer, then this is another possibility you can pursue.
A relative is not considered to be a good choice for a reference, even if the two of you have worked together in the past.
- Contact the people you intend to use as references in advance.
Don't let a request for a reference come as a surprise. Contact the people on your list of references first and let them know that they may receive a phone call about your work history. If, by chance, the person is not comfortable with giving you a reference, he or she has the opportunity to tell you before being put in the position of being contacted by one or more of your prospective employers.
- Provide several names as references.
If you give four or five names for someone to contact, one less-than-spectacular reference may not be the reason you didn't get the job offer you were hoping for. The employer is trying to get a good idea of who you are and hopefully they will weigh all the responses before making a final decision.
- Bypass a bad boss entirely.
You may be able to avoid having a former supervisor say something negative about you by referring any requests for more information to the company's Human Resources Department. (Consider this option if you are asked for a list of all former employers as part of the job application process).
- Come clean about issues with a former boss.
In a situation where you had a personality conflict with a former supervisor and you are asked whether the new company can contact that employer, be honest about the situation. Keep it brief and to the point. Explain that you would prefer that the former boss not be contacted and that you had different ideas about your role in the company. Then turn that statement into a positive one by telling the new employer that you have learned new skills to deal with people you work with and that you feel confident that you would be able to resolve similar issues if they were to arise again.
A Final Note About References
Even if you indicate you would prefer that a particular former employer not be contacted, you have no guarantee that the prospective employer will respect your wishes. They may decide to make the call anyway. All you can do is present yourself in the best possible light and realize that you have no control over what someone else will say about you.