Former Employer Gives Her Lukewarm Reference

Eileen writes:
After being on the job market for several months — and a finalist for a number
of jobs — I found out that my former employer may be giving me a marginal reference.
I am having some colleagues call to find out what he’s saying. But if that’s true
how do I get around not giving him as a reference since I worked for that company
for 14 years? That alone screams problem. I can’t have a potential employer call
someone else at the company — any calls would be referred to my boss. It makes
me wonder how many jobs I might have lost because of this.

The Career Doctor responds:
Yours is a tough situation because whenever you have had a long stint with
one employer it does indeed make it a bit harder to have references outside
the company — but you have to do so.
I am kind of surprised to hear about the marginal reference given the litigious
environment we are in — where most employers shy away from saying anything
negative for fear of being sued by their former employee.
And while I do not want to discount the importance of references — some employers
call every single reference you provide — I also think the stronger you are as a job candidate the stronger you dominate the others competing for the job the less likely
a marginal reference is going to affect getting the offer… so also take some time to
strengthen your interviewing skills.
OK. Here are two ideas for improving your reference situation.
First confront your former boss — in a professional way. Mention that you have
heard s/he may not be giving you the strongest reference and ask if that is true
why is it true. Remind him/her of all your accomplishments and loyalty to the
organization. Even if you can’t change his/her mind you might get some interesting
insight about how this boss really sees you.
Second unless you reported directly to the president or CEO of the company there is
ALWAYS the possibility of using other people inside the firm as a reference. You could
ask another manager you worked with a co-worker one of your employees a supplier or contractor you worked with. Identify people you worked closely with who know your
skills and ASK them to serve as a reference; you do NOT need to always use a direct
boss as a reference.
Read more in this article on Quintessential Careers:
References: The Keys to
Choosing and Using the Best Job References in Your Job Search
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