Bad references haunting you – 2 steps you can take right now


My current employer is about to lay me off. I’m on good terms with my supervisor, but have only worked here for five months. When I asked my supervisor to give me a reference letter, he said he would, and warned me that he almost didn’t hire me, because of my awful prior references. It was almost like he was telling me I was lucky he’d hired me.

I asked him what they’d said and he said he liked me but didn’t feel he could tell me because everyone “knew everyone” in our industry and he’d told the guys he’d called that he wouldn’t. What do I do? And how do I find out what my former references said?


Ask your supervisor to write a detailed letter of reference listing all of your good qualities and skills and adding that your layoff only resulted from a lack of work and a “last hired, first out” philosophy. When a prospective employer reads a brief, “nice” reference letter, it often leaves questions. Attach your reference letter to your initial application, along with a note saying your current supervisor will be available for a reference call.

Because most prospective employers call the most recent two supervisors, you need to know what your former supervisor said. You can look online for a firm that calls former supervisors for reference information. When we do this for individual clients, we give our client a summary of the high and low points, so that we protect the confidentiality of individual references and yet provide our clients the issues they’ll need to address in their in-person interviews with prospective employers.

©Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at

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