What Do I Do If My Old Boss Gives A Negative Reference?


After six months of work misery, I finally quit a job where I liked my coworkers but worked under a supervisor I couldn’t stand.

In the past, I’ve never had problems getting a job and always had a new job within a week of leaving an old job. Not this time. I’ve been job hunting for three months and not had one offer. I’d thought the job I left was dead and buried, but after two months I began to realize my former supervisor was reaching beyond the grave and giving me a negative reference.

As soon as I figured this out, I decided to stop using my stock answer to “why are you in the job market?” Always before I said that I was eager for a new challenge and thought the job they offered was that challenge. That always got me a smile.

So, when I was asked why I left my last job during my last three interviews, I told the truth, and explained I’d liked the company, the work and my coworkers, but that I’d worked for a difficult supervisor no one liked. The interviewers nodded appreciatively, but I’ve received no job offers. What do I do now?


You can find out what your former supervisor is saying by having someone you know conduct a reference check. The chances are good that a supervisor you detested will give you a negative to neutral and not a positive reference.

Meanwhile, like most people, you’ve sized up a problem and decided the blame lies elsewhere. You may, however, be sabotaging yourself.

First, you’re used to getting a job right away, and that may have led you to leave some jobs as soon as the going got rough. That’s okay when you first enter the job market and move quickly upward into jobs offering increased responsibility, but when prospective employers look at a resume filled with multiple short-term jobs, they often put it aside in favor of resumes that show an applicant lasted two years or more in their last several jobs.

Second, when an interviewer hears an applicant bad-mouth their past supervisor, what plays through their mind isn’t “oh, this poor applicant” but “this person may be a blamer who won’t get along with me either.” When this happens, the interviewer never calls your former supervisor for a reference stage – because you ruled yourself out.

What can you do? Ask someone to conduct a reference check for you, vow you’ll not bad-mouth your former supervisor and stay at your next job a minimum of a year.

© 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 www.bullywhisperer.com.

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