Dishonest Former Supervisor’s Bad Reference Haunts Me


After eight months of putting up with a problem supervisor, “Alex,” I quit a job I liked and left coworkers I enjoyed.

Alex was sneaky and smooth, but he had charisma. He came on like he was your best friend and committed to honesty, but he could lie without blinking. I hated it when I saw coworkers I liked get hurt because they believed in Alex or his stories.

My grandfather always said I could read people. When I first met Alex, I didn’t trust him. He was full of compliments for me, but I sensed he used people. I watched him and realized he was an eel, a snake-like creature that successfully thrives in different environments. True eels swim both in fresh-water rivers and salt-water seas. Alex, a workplace eel, successfully told worker bees one story and senior managers a completely different one. I hated it when I saw coworker friends fall for Alex’s stories and get hurt.

Unfortunately, Alex was shrewd and realized I was on to him and might “out” him. He started to come after me. I realized my days were numbered. I quit but now can’t get a job.

In the past, I’ve never had problems getting jobs. I’ve always gotten offers within weeks of leaving a job. Not this time. It’s not just COVID; interviewers are interested in me, but things fall apart during reference checking.  Alex apparently reaches beyond the grave of a job I thought was dead and buried and buries me with negative references.

When I figured this out, I stopped using my stock answer to “why are you in the job market?” Before, I said I was eager for a fresh challenge and thought the job they offered was that challenge. That always made the interviewers smile.

In my last three interviews, I told the truth. I said I had liked the company, my coworkers and the work, but said I’d worked under an ethically challenged supervisor. I’m still out of a job. Can you help?


Start by finding out what Alex says about you when prospective employers call. Ask someone you trust to conduct a reference check and learn what Alex says.

Next, stop sinking yourself in bad-mouth quicksand. Even when you speak the truth, dishing the dirt on a former supervisor makes you look bad. When this happens, the interviewer never calls your former supervisor for a reference because you’ve ruled yourself out.


You also need to consider whether your past has caught up to you. You’re used to moving on from jobs quickly. That works when you first enter the job market and move upward into jobs offering increased responsibility. At a certain point, however, when prospective employers look at a resume filled with multiple short-term jobs, they may put your application aside in favor of  candidates who lasted longer in their past jobs.

Finally, if you’re correct, once you learn how Alex slanders you, you’ll know exactly what you need to counter when you next interview. If the interviewer likes you and you credibly present alternate information, the interviewer may choose what he hears from you over Alex’s stories.

© 2020, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016) and “Solutions.” Curry is President of Communication Works Inc.  Send your questions to her at or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.

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