Don’t let a bad reference get in the way of a great career

Great references are essential when it comes to making that next career move. However, what if not all your references show off your best side? Maybe you genuinely mucked up in a previous job, or had a personality clash with the boss?
Whether it was an unreasonable Devil Wears Prada Miranda Priestly, or a self-righteous and incompetent David Brent from The Office, you are not alone. We’ve all had bosses from hell.
If your new employer wants to check your references? Don’t stress. You can stop the David Brents and Miranda Priestlys from sabotaging your career.

You get the chance to choose your own references

Yes, your immediate boss was one from hell, but the one before that wasn’t. When you submit you resume, you have the opportunity to choose who you would like as referee. Don’t put David Brent’s name down.
Trying to stack the decks too much in your favour won’t work either. It’s tempting to use family and friends as referees but future employers and screening agencies are likely to sniff this tactic out pretty quickly. Even if what your friends say is true, you can give the impression that you’ve got something to hide.
Instead, choose someone who has worked closely with you and thinks highly of your work.

Check your own references

Once you have chosen your referees, check in with that person to make sure they are okay with this.
If they get caught off guard by a phone call they weren’t expecting, they may not deliver the glowing reference you were hoping for. Some companies also restrict employees from giving references.
Sound them out first. Make sure they’re happy to be your referee and find out what they’re prepared to say to your future employers.
Thank all of the generous referees who provide you with a reference. You never know when you’ll need them next.

Explaining that bad boss

Before you get to the stage of reference checking, you will have an interview. Your potential employer might ask why you have not listed your previous employer as a reference.
Don’t lie, and don’t turn it into a whinge fest. Address any potential shortcomings or situations that might have occurred. Use the interview to discuss how you’ve improved or what you have learnt from these situations.
Did you undertake professional development or get some coaching? Maybe you really excelled in the next job you had? Keep the conversation focused on your professional skills – rather than getting personal about your ex-boss – and talk about what you did well and where you want to go.

When they call your horrible boss anyway

Some future employers will contact your previous employer, whether you list them as a referee or not. They may want to do a complete employment history check. Or sometimes you might get caught out when a great referee mentions your shortcomings.
Firstly, just remember references are not the only thing an employer hires you on.
If previous bosses or referees are happy to sing your praises, smart employers will realise there was something more going on with that one bad reference. Also, if your horrible ex-boss has a reputation, potential employers may treat their reference with due caution.
In other words, it’s not the end of the world. Be honest and up front, ace that interview and get that job.

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