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Don’t Let a Bad Former Employer Sabotage Your Quest for a New Job

Aug. 22, 2013
A bad boss often makes for a negative employment reference.

As members of the working public, most of us have had the experience of working for a “bad” boss, says Jeff Shane of Allison & Taylor Reference Checking. A bad boss can be unpleasant to work for – for a variety of reasons – but he or she tends to be easily recognizable by some common characteristics.

Bad bosses can have an aggressive (or abusive) communication style. Bad bosses tend to be abrupt or unfriendly and then fault employees for miscommunications. They don’t plan well, or make no contingencies for when things don’t go according to plan. They often take credit for employees’ good work, while placing blame on others for an unsatisfactory result. They can have an arrogant or elitist attitude; bad bosses treat employees as “second-class” citizens. They also tend to motivate employees through threats about the security of their jobs.

Many people find that working for a bad boss eventually becomes intolerable and wind up leaving their job. But employees beware: the same characteristics that make someone a bad boss also tend to make them a bad former employer. Bad bosses frequently offer negative references to sabotage a former employee’s efforts to find new work.

If you suspect your former employer is thwarting your attempts to gain new employment, your first step should be to conduct a reference check. If you do, in fact, confirm that they are providing unflattering information to potential employers, you have the following options:

1. You can try to keep them off a potential employer’s radar by not offering up their name when filling out employment paperwork. Try providing an alternate contact at the company as your reference.

2. You can attempt to pre-empt a former employer’s negative input by explaining your challenges with them in the interview process, framing the difficulties in your own words. (Be warned, this can be a tricky proposition. If you are not careful to finesse your comments, you may come off as a complainer to a new employer.)

3. You can have a cease and desist letter issued by an attorney. These letters typically are sent to the senior management, alerting them of the negative reference's identity and actions. In the interest of their company, management generally will counsel the reference not to provide further commentary on your employment.

A negative reference usually will continue offering the same potentially damaging input about you to every prospective employer unless you take steps to stop it. Don’t let a bad boss sabotage your job-hunting efforts.

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