Q&A: Bad Reference Keeping Employers Away


I need help. I won’t bore you with a long story of  how I came to get a bad reference, but apparently, my previous manager  is discrediting me to the point that I can’t even get an internship.  I have been out of work for over two years.

It seems like this manager personally wants to make sure that I never work again.  I have asked a few friends to pose as a potential employer to find out what the manager is saying about me, but no one want to get involved.  Any suggestions?


I don’t need to know the details of your situation to know that your main problem isn’t one bad reference, it’s your network – or lack thereof.  Instead of focusing on how to stop or neutralize the negative, concentrate on increasing your positive contacts, and gaining good references.

While you are looking for work in your field, take part-time jobs in an unrelated field (if you can) to earn some money and rebuild your work history.  Hopefully you will find one or two supervisors or coworkers on that job willing to give you a reference beyond simple verification of employment.

Another great way to gain references and expand your network is to volunteer for short- or long-term positions in your field. The supervisors of your volunteer positions can refer to your taking initiative in getting the position, your organizations or management style, and your communication skills. Plus, you can add your fellow volunteers to your network.

Lastly, if you are not already, get active in any professional associations related to your field.  In these groups you will meet people who do work like yours and might be able to give you job leads.  In addition, the professional development workshops, webinars and conferences you go to will help to keep your skill set current while you are looking for work.

Also, if no one you know is willing to call your former employer to test the information they’re giving, then ask a career coach to do it..

The point is to build your network with so many positive contacts that one bad reference will not matter – it will be obvious that negative reference is just one person’s opinion or based on one bad situation.

Focus on getting a list of people willing to speak positively about your work ethic and skills.  Get both written recommendations and phone numbers/e-mails for perspective employers to call.

Remember, a past employer is allowed only to verify the dates you worked at a company, your job title, and your rehire status.  An employer cannot say why they would or would not rehire you unless you give them permission to do so.

If you are sure this employer is giving more information, then check with your state’s department of labor and industry that enforces labor laws. They will likely have information on their website guiding you to next steps.

Keep looking up,

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4 thoughts on “Q&A: Bad Reference Keeping Employers Away

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