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4 Tips to prevent bad references from damaging your job search

Whenever you apply for a job, you can almost guarantee that your potential employer will ask for references. However, what happens if your previous manager gives bad references to a prospective employer?

job interview bad references

Prospective employers just want to check that you were a good employee and you’ve stated the truth within your job application. As illegal as you think bad references might be, it is actually incredibly common, with estimates stating that 50% of managers give out bad references for previous employees.

Follow these tips to prevent bad references from damaging your job search, and protect your job search.

  1. Check your references

Bad references aren’t always caused by a previous termination of an employee’s contract. Sometimes it’s because of poor coworker relationships or because you left under challenging circumstances.

Firms like and Allison & Taylor Reference Checking actually offer to approach your previous employer and find out what they’re likely to say about you in their reference. If you’re worried about a bad reference or you’re unsure, this could be a great starting point for testing their opinions of you.

Double tip: DO NOT have a spouse, friend or relative call for you. If they don’t know what to ask, they might tip off your previous employer and the consequences might turn against you.

  1. Speak to your previous employer

At some point in your job search you may think that your previous employer will give you bad references, especially if your relationship with your manager was strained when you left. You may find it useful to actually speak to them and ask for an unbiased reference –usually confirm the employment dates/title of former employees– that represents you in the best possible way while still being highly accurate.

Your previous manager will be likely to appreciate this approach because you’re not only being proactive but you’re also stopping any potential cause for conflict or even legal action that could occur in the future due to a misleading reference. An agreement like this is protecting yourself as a job seeker and your previous company as a reference supplier, therefore creating a win-win situation for both parties.

Double tip: Don’t try this approach if you left in bad terms with your boss or the company. If you did, best way to go is to request a reference letter upon depart.

  1. Offer more reference options

You could counteract a bad reference by collating as many positive references for your future employer as possible, therefore implying that your bad reference is a one off and an anomaly. If you supply many glowing references and there’s only one bad reference, your future employer is likely to look past the one poor opinion of you.

One way to test who will offer a positive reference is by asking colleagues, past and present, to write a recommendation of you on LinkedIn. Once you find out who’s willing to write really positive references about you, you can contact them during future reference requests.

Double tip: Obviously, this process might take some time, so start it right away when you are at the beginning of your job search. Better to have all “ducks in a row” before answering some ads.

  1. When bad references keep happening

If your reference continues to address the issue in a negative way, then your next option is to serve them with a notice called the “Cease and Desist Letter.” The notice will emphasize that they might be open to a legal actions against the whole company –not just personal to your old boss or supervisor.

These notices are issued by an attorney and sent to senior management of the company, stating the nature and origin of the bad references. Frequently, corporate guidelines advise management against this behavior and direct the negative reference to not offer additional negative comments or bad references.

Double tip: Again, hire a professional that will act on your behalf and trust their experience and expertise. Fees well spent in preventing later damages are an investment in your future job opportunities.

In summary, it’s clear that there are ways to prevent a bad reference from occurring and approaches to counteracting a bad reference. While it’s always best to leave in good terms with an employer, it’s not always possible. Therefore the approaches described above can be incredibly useful. Checking your references via a third party, speaking to your previous manager and collating as many positive references as possible are ways to prevent bad references from sabotaging your job search in a diplomatic, proactive way.