Tech & Work

Steps to take when an employment reference is negative

A negative reference on your resume can wreak havoc on your job hunt. Here are some steps to take if you discover one of your job references is being negative.

When you provide a work reference on your resume, you would think that the person will give you a favorable review, but sometimes that's not the case. A lot of times someone will agree to be a reference when you ask because you put them on the spot, but that person may not have much good to say about you to a prospective employer.

Allison & Taylor, a firm that's been in the business of checking references for corporations and individuals since 1984, suggests taking the following steps if you've found that one of your references is not offering you a good review:

  1. Eliminate any mention of the reference from your resume or application forms (if possible), instead offering someone more likely to give a positive assessment of your skills and contribution.
  2. If you cannot eliminate the reference from employer consideration, address any potential issues when references are requested. "Mr. Jones was my former supervisor, but we didn't share the same perspective on some key issues. I'd recommend that you also speak with Ms. Smith to give you a more balanced assessment of my contribution to that company."
  3. If you feel it unavoidable that a prospective employer will contact your negative reference, get proactive! Consider contacting that person directly and asking whether you can work out a mutually agreeable-upon response to reference requests. You may be able to gain their consent to offering a neutral reference — confirming only employment dates and title — and perhaps even a verbalization of what they view as your more positive attributes.
  4. If you can't come to terms on an agreeable response, find out the company's policy on providing a reference. Is your reference following policy? If not, contact them again and remind them that adherence to corporate policy would be in their own best interest.
  5. If policy does not protect you or if a reference continues to malign you after you've taken the previously listed steps, you may wish to consider a Cease & Desist letter. You may also have cause for further legal action and can consult an attorney regarding your legal rights.
  6. Take care of your employment references, because they are a valuable asset. For some ideas that will help keep your references praising your skills, click here.


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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