One bad reference can see a candidate queuing again and again for job roles. Why? Despite an applicant’s presentation throughout the recruitment and selection process leading to the very brink of a job offer, it is their former employer’s opinion of them that carries significantly more weight in the final hiring decision.

Yes, that’s right, a former manager can negatively affect your chances of finding employment. And if this is what is happening to you, you need to counteract the situation. Fast! Some of you are simply saying, “Don’t list them as a referee and you’ll have no issues!” If only it were that simple. A hiring manager will often look past your listed references and call upon former employers you have not listed. Can they do this!? Umm..yep. They may ask you permission, but then again, they may not. If you suspect that your interviewer is going to speak to a former manager you have not included on your referee’s list, don’t panic. Warn your prospective new employer that the reference provided will not be positive. Perhaps you didn’t get along with your former manager, are aware the reference is inaccurate, or they’re deliberately making life difficult for you because they’re sour about losing a great employee…you!

There a different tactics that can come into play if your reference is not so glowing. You may contact your former employer, explain how they are jeopardising your chances of finding new employment, and agree to a neutral reference that won’t harm your employment prospects in the future. This may not be a great strategy if your departure was particularly ugly. If you believe the reference being given is factually incorrect, you may contact your former HR department, explain that your old boss is giving you a false reference and have them confront your former boss on your behalf, explaining the legal ramifications they may face if they continue to defame you. HR professionals are pretty savvy and alert to the legal consequences of providing a misleading reference.

If you outline why you believe a poor reference will be given by an employer you have not listed, suggest other managers or co-workers from your former workplace. Even the offer to speak with past clients or the provision of previous performance appraisals can give the reassurance that you are not deliberately hiding your past, but rather are being honest about your relationship with your former manager, whose opinion of you is not widely accepted!

If you are finding that you are regularly making the final cut, but failing to clear the final hurdle in the job search process, perhaps it’s time to undertake your own investigation into your references. Maybe a current referee that you thought would be a great reference for you is actually damaging your prospects. You can tackle this one of two ways. Have a trusted friend call all your references, posing as a potential employer, or engage a professional recruitment agency to undertake this stealth activity for you. If you find that one of your nominated testimonials is being too vague, underselling your contributions and worth, or discover that their company doesn’t allow them to speak beyond the basics of your position title, length of tenure and the like, perhaps you need to reconsider them as a referee.

Keep in mind too that not everyone is excited at the prospect of providing a verbal reference. And some will feel pressured to provide you with one when asked face-to-face. To enable one time to consider if they are comfortable in being your referee, send your request via email. If they are too far out of their comfort zone, perhaps they will provide a written citation of your time with them. And have at least four references. If three can’t speak more highly of you and only one presents a negative review, your prospective employer is likely to dismiss the one anomaly.

Reference checks are the final tool a prospective employer has to minimise the risk of a bad hire. As the opinion of a fellow employer is so greatly valued, it is essential for job seekers to carefully select their team of referees. And knowing what your references are saying about you is important – even a negative or lukewarm reference can put you out of contention! Remember though, there are two sides to every story, and it is the job seeker who gets to present their case first! So don’t be blindsided by a bad reference, prepare well and stack the odds in your favour.

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