Help, I have bad references!
You did it! You updated your resume, interviewed for your dream job and got an offer. There’s just one problem: your references are holding you back. What should you do? Here are a few tips that can help you get hired despite your less than glowing references.
“It’s rare to find a candidate who can’t provide at least two good references,” says recruiter Mélanie Roy. “In my 13 years of experience, I’ve only encountered one person who believed he had provided favorable references, only to have them all be negative. Since good references are often required to land a job, it’s preferable to leave a company on good terms.”
Were you fired from a company a few years ago, but still want to use it as a reference? Call them up and ask them. If it was a few years ago, and you didn’t do anything seriously wrong, chances are, with the passage of time, they are open to providing you with a helpful reference.
Roy stresses that interviews count for more than references. “Most people can provide at least two good references, but they often fail to realize that their industry is small. Because your actions follow you from job to job, it’s important to maintain a good reputation. The professionalism and ethics you display to everyone you work with – from suppliers, to clients and your colleagues – will influence people’s perceptions about you.”
Even though they have provided a positive written reference, former bosses may still say something else entirely on the phone. Outside of Canada, there are now companies that provide a reference checking service for job seekers who want to know what former employers are saying about them. “If a former employer says something like: ‘I’d never hire him, he’s stupid and incompetent’, it’s a form of slander and you can sue,” says Jeff Shane, founder of Allison and Taylor, a reference checking company based in the UK.
In general, Roy advises you to be honest. “If you can’t provide relevant references, it’s always preferable to be honest with the recruiter. Explain that you learned a lesson and were able to make the most of a job that ended badly.”
Some good may come of a bad situation: explain that you’ve developed new skills, demonstrate a sincere desire to improve yourself and be the very best you can. You should also be able to provide concrete examples of ways you’ve improved. Demonstrating honesty, humility and respect will win you points with your future employer.