How many times have you been turned down a job offer, even after giving a good interview? If the number is high, chances are your references are playing a spoilsport, without you even realising it. The references you mention at the end of your resume, or the ones that you are required to furbish actually play a critical role, as opposed to the widespread incorrect notion that they are a mere formality for official purposes.
It obviously wouldn’t look good on your record if your ex-boss says that you were fired due to inefficiency, or that they wouldn’t hire you again. Many a times the information a bad reference ruined your chances at a new job doesn’t even reach you, but a bad reference can be predicted with a little bit of thought and introspection.
How you exited your last organisation, the sort of dynamics you shared with your boss/manager, and your work quality determine the type of reference you will earn. But sometimes, the people who are supposed to give the reference do not provide factually correct information, or put a spin of their own to facts, especially if you parted on not-so-good terms with them.
Reach out to your reference
Skipping your last boss or manager, even when you list all your previous employers will only raise suspicion. So, check with every person you are going to list as a reference before you name them. This will give you an opportunity to clear the air, and pitch for a neutral, if not a favourable reference, when needed. Give your boss a call, and politely ask what all will be included in your reference, and reiterate your successes and achievements to them. If you didn’t leave the organisation kicking and screaming, this is likely to do the trick. Additionally, also talk to other people you are likely to list as a reference. You might list them assuming they will give you positive references, but they could actually be hurting your chances by giving lukewarm or superficial praise, or bring evasive. Check with your references, and know what they will talk about, if not exactly what they will say.
Manipulate the odds
If you are sure that despite your best efforts, your ex-boss will play clean, change the odds in your favour. One way to do so, is by providing more number of references. So, if among the four references you provide, three are glowing, and one is that of your ex-boss, the three are likely to hold more water. Reach out to old colleagues and mentors, who have seen you work hard and succeed, and more likely to praise you. Furthermore, if an ex-boss is likely to ruin your chances of getting a new job simple by being mean and vindictive, provide references in his/her network itself, preferably in the same organisation, of people who may directly know them. This provides an opportunity for the person who is verifying to cross-check the information provided to them, and have access to genuine and true information about you and your work.
Lay a base
There is good chance that the bad references you keep getting are actually reflective of the work, the attitude or the mistakes you made in your last job. In such a scenario, adopt another strategy: show all your cards. Admit to the person who is interviewing you that upon checking the references the kinds of things they are likely to hear, and provide logical explanations. Explain that you made mistakes, but also what your learnt from them, and how exiting the organisation was a result of various factors. If you are switching your field, you are at an advantage, for you can claim that all the mistakes you made you realise your true talents, and why you would fit the new job and role wonderfully. If you are applying for a new job in the same field, make a case for how you have bettered your skills and knowledge, by taking classes, certifications or coaching.
There you go! You can avert a crisis, by simply being pro-active and doing some damage control, no matter the circumstances under which you exited the organisation. If nothing works at all, and bad references is costing you job opportunities, contact your boss’ boss, their manager, or the HR, and tell them of the issue. If your boss is being overly critical, they are likely to ask him/her to take it down a notch.