This is a rather tough subject. Most job seekers have a list of references that they have cultivated and kept in touch with over the years. Potential employees then give this list to a potential employer knowing exactly what each person will say.
But what should you do when your potential employer wants to contact someone off the list? Especially someone you parted ways with on bad terms? Maybe you got fired, maybe you quit, at this point it doesn’t matter.
Good reference checkers will undoubtedly check all past supervisors. Most won’t even ask your permission. However, if you are lucky and the reference checker does give you a heads up, do your best damage control.
Let the reference checker know that the person from the firm (hopefully you listed one!) that you did list on your reference sheet is the person you most closely worked with and that she can best speak to your work performance. The reference checker will likely take the hint, but he might press on and insist that he needs to talk with your past supervisor. Now you don’t have a choice. Be courteous and give him your past supervisor’s phone number.
If you are comfortable you might want to give the past supervisor a call and give them a heads up that a reference checker from a potential employer will be contacting him. Tell him that you would appreciate his assistance. He may be amiable to your request if enough time has passed.
Hopefully, no matter what, you will know what the past supervisor might say about you. This is your opportunity to contact a positive reference and have them counteract that information.
For example, if your past supervisor says you had chronic tardiness, make sure one of your other references speaks to your dedication to the job and willingness to do what it takes to meet deadlines, even if that meant coming in early or staying late. If your past supervisor might say you were defensive and didn’t respond well to criticism, have another reference say you were always open and receptive to directions.
A bad reference does not necessarily equal the potential employer not offering you the job. As a job seeker, you just have to be smart about how you proceed. Good luck!
How have you handled a negative job reference? What advice do you have?