You did it! You updated your CV and landed your dream job. Just one problem: your bad references are holding you back. What should you do? Here are a few tips that will get you hired despite that drawback.
“It’s rare to find a candidate who can’t provide at least two good references,” says Mélanie Roy, recruiter. “In my 13 years of experience, I’ve only seen one person who believed he had provided favorable references, when they were all negative.” Since 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,” advises Suzanne Lucas, human resources manager. “If it was a few years ago, and you didn’t do anything serious, chances are, the situation may have improved.” “Phone your former boss directly,” she continues, “explain that you’re looking for a new job, and ask what kind of reference he’d be willing to give you.”
Mélanie Roy stresses that interviewers weigh far more than references: “Most people can provide at least two good references, but they often fail to realize that their activity sector is small, and that it’s important to maintain a good reputation, because everything comes out in the end. The professionalism and ethics you display to providers, clients and your colleagues will influence people’s perceptions about you.”
Vindictive former bosses
Even though they have provided a positive written reference, former bosses may say something else entirely on the phone. In the US, there are now companies that provide a reference checking service for people 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.
This service doesn’t appear to be available yet in Canada, but this kind of thing, while rare, has been known to happen. Jeff Shane advises calling a vindictive former boss or sending him a letter, since your reputation is at stake.
In general, Mélanie Roy advises transparency. “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 work experience that ended badly.”
Something good comes from every misfortune: explain that you’ve developed new skills, demonstrate a sincere desire to improve yourself, be the very best you can, and ideally, provide concrete examples to back up your assertions. Demonstrating honesty, humility and respect will win you points with your future employer.