Beware a Former Supervisor Who Can Keep You Unemployed Indefinitely

Picture this scenario: You and your former supervisor did not part on the best of terms when you left the organization. Now you’re in the employment market again and a prospective employer has asked you “May we contact your former supervisor?” You’re afraid of what that person will say, but also afraid to tell your potential employer “no, you can’t contact them” for fear that it will eliminate you from consideration. What should you do?

If you haven’t been asked if your former supervisor may be contacted, be aware you likely will be at some point. If you tell the prospective employer you do not want them to contact a former supervisor, the employer will likely regard that as a “red flag” and your hiring prospects will probably be nil. However, if you indicate they can contact the supervisor and that person does, indeed, offer negative commentary about you, it may also ensure you don’t receive a second look. Again, what to do?

Your best course is to always advise an employer that they can, indeed, contact your former supervisor. However, you can improve your odds by having a reference checking organization like JobReferences check out your supervisor beforehand to determine what they will say about you to your potential employers. Even if you parted on unfavorable terms with this supervisor, they may take the “high road” by simply confirming your employment dates and title and invoking company policy that they are unable to offer any further information. This is what is known as a “neutral reference” and potential employers understand that this is all the input they are supposed to receive from your reference. They will not (or should not) hold such a response against you. In this scenario, you may freely offer up the name of your former supervisor, already confident they will not offer any damaging commentary about you.

However, what happens if you have a reference check conducted on your supervisor and find out that they are offering negative remarks about you? You could (to the best of your ability) try to keep them off an employer’s “radar” by not offering up their name (unless, again, you are specifically asked if they may be contacted). Or, you could attempt to preempt their negative input by proactively advising a prospective employer of your challenges with that supervisor, framing the difficulties in your own words. However, this latter approach might work against you in calling unwanted attention to the particulars of your less-than-stellar relationship with your former boss.

The ideal recourse is to discourage your negative reference to ever offer up negative input about you. Having identified that your reference will be unfavorable, you can have a Cease & Desist letter issued by an attorney, typically to the senior management of the company where the negative reference originated. The letter would alert the management of the negative reference’s identity and actions. Typically, the very act of offering a negative reference is against corporate guidelines, which normally state that only a former employee’s title/dates of employment can be confirmed. The negative reference will likely be cautioned by management not to offer additional comments and – out of self-interest – is unlikely to offer negative commentary again. JobReferences advises that the success rate of such letters approaches 100%.

So, take heart – your former bad boss need not threaten your employment prospects indefinitely. Take action to preserve your employment prospects by checking your references yourself, and control your own destiny.

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About Allison

Allison & Taylor Inc. and its principals have been in the business of checking references for individuals and corporate accounts since 1984. We have successfully built our brand and corporate recognition and have been recommended by industry specialists such as The New York Times award-winning author Martin Yate (“Knock ‘Em Dead Résumés”). Numerous articles have been published about our business in newspapers and magazines including The Christian Science Monitor, The Wall Street Journal, Glamour Magazine, New Woman, Worth, National Business Employment Weekly, The Detroit News, and The St. Petersburg Times.