Negative / Bad Job References

Is Your Former Boss Bad Talking You? See these examples.

Bad Job References

Are you worrying about what your former boss may say to a prospective employer? Getting your references checked could be a good idea if you think you might have bad job references holding your back. 50% of our calls to former employers result in a bad job reference, and it could be affecting you as well. 

Real Bad Job References Examples

The following are all examples of actual responses from former employers.

Have you experienced this scenario: You interviews for a position and it fits you perfectly. During the second or third meeting, you are asked for a list of your job references and are told that the prospective business will be back in touch soon. Despite great responsiveness in the past and what you thought was a good interview, you don’t hear back at all. There’s a good chance that a reference scared them off and it is now too late to overcome the bad reference. Don’t let this happen to you. Check in advance to assure your job references are saying positive things about you or, at very least, verifying your existence. If they’re not, your job search could go on for a while. The following are sample job reference responses from real reference checks that we performed. We can help you select the right references and then make sure bad job references like these never come up in the conversation. 

Bad Job References

Samples of conversations we have encountered:

Us: “We would like to verify that ________ held the position of Manager of accounting from May 1, 2005, to May 1, 2011, is this correct?”

Their responses:

  • “We do not have this person anywhere in our records.”
  • “I am not allowed to say anything about this person as they were fired.”

Regarding Performance Evaluations:

We asked questions regarding performance in a variety of areas, just like a prospective employer would ask your references. 

Us: “Please answer how you would rate this employee in the following areas”:

Their responses:

  • Crisis Management: “He [fireman] totally ignored the emergency call when it came in. He said he didn’t hear it!”
  • Decision Making: “He couldn’t make a decision if his life depended on it!”
  • Employee Relations: “She purposely caused havoc in the office with her gossip.”
  • Financial Skills: “Well, that’s why our company had a major layoff – left her in charge of finances!”
  • Interpersonal Relations: “He’s not the type to go knock on doors and talk with people.”
  • Leadership: “He had no leadership skills.”
  • Long Term Planning: “He wasn’t here long enough to rate him.”
  • Managerial Skills: “He couldn’t manage a group of children!”
  • Oral Communications: “Can I give a negative number? … -1”
  • Overall Performance: “Inadequate would be a positive word for him!”
  • Personal Integrity: “I don’t think she had any integrity.”
  • Productivity: “Is there a rating less than inadequate?
  • Short Term Planning: “Lousy, can’t remember something that was completed on time!”
  • Technical Skills: “Is zero in your rating scale?”
  • Written Communications: “You mean when she finally turned in the reports due a week earlier?”

Please rate this employee based on this key:

The following questions are also typically asked by prospective employers, asking to rate their former employees in a variety of areas. The following scale was used: 

1 = Inadequate
2 = Poor
3 = Satisfactory
4 = Good
5 = Outstanding
NC = No Comment
SB = See Below
NP = Not Applicable

Their Responses:

  • “Basically you could rank them inadequate in all areas.”
  • “No comment, they could not do anything correctly in the position they held with us.”

Regarding strengths and weaknesses:

Their responses:

  • “I cannot think of any strengths, only weaknesses.”
  • “I’m sure there must be some strengths but nothing jumps out at me.”
  • “Weaknesses seem to stick in my mind… I’d have to really think about any strengths.”
  • “I’d rather not comment – you can take that however you want.”

Regarding Eligibility for re-hire

Us: “Is this person eligible for re-hire? And would you personally re-hire her based on performance?”

Their Responses:

  • “Yes, she would be.”
  • “No, I wouldn’t re-hire her.”
  • “He is not. I’m really not supposed to say much but he was unreliable and sick at lot.”
  • “Probably not – she had a hard time working in a team environment.”
  • “No, but I can’t say why.”
  • “Probably not but it’s just a suspicion of mine.”
  • “No, because he didn’t want to work here and made it clear he didn’t want to work here.”
  • “Yes, she’s eligible, but we wouldn’t re-hire her.”
  • “I wouldn’t re-hire him. He was disorganized and dishonest.”
  • “No, it was the departure – kind of burned his bridges when he left.”
  • “No, she stole from the company. We have an investigation pending.”

Regarding Reason for Separation:

Us: “Could you fully describe the circumstances and reason for the separation?”

Their Responses:

  • “She was fired.”
  • “She was let go – she didn’t do her part as expected.”
  • “He was let go… there was a conflict with the children – he didn’t follow safety standards and guidelines.”
  • “I fired him! He and his buddy had some illegal things going.”

Regarding Tone of Voice in the Call:

Tone of voice is also very telling, especially for the references who don’t divulge much information. Many times we have experienced tones of the following:

  • Anger and shock they have been called to the point of being hung up on.
  • Disbelief that they were called.
  • “I haven’t heard from her in 8 years!”
  • Extreme unhappiness they have been called regarding this employee.

Miscellaneous Situations

Us: “We are calling as I have you down as a reference regarding [name].

Their Responses:

  • “I do not care to comment at all. I let him go and that’s all I care to say!”
  • “Are you certain he gave you my name?”
  • “I cannot believe you were given my name as a reference.”
  • “Hold on, let me get the legal file to see what I am allowed to say.”
  • “Never heard of him.”

Us: Is there anyone else we should speak to regarding this former employee?

Their responses:

  • “They’re going to say the same thing I did.”
  • “Yes, you can speak with my boss… he’s sure to tell you more than I did.”
  • “You can speak with our company attorney.”


Former employers could be saying the same types of things about you. If you’re interested in finding out what your references are saying about you and how this affects your chances of getting a job, get started here


Bad Job Reference Offer Withdrawn

As bad as missing out on a job can be, it’s even more devastating to be offered a job only to have your offer withdrawn due to a bad job reference or failed background check. Being let go after being hired happens more frequently than you’d believe. 

It often looks like this: Everything has gone well in interviews, so all that’s left before you can start work is the paperwork and a review of your references. Most people don’t know that many companies don’t conduct reference checks until after someone has started their job. This means that a failed reference check can effect the hiring process even after you think it’s complete. A bad job reference is the main reason why people miss out on a job, and it is also one of the biggest reasons for people being let go early in a job. 

If your bad job reference led to an offer being withdrawn, we can help. Start by having us check your references, and then we’ll help you proceed. 

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