Bum Reference? Here’s How To Overcome It

DEAR JOYCE: After working 18 months at a small company, where I, Katie (not real name), received constantly good write-ups, I was set-up by my supervisor, Jenny (not real name), who, jealous of my positive relationship with the owner, fired me.

Since then, a friend has verified that Jenny lies to prospective employers and tells them that I did not do my job and that I was not a good employee. To use or not to use the reference? – K.C.

Tony Beshara (www.babich.com), a top-flight placement and recruiting professional in Dallas who reaches into years of experience with many thousands of job seekers, gives today’s pushback tutorial.

Beshara’s unrivaled trench experience is smartly packed into an extremely helpful new book, “Job Search Solution, The Ultimate System for Finding a Great Job Now!” The nuts-and-bolts everyman guide is published by Amacom Books at $16.95 (www.thejobsearchsolution.com).

Beshara interviewed Katie and offers real-world suggestions to how to climb out of the bad-reference pit:

HEAD ON. Katie should call Jenny, speaking in a very calm, non-threatening tone, saying that she understands a bad reference is being given and that the reference is closing doors to employment. Katie then, nicely but firmly, tells Jenny that this has to stop.

If Jenny is unresponsive or will not come to the phone, or return a voicemail – which is very likely – Katie should write a letter to Jenny with the same message and send a copy of it to the human resource department, if the company has one, as well as to the president or owner of the company.

Katie does not have to threaten litigation in the letter because any business manager with common sense will read between the lines that Katie’s next step is to sue.

Rather than a total reversal of the negative evaluation, Katie’s goal is simply to obtain a neutral reference from the ex-employer.

Additionally, Katie, being on speaking terms with the company owner, should call and explain the situation, emphasizing that Jenny’s unfair reference is standing in the way of her getting another job. Katie should say she doesn’t want to cause any problems but that she wants to be able to go to work. She should directly ask the owner to be the one to provide future references since he has first-hand knowledge of her work and she’s only asking that he tell the truth.

Katie should remind the owner that she had been at the company for a year and a half, had a good track record, good reviews and until the particular run-in with Jenny, everything had been smooth.

If Katie can’t talk to the president, she should write him a letter saying the same thing. The last thing the owner of a small company wants is a lawsuit over an employment reference.

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GOOD CROWDS OUT BAD. Additionally, Katie should gather all the positive references she can – previous employers, previous co-workers, customers, vendors – and use those to smother the one bad reference if it can’t be neutralized. Katie should contact each reference in advance asking for a letter of recommendation or if it’s okay to provide the reference’s phone number to potential employers. .

Katie should begin keeping a scrapbook of recommendations, awards and favorable memos. She can use her brag book in future interviews. Documentation of high performance will offset even the poorest reference.

VERBAL DEFENSE. When Katie can’t get a neutralization, and is dead certain – absolutely positive – about an upcoming bad reference, she should say:

“I do have excellent references with every previous employer. My last supervisor’s personality was very difficult. I believe she will not give me a glowing reference. Others in the company will testify to my diligence and work ethic. I will provide those names and numbers. So if you check references with my previous employer, please check ALL of the people I was associated with there.”

HAIL MARY. As a last resort, when the poor reference seems to be a deal breaker, Katie can offer to work on a temporary basis for 90 days to prove herself, a willingness that along with collateral good references, communicates a brand of commitment that’s hard to resist.

As Beshara advises, these tips can turn things around for you, especially in small businesses. “And, remember,” he says, “small businesses have most of the jobs.”

E-mail career questions for possible use in this column to Joyce Lain Kennedy at jlk@sunfeatures.com; use “Reader Question” for subject line. Or mail her at Box 368, Cardiff, CA 92007.

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