SmashWe often associate “bad references” with “being fired,” but job seekers may fear bad references from former employers for a number of reasons: perhaps the job seeker had a poor relationship with their manager, or perhaps they left the company under less-than-ideal circumstances.

There are two sides to every story, but references are categorically one-sided: a job seeker’s potential new employer only gets to hear the job seeker’s former employer’s side of the story; rarely does the job seeker get a chance to speak. A former employer’s reference could contain exaggerations, inaccuracies, and/or misrepresentations that paint the job seeker in an unwarranted bad light. This can have unfairly negative consequences for the job seeker.

What can a job seeker do if they are expecting a bad reference from an employer? The first step is to put the situation into perspective. Many former employers are disinclined to give negative references because they fear they could face legal action from aggrieved candidates who fail to get the job on the basis of their reference. According to some estimates, between 70 and 80 percent of organizations do not allow their employees to give out detailed references, permitting them only to confirm benign details of employment, like length of service, job title and salary.

Most employers don’t feel any duty toward a former employee’s future employer. They have their own business interests at heart and simply want the former employee out of their hair. In fact, giving a lukewarm or benign reference is the path of least resistance for most employers, and it is the situation that job seekers are most likely to face.

If, however, you are a job seeker who is really worried about receiving a bad reference, you could use the services of a companies like or These companies will actually approach your former employers to find out what your references are likely to say about you. After doing this,  you may find that have nothing to worry about.

If you are still concerned that you will have a bad reference, you’ll need to take action. If you think there are inaccuracies, misrepresentations, instances of defamation, and/or breaches of privacy in any of your references, you might want to consult a lawyer about what to do.

Alternatively, you could consider contacting your former employer and letting them know you are concerned about the references they are supplying. You might even ask if the two of you could agree on a new reference that is fairer representation of you. If possible, it’s probably best to adopt this approach to a potentially contentious reference prior to leaving your company. This, I believe, can be a win-win situation for both employers and job seekers, and it is my recommended course of action for anyone worried about a bad reference from a former employer.

Like this article? Subscribe today! We also offer tons of free eBooks on career and recruiting topics - check out Get a Better Job the Right Way and Why It Matters Who Does Your Recruiting.
in Job Search]