Let’s be honest, this happens a lot. Sometimes the biggest challenge in your job isn’t the work you do, it’s the people you work for or work with. Every now and then it gets too much for some people and they walk away from the job. Then reality hits. The chances of getting a good reference from your old boss are pretty slim if you had thrown your coffee cup at his head and keyed his car on the way out. And yet everyone demands a reference…what can you do?
Ok, first things first. Don’t lie. You will get caught out and then not only will you be the person who keyed your boss’ car, but you will have proven yourself a liar. So when someone is considering your view vs the boss’ view, they have already decided you are not a credible witness (I am channelling my best Judge Judy here). But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put your best foot forward.
The trick to overcoming a nasty employment experience is to accentuate the positive and downplay the negative. So this means, when asked why you left your last role you need to have a positive (and truthful) story to tell.
Let’s consider some examples:
Why did you leave your last job?
DON’T SAY: He was a fat ugly slob who had it in for me and I told him to shove his job up his jumper. It doesn’t matter if every word you say here is true, it’s literally going to frighten potential employers (and recruiters) away. Because it sounds like you are a mad person prone to rage. The last thing you want the recruiter or employer to think is that it’s YOU who is the problem.
SAY INSTEAD: Whilst I enjoyed my job immensely, it was clear that there was going to be little room for growth so I made the decision to leave. See, what you have said there is ALSO the truth. If the boss had it in for you, the chances for promotion were about nil, so there was no room for growth and you DID make the decision to leave.
What about getting a reference? OK, I have said this before, NEVER, EVER fake a reference. If you are in a situation where you do not want to nominate your old boss because he is likely to describe you as a lunatic who left him in the lurch at month end, then let the recruiter know. Well, don’t say “Don’t call Dick, or as I like to call him: Dick by name, Dick by nature because he hates my guts.” That’s going to set those alarm bells off and kill your chances of getting a new job.
SAY INSTEAD: I would prefer you not speak to Mr Head as we did have a personality conflict and I am concerned about his ability to give a fair representation of my work. I am very happy for you to speak with the Sales Manager though; I worked closely with her on two major projects and I know she will give a fair review of my work. I can also give you details for customers whom I dealt with if you would like to get a review of my work from their point of view. Basically, if you can’t nominate your old boss, make sure you have other people from within the organisation (including, if appropriate, customers) whom the employer or recruiter can obtain a reference.
What happens if they insist on talking to my old boss? Again downplay the negative and accentuate the positive. Every negative experience is a learning exercise and helps you identify what it is you are looking for. If your old manager was a micro manager, then say “Bob was a great guy, but I found over time that I didn’t enjoy being micro managed. I respond well to being left to get on with the job and find that I give the best results when given responsibility to manage my own workload. In the end, this meant that I had to leave my employer to find an opportunity that would give me a little autonomy.”
There are no lies here, but you have phrased everything in a way that makes everyone look good. Good luck out there people!