Job References & Why They Bite

3 Oct

Ugh, the job reference circuit.

You’re looking for a new gig, tired of your old/current gig so you need to put down some people who you think will speak fondly of you. You hope they’ll say stuff like,

“Oh, Jennifer? She was a GREAT employee. She came in early and stayed late. She worked well with others as well as individually with minimal supervision. She was reliable, trustworthy and I would hire her again.”

Instead of

“Oh, Jennifer? She was a LOUSY employee. She came in late and left early. She didn’t quite work well with others and when left alone she would peruse the internet. She was unreliable, untrustworthy and we certainly would NOT hire her again.”

I’ve had both. Well, not as wordy on the latter because, well, it’s apparently against the law for employers to divulge too much information, especially if it sounds personal. Supposedly (former) employers are only supposed to answer basic questions such as how long you worked somewhere, your title and salary and if they’d hire you again. PERIOD.

But oh, to have one of those references where the ex-boss goes on and on, then says too much that’s hurtful. I once had an ex-supervisor state when asked for a reference for me: “Oh, I wouldn’t want to hurt her chances of getting a job.”


Lucky for me it was a headhunter whom I had a good rapport with so she asked me outright, “WHAT IN THE WORLD HAPPENED THERE?” I was able to explain that Barbara the person in question was extremely flighty and judgmental, not to  mention lazy, so she was the LAST person to dole out references on ME.

To this day I won’t use anyone (there were only five of us working there anyway) from that company. EVER EVER NEVER. Extracting good references from each or most jobs can be testy.

Ever had a poor job reference? Even slightly bad? Not good when you’re job hunting and need to put down a reference from someone from that particular company that looms large on your resume.

I once had a boss give me a great reference the first time but a crappy reference a few years after giving me the first great reference.

What gives with people? Did his hormones suddenly crash affecting his memory? I am the same Jennifer worker bee that you referenced before, Mark Mr. Poor Reference Giver.


Like I mentioned in my book, I suspect that there are employers who are jealous that you’re out there in the working world moving and grooving while they’re still stuck at the same un-exciting company pushing the same buttons, gazing at the same vending machine. Waiting for twenty more years to pass so that they can finally retire. 

“Hmm, Jennifer’s getting hired AGAIN? I know…I’ll give her a poor reference.”

My thing is this…if a person works well enough (if they lasted at your organization for two or more years and left on their own accord, apparently they worked well enough) just give them a decent reference. If you had personal issues with them (you didn’t think they liked YOU, you didn’t like the way they dressed, you didn’t like their weird nuances, etc.) put those aside.

A job reference isn’t a gateway to hold someone back for personal reasons or to thwart their career efforts; it’s a reference. Keep it short and sweet.

References can and do determine a person’s very working LIFE and therefore their rent/mortgage, their car payments, their food supply, their family life, their overall well being.

Don’t be such a job snob.


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